UN Launches $500 Million Emergency Relief Fund
UNITED NATIONS The U.N. General Assembly approved the establishment Thursday of a new $500 million emergency fund aimed at providing swift relief following natural disasters.
The new Central Emergency Response Fund is 10 times larger than an existing standby relief fund of $50 million. U.N. officials hope the creation of a standing account will allow for relief to reach areas hit by disasters and famine quickly.
"The difference is that we will have a larger fund, but also that it will be more flexible," General Assembly President Jan Eliasson told reporters.
In the past, "We had to wait for commitments before we could really start massive operations. Now we will be able to do that from the beginning, and not have to wait for individual commitments," he said.
The assembly's decision, taken by consensus, is the first of the new reform proposals agreed to by world leaders at a U.N. summit in September that the 191-member body has approved. A host of more-controversial decisions, such as a new human rights council and management reforms, await the assembly before the end of the year or early next year.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the fund had received donations of $200 million already that other governments would make up the difference.
"They will pay up," he said, adding he expected the fund to be operational by March.
Officials said a string of natural disasters around the world over the past year that killed hundreds of thousands and left millions homeless emphasized the need for the fast-response fund.
"As we have seen in 2005 -- a year bracketed by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami and the earthquake in Pakistan -- the world has no time to loose," said Jan Egeland, the emergency relief coordinator who will disperse the funds.
The tsunami, which struck a dozen Indian Ocean nations, left up to 232,000 people dead or missing on Dec. 26. The Oct. 8 earthquake in Pakistan killed more than 73,000 and left about 3 million homeless.
Egeland has also complained that Niger's severe food crisis last year could have been prevented if the United Nations had the new reserve fund to jump-start humanitarian aid while appeals for money were considered.