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UN emergency relief fund, ‘an investment in humanity’ declares Guterres

 Secretary-General António Guterres told a virtual High-level Pledging Event: “It is quick…non-bureaucratic, and it is sometimes the only source of funds for a true emergency response, because other funding may be too late to be effective”. 

“CERF is the instrument that enables us to act in forgotten crises that do not attract donor funding”, he continued, calling it “an important tool” to bring the entire UN system together. 

Making ‘enormous difference’ 

The top UN official reflected on how, as the High Commissioner for Refugees, he used CERF many times to fund emergency action for refugees, saying that it fosters joint UN action and collaboration with aid partners, “quickly and at scale”. 

“In the chaos of a humanitarian emergency, that makes an enormous difference”, he spelled out. 

Far from the media spotlight, Mr. Guterres said that in 2020, CERF provided a record $225 million to some 20 underfunded and neglected crises. 

COVID pressure 

On top of existing conflict and climate change crises, the COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of vulnerability to those already suffering, for which CERF has provided $820 million in life-saving assistance to people in 52 countries.  

“This is the highest amount ever allocated in a single year, appropriately for this year of unprecedented crisis – and a testament to the commitment of its donors”, said the UN chief. 

Moreover, CERF also responded to the secondary effects of the pandemic, including $100 million to seven countries in Africa and the Middle East to support people at risk of hunger, and a record $65 million to prevent and respond to Gender-Based Violence – a growing threat under pandemic-related lockdowns.  

Among other things, CERF’s swift support enabled: 

  • Assistance against swarms of desert locusts in the Horn of Africa along with scale-upped Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) control efforts. 
  • Emergency shelter, food and water to some 600,000 people forced to flee Syria. 
  • Health services to track Ebola cases and provide treatment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). 
  • $220 million in life-saving assistance for 65 million people across 48 vulnerable countries during the pandemic. 

Pledge up 

In 2016, the General Assembly endorsed a $1 billion CERF.  

“If all Member States and partners allocate a small percentage of their humanitarian funding through the CERF, we can reach our target”, the UN chief said. 

He also urged countries to consider multi-year arrangements as “guaranteed, predictable funding enables CERF to operate to its fullest potential”.  

“An investment in the CERF is an investment in humanity”, concluded the Secretary-General. 

Never needed more 

In his opening remarks, Emergency Relief Coordinator and Humanitarian Affairs chief Mark Lowcock pointed out that as the world faces the greatest humanitarian challenges in over a generation, “we’ve never needed the CERF more”. 

We’ve never needed the CERF more — UN Humanitarian Coordinator

“Everywhere I travel…I hear stories from real people who have got help from the CERF”, he attested.  

Pointing to the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021, he said that around 235 million people will need humanitarian protection and assistance next year, “almost entirely because of COVID-19”. 

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) chief QU Dongyu maintained that “CERF has been instrumental in supporting livelihood-saving interventions in 2020, providing almost $44 million to this end, and we look forward to strengthening our partnership”.  

And the head of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo, noted that “in 2020, for the first time, CERF released $25 million focused on women-led organizations that prevent and respond to gender-based violence in humanitarian settings”. 

Meanwhile, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said that “during COVID-19 and other emergencies, CERF has been instrumental in helping UNRWA maintain basic services like health, education and much more, to 5.7 million Palestine refugees in the Middle East”. 

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