United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) 2008 Annual Report

Foreword: A year of challenges

It is my pleasure to present to you the 2008 Annual Report for the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

For the millions of people affected by natural disasters and conflict worldwide, 2008 was a year of enormous challenges. More than 211 million people were affected by natural disasters, with more than 238,000 killed and US$200 billion in damages, making 2008 one of the most devastating years in terms of human and material losses. 2008 also saw increased suffering in conflict zones and protracted crises such as Afghanistan, Darfur and Gaza. The global food crisis placed undue stress on those who could least afford it. The year ended with the unravelling of the world financial system, with looming consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable.

In the face of these challenges, CERF was able to play a role in addressing the immediate consequences and catalyzing a wider humanitarian response. The Fund was able to demonstrate its speed when, in response to Cyclone Nargis, some $20 million in emergency aid was approved on the same day of the funding request. It showed its flexibility when skyrocketing food prices hit hard on the poorest of the poor. Our analysis shows that the $100 million that was set aside from CERF to help deal with the humanitarian side effects of the global food crisis had a significant impact, with assistance reaching 17.8 million people in 26 countries.

CERF was also a key source of funding to humanitarian appeals that attracted less donor contributions as compared to the humanitarian needs. The Fund fulfilled its role in mitigating gaps in assistance by allocating resources to forgotten emergencies in places as disparate as Somalia, Sri Lanka and Syria. Altogether, aid agencies received more than $428 million from the Fund to put into place life-saving activities in 55 crisis-affected countries in 2008.

Thanks to the generosity of the donor community, CERF broke the $450 million funding milestone for the first time in 2008. This financial target was originally set by the General Assembly in December 2005, prior to the launch of the Fund. Since inception, the Fund has disbursed more than $1 billion to emergencies in more than one third of the world's countries.

CERF is grateful to its many contributors, which include more than one hundred UN Member States, for making these achievements possible. It will strive to make the funds with which it is entrusted ever more effective. In this spirit, the General Assembly-mandated Two-year Evaluation of CERF, which recognized many of the Fund's strengths but also highlighted areas for improvement, will serve as the CERF Secretariat's roadmap for 2009. In 2009, we will focus on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Fund, most notably through developing a new Performance and Accountability Framework, refining the life-saving criteria that govern funding decisions, strengthening financial and administrative arrangements, and improving narrative and financial reporting.

While the global economic crisis threatens humanitarian aid budgets, I ask the international community not to forget that the most vulnerable among us are still faced with the challenges posed by climate change, natural disasters, the global food crisis, and protracted conflicts, and that their vulnerability is increasing. We must ensure that CERF remains well-funded to meet their needs quickly, reliably and effectively.

Ultimately, the Fund's success is measured not in the number of dollars disbursed or countries reached, but in the actual impact the allocations have on the people they are intended to help.

John Holmes
Emergency Relief Coordinator
June 2009

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