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Swiss welcome progress on UN emergency fund

Toni Frisch is the head of the Swiss government's Humanitarian Aid Unit Keystone

Switzerland says it is pleased with progress on the $500-million (SFr637 million) rapid relief fund formally adopted by the United Nations last month.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday that it hopes the fund will be up and running in February.

To date around $200 million has been pledged by member states, including $4 million from the Swiss government.

The Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF) is designed to ensure that the UN can respond more quickly to humanitarian emergencies, such as the tsunami or the South Asia earthquake.

It is envisaged that money for immediate relief operations could be made available within 72 hours.

Toni Frisch, head of the Swiss government’s Humanitarian Aid Unit, told swissinfo that there were still some loose ends to be tied up before the fund became fully operational but he said the response from the international community had been good.

“So far $200 million has been pledged and there is no doubt that this amount will certainly increase – but it is taking a bit of time,” he said.

“Also the procedures for pledging and then using the money in emergencies have still to be finalised. But it is a very good start and a very important step, which will contribute to a more effective response.

“It has been said that too little was done too late in the past, and this will certainly help to avoid such problems in the future.”

Saving lives

According to the UN, most lives are lost in the first days following an earthquake, flood or other disaster. To save lives, aid workers need immediate cash and supplies.

The world body says a faster response will also be more cost-effective as delays in releasing funding can cause lesser humanitarian emergencies to mushroom.

According to Jan Egeland, the UN’s emergency relief coordinator, a four-month funding delay in 2005 left a million displaced people in Darfur without basic assistance.

Frisch said Switzerland would make its initial contribution to the fund shortly, adding that the government was prepared to review the situation should the need arise.

Humanitarian appeal

His comments came at the end of a news conference in Geneva on Thursday renewing the UN’s appeal for a record $4.7 billion for humanitarian operations around the world in 2006.

Frisch joined UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres in urging donors to commit funds earlier than in previous years to enable the world body to react quickly to crises.

Guterres warned that there was a risk that some of the most pressing needs were being forgotten because they were not in the public eye.

He cited as examples the problem of lawlessness in the Central African Republic, which he said was becoming a serious regional security issue, and the deteriorating situation in Darfur, Sudan.

“Darfur is the most pressing political and humanitarian problem we have in Africa today. It could have a very dramatic impact not only on Sudan but also on the whole region,” he said.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont in Geneva

The UN’s record $4.7-billion humanitarian appeal for 2006 was launched in November by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
$1.5 billion is being sought for Sudan alone.
Other African countries covered by the appeal include Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Chad and Ivory Coast.
Also on the list are Nepal, Colombia and the Palestinian territories.

The CERF replaces the previous Central Emergency Revolving Fund, a loan facility of $50 million established by the UN General Assembly in 1991.

Its creation forms part of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s reforms package.

It will be managed by the UN emergency relief coordinator and there will be an annual donor conference to ensure regular replenishment of the fund.

It will also be overseen by a 12-member advisory group, comprising eight representatives of contributing countries and four experts appointed by the UN secretary-general.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR