March 2, 2006

New UN fund to speed global disaster response

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations next week
launches a new global emergency fund to provide swifter relief
to victims of natural disasters, but with far less money on
hand than the $500 million it had hoped to raise.

The Central Emergency Response Fund will have just $188
million when it opens for business, which is nonetheless a
significant improvement over an existing U.N. standby loan
facility of $50 million.

Donations to the new fund, which will be able to make
grants as well as loan money, have come from 19 of the 191 U.N.

But some wealthy nations including the United States,
Japan, Australia, Italy and Canada have yet to make pledges.

"Governments have committed to responding quickly and
effectively to help those most in need, yet now that we have a
global emergency fund, governments seem reluctant to actually
put money in," said Sarah Kline, an official of international
relief organization Oxfam.

Oxfam has argued the fund would need $1 billion to ensure
an adequate U.N. response to disasters like the 2004 Indian
Ocean tsunami, last year's destructive earthquake in Pakistan
and Hurricane Katrina in the southern United States.

U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland asked for the
fund after the tsunami, and the General Assembly approved it
last December.

The idea is to give the world body the ability to quickly
send emergency supplies to areas hit by natural disasters and
other humanitarian crises, without having to wait for
international donors to send checks.

The money in the fund would be continually replenished as
contributions later poured in for each individual disaster.

The 19 donors to date are Armenia, Britain, Croatia,
Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Grenada, Ireland,
Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway,
Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland and Sri Lanka.