Sixty-first General Assembly

General Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, in her closing statement to the sixty-first session, told Member States that "when we are united in partnership and overcome mistrust, we can achieve much more for each other", noting that the adoption of the long-awaited resolution on strengthening the UN Economic and Social Council was a good example. She also pointed out other successes, including the adoption of two important international Conventions: on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities, and the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. The Millennium Development Goals also figured prominently, and at a high-level meeting former Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that prospects for achieving the MDGs were "mixed at best", stating further that it was "not too late to turn the situation around". He called on both donors and developing countries alike to make good on a promise that world leaders had made at the 2000 Millennium Summit, where they agreed to halve extreme poverty and radically improve the lives of at least 1 billion people by 2015.

Central Emergency Fund Gets Unanimous Support
Donors Are Making More Predictable Contributions

Immediately after the earth rumbles or a massive wave gobbles up the shoreline, or bombs explode, the race to save lives is on. When the General Assembly created the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) in December 2005, it gave United Nations agencies and their non-governmental organization (NGO) humanitarian partners the ability to be better equipped and save thousands of lives by getting to the disaster areas faster.

Proposed by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan as part of the United Nations reform package and mandated by the 2005 World Summit, the CERF was launched in March 2006. At a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters, Mr. Annan announced that the Fund had committed $230 million for 320 projects in 30 countries by December 2006 -- from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, from Lebanon to Liberia. He said that $25 million of CERF resources had "jumpstarted" humanitarian efforts in the Horn of Africa, which helped avert a severe famine in the region, by providing food security for millions and mitigating the spread of diseases from lack of clean water. He praised the Relief Fund for bringing help to "forgotten crises, as well as headline disasters. By alleviating suffering before situations spin out of control, it facilitates faster transitions to recovery and rebuilding", Mr. Annan stressed.

Jan Egeland, former UN Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in his appeal to donor States said that with $395 million already in the Relief Fund, he was confident that the CERF would reach its $500-million goal. He pointed out that Norway had contributed an equivalent of $12 per capita, and if each developed country did the same, the Fund would have $12 billion. Besides the traditional donors, donations have been received from developing nations, including Indonesia and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as from NGOs and municipal governments, such as the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.

Mr. Egeland said he was amazed at how the United Nations "went from the idea of the Fund, to creating it and making it operational in a few months' time". He pointed out that response time to crises had reduced dramatically: from 2002 to 2005, 16 per cent of humanitarian appeals received funding in the first month, while in 2006 the figure jumped to 37 per cent. With a pool of humanitarian relief coordinators on standby, referred to as "field marshals" by Mr. Egeland, "we will be able to save lives like never before". He further said: "This was the first element of the Secretary-General's reform package to be launched, funded and effectively used. It has North, South, East and West support. It is one of the few things that all countries can agree on -- let's help people and save lives."

Donors are making more predictable contributions rather than "responding to events in the media", Mr. Egeland pointed out, and this allowed humanitarian efforts to reach lesser known crises that might not have received aid before. For example, after the violent clashes between the police and military in April/May 2006 in the capital of Dili, in Timor-Leste, which led to widespread burning, looting, destruction of property and injury to people, more than 100,000 residents fled their homes, most of them into overcrowded camps without sufficient clean water and sanitation. Under these conditions, illnesses like diarrhoea can easily become fatal for vulnerable refugees, such as children and the elderly.

However, with CERF funding, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) helped build latrines and bathrooms and improve access to clean water for 70,000 refugees in the camps, including thousands more in the countryside. The World Food Programme was able to deliver food, consisting of several hundred bags of corn soya blend and sugar, vegetable oil and government-provided rice. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) worked with partners in distributing 2,300 tents, 3,500 plastic sheets, 25,000 blankets, 3,300 jerrycans, 2,400 kitchen sets and 200 stoves, including airlifting goods on several occasions from Jordan and Indonesia. The CERF contributed over $4 million to the Timor-Leste crisis through August 2006, which enabled a rapid response, according to Sofia Borges of the Permanent Mission of Timor-Leste to the United Nations, pointing out that the first 20 latrines were functional within 10 days of the start of the crisis.

Carl Skau of the Permanent Mission of Sweden, who helped facilitate negotiations for the resolutions that created the CERF, reiterated support for the Fund. In 2005, the negotiation was very difficult, he said, as "many countries were very skeptical that the CERF should be fully funded and that it would work well. This year, we had complete political support and, including the goal of $500 million, the resolution went through without questioning." Mr. Skau, who saw the possibilities for the Fund's growth, also noted that besides raising $105 million for the CERF, the top priority now is to ensure "accountability and transparency, so that everyone feels comfortable with the way the money is handled".