March 9, 2006

UN emergency fund opens with half needed pledges

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations' new global
emergency fund began work on Thursday with slightly more than
half the $500 million dollars its director had hoped for.

The first grants from the Central Emergency Fund went to
drought-stricken northeastern Africa and western Ivory Coast,
where angry mobs recently burned down U.N. aid offices. The
dollar amounts of the grants were not given.

The fund opened for business with pledges totaling just
$256 million from 36 donor governments. Canada, Australia,
Spain and the United States were among governments announcing
pledges at the launch.

The goal had been to raise $500 million, but U.N Emergency
Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said the response nonetheless
amounted to "a big step" forward as the sole source of
emergency funds had previously been a U.N. standby loan
facility of just $50 million.

But international relief group Oxfam has argued the fund
would need $1 billion to ensure an adequate U.N. response.

"The fund will make us quicker, more flexible and
predictable" in dealing with both man-made humanitarian
disasters like the crisis in Sudan's western Darfur region and
with natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami,
Egeland said.

He had asked for the fund after the tsunami, and the
191-nation U.N. General Assembly approved it last December.

The idea is to give the world body the ability to quickly
send emergency supplies to an affected area without having to
wait for international donors to send checks or make good on

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

Some 11 million people face famine in the Horn of Africa
due to a long drought in the region, with Kenya, Ethiopia and
Somalia the hardest-hit countries.

Several hundred U.N. peacekeepers and aid workers were
pulled out of western Ivory Coast following January riots,
leaving behind a civilian population heavily dependent on
outside humanitarian aid.

The rioters, mostly members of the Young Patriot movement
fiercely loyal to President Laurent Gbagbo, were protesting
against what they called meddling by foreign mediators trying
to implement a peace plan in a nation split in two by a 2002
civil war.