You are here

Disasters, financing and the UN

I am in trouble again with my editor for not producing my blog posts more regularly.

But like Basil Fawlty, who was trying – yet again – not to mention the War to the Germans, I think I may have gotten away with it – for one last time!

In this blog post, I want to write about a part of the global humanitarian system in which I have played a small part over the past three years.


The past two decades have brought many high profile humanitarian disasters. Some have been manmade, like the Rwandan genocide and the subsequent crisis in the Great Lakes region. Others have been natural, such as the Asian Tsunami.

Codes and standards

The soul searching following Rwanda led to the adoption of the Humanitarian Codes of Practice and the Sphere Standards. These determine how humanitarian organisations work – or should work.

Room for improvement

Despite such improvements, it was recognised at that time that the global capacity to respond to disasters was inadequate.

In response to this, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed a set of practical reforms of the global humanitarian system in September 2005. One part of the package was the establishment of a Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to give the UN the financial ability to respond effectively to disasters. The target for the fund was $500 million.

Emergency funding

Although a number of Kofi Annan’s proposals were not agreed, the CERF proposal was and it started operation in 2006. Governments have contributed to – largely – meeting its financial targets.

Overseeing and advising

An innovative aspect of the fund was the establishment of an advisory group to oversee its operations. I had the privilege of being appointed in March 2006 for a two year term to this group. This was extended by one year. But on 28 and 29 April, I attended my last meeting of the group.

Quite correctly, the principle of rotation is built into the membership thus ensuring an infusion of new blood every year.

Challenging the UN

I believe the group has functioned well. It has supported the UN in getting the CERF established. It also challenged the UN to improve how it works with other humanitarian actors including NGOs.

It has been a privilege – and some fun – to have played a part in developing a financial mechanism for a more effective global humanitarian response. But finance is only one part of the system and many other aspects need to be improved. I will return to this in future offerings – and so keep my editor happy.