“We need one billion dollars for people in need”

22.05.2016 - Interview

Joint article by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Stephen O’Brien, Kristian Jensen, Børge Brende, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Lilianne Ploumen and Isabella Lövin. Published on ZEIT Online on 22 May 2016.

Joint article by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Stephen O’Brien, Kristian Jensen, Børge Brende, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Lilianne Ploumen and Isabella Lövin. Published on ZEIT Online on 22 May 2016.


Ten years ago, there were 32 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance – today, there are more than 125 million such people. Protracted conflicts have resulted in millions of displaced persons while natural disasters of ever greater magnitude are having an ever greater impact on people’s livelihoods.

Humanitarian aid organisations must help more and more people in increasing numbers of regions as a result of climate change, extreme poverty, water and food shortages, migration and epidemics. According to figures published by the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, there was a funding gap to the tune of 15 billion US dollars last year, the largest shortfall recorded to date. Behind these figures lie the fate of women, men and children and their desperate struggle for survival. The United Nations and its humanitarian partners are working tirelessly to help those in the greatest need. Resources must be directly available in order to save human lives.

Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly established the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). The fund’s objective is to provide people who are affected by acute crises, the sudden onset of disasters, armed conflicts and forgotten crises with life-saving assistance before it is too late. Since 2006, millions of people in 94 countries have received almost 4.5 billion dollars in humanitarian aid from funds allocated by CERF. Thanks to this fund, partners are able to supply an average of 20 million people with health services, 10 million with food and 8 million with clean water and sanitation each year. Some 5 million people receive help to restore their livelihoods while 4 million can be offered protection and one million provided with accommodation.

Responding before crises enter the media spotlight

Although humanitarian need has increased dramatically around the world, CERF’s resources have remained largely unchanged. The fund aims to provide 450 million dollars for humanitarian measures each year. In order to ensure that CERF is able to keep up with the rising need and can remain an effective instrument to tackle the serious, complex and diverse challenges of our times, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the fund to be doubled to one billion US dollars.

Furnished with greater resources, CERF would also be better equipped to respond to the current need for humanitarian assistance. It could have a greater impact and retain its emphasis, scope and ability to respond rapidly. In crisis situations, lost time means lost lives. CERF’s advantage lies in its ability to act swiftly. Funds for critical life-saving measures can be released within a matter of hours, as was the case following the earthquakes in Ecuador, Nepal and Haiti.

CERF has become an indispensable actor in the area of humanitarian work around the world. Thanks to the fund, UN organisations and their partners are able to gain access to financial resources quickly and flexibly and launch aid measures immediately. CERF funding purposes are determined on the basis of objective and neutral needs assessments that are conducted by humanitarian assistance teams on the ground. The fact that a wide network of partners are beneficiaries of the funds also facilitates coordinated responses. Thanks to the funds provided by CERF, aid workers are quickly able to procure large quantities of relief supplies that they can make available to the people most in need.

In many cases, CERF becomes involved even before crises have been reported on in the media. In March 2014, before many authorities had taken any measures to tackle the Ebola crisis, CERF set aside the starting capital for the UN’s work. And when the situation deteriorated, key aspects of the measures such as the humanitarian air service were safeguarded, in the absence of which the humanitarian work would have, for the large part, come to a grinding halt. With improved funding, CERF would be able to provide even more financial resources in such emergency situations.

New contributors and financing schemes are also necessary.

Since the outbreak of war in Syria, humanitarian work in the entire region has been supported by CERF to the tune of more than 200 million dollars, funds that have helped to remedy major shortcomings in the international response and improve the living conditions of refugees. CERF has also been at the forefront of the response to the current global El Niño phenomenon. Since 2015, critical life-saving measures have been financed with more than 119 million dollars from CERF in 19 countries affected by El Niño. In both cases, this support represents only a fraction of what is needed. The heads of humanitarian aid organisations in the affected countries have requested more support from CERF; in view of the resources currently at its disposal, the fund is not able to do any more, however. In order for it to have a larger impact and ensure that principles-based humanitarian assistance can be supported, the emergency aid fund urgently requires a further increase to a total of one billion dollars.

The fund is constantly working to improve its efficiency and active scope so that every dollar invested can achieve the maximum impact. It is therefore a central component of a humanitarian ecosystem that ultimately has a duty of responsibility for millions of people affected by crises. The purpose of the fund is in line with the appeal for change and a new way of working issued by the UN Secretary-General in his Agenda for Humanity. This is at the heart of the discussions to be held at the first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May.

CERF was established as a fund by all countries, for all countries, and enjoys the wide support of its 125 member states and private donors. Its ten largest donors have contributed 87 per cent of the fund’s resources, however. It will only be possible to increase CERF’s funding to one billion dollars if more countries and businesses become actively involved and increase their support considerably. New contributors, greater contributions and innovative financing solutions are required if we want CERF to remain in a position to act in the face of our world’s humanitarian need today. So many human lives depend on this.


The authors

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Federal Foreign Minister, Germany

Stephen O’Brien, Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations

Kristian Jensen, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Denmark

Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Canada

Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Netherlands

Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway

Isabella Lövin, Minister for International Development Cooperation, Sweden

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