UNITED NATIONS, Dec 15: The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday set up an emergency fund, expected to total $500 million, to bring immediate relief in natural and man-made disasters and save thousands of lives that will otherwise be lost to delay. In a landmark resolution enacting a key reform sought by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the assembly established the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), replacing the current Central Emergency Revolving Fund, to ensure a swifter response to humanitarian emergencies, with funds to be made available within three to four days.

In contrast, it took four months between the time when access restrictions were lifted in Sudan’s strife-torn Darfur region and funds were committed to the relief appeal. In the meantime, the number of internally displaced persons steadily climbed to 1.6 million and mortality rates rose above emergency levels.

In the case of the locust swarms that infested the African Sahel region, early funding would have mitigated the effects at less cost. A $9 million appeal by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in February 2004 to spray locust larvae and prevent their spread received an inadequate response. That summer, the locusts multiplied throughout eight countries and the FAO revised the appeal to $100 million.

Access to predictable funding for humanitarian emergencies is a key aspect of Mr Annan’s reform package outlined earlier this year in his report ‘In larger freedom.’

At the UN World Summit in September, donors pledged some $175 million in political pledges.

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