CERF Builds Accountability Framework

New York, 30 December 2009 – On 8-9 December, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) hosted its annual high-level event on the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which included an extensive briefing and a pledging session.

Emergency Response Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs (head of OCHA), John Holmes, reported that 109 countries have become contributors of the Fund since its establishment. In 2009, 13 different agencies received funds from CERF, and overall 64% of its funds were allocated to humanitarian projects in Africa. The Philippines appeared in the top ten recipients for the first time (due to the internal conflict in the country and natural disasters taking place during the reporting year).

Holmes also briefed Member States on the status of implementation of the two-year evaluation of CERF, which was completed in 2008. He noted that the CERF Secretariat (which is housed within OCHA) would submit a revised “performance and accountability framework” to the CERF Advisory Group by April 2010. Further, CERF will begin preparing for an independent evaluation requested by the General Assembly, to be conducted at its 66th Session.

Pledges and contributions to CERF for 2010 totaled USD 424 million, exceeding the 2009 allocations by ten percent.

The General Assembly established CERF in 2006 to enable more timely and reliable assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts. It is managed by the Emergency Relief Coordinator and head of OCHA and funded by voluntary contributions from Member States, private businesses, foundations and individuals.

CERF’s Advisory Group met most recently in November, following which it issued a note to UN Member States via the Secretary-General. The note summarized “key points raised during the discussion on both the management of the Fund and its effect on humanitarian operations.”

High-level Event on 8-9 December

Comments by Secretary-General and President of the GA

The two-day, annual event was attended by high-level officials from various countries and UN agencies.

Commending the work of the Fund, President of the General Assembly Ali Abdussalam Treki observed that it “has come to be regarded widely as one of the most successful examples of the UN reform of 2005.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added that CERF had become an integral part of the “humanitarian architecture, helping agencies to deliver results on the ground, wherever and whenever needed most.” He further noted that:

  • This year alone, UN humanitarian teams in more than 45 countries have used some $340 million in CERF funding to help millions of people in need;
  • CERF funds are available immediately, so agencies can kick-start their operations;
  • CERF funding brings equity to a system that often focuses on high-profile emergencies, while victims of the so-called “neglected crises” receive less;
  • CERF enjoys widespread support and nearly two-thirds of all governments, and 17 corporations, have given the Fund more than USD 1.5 billion; and
  • This year, despite the global economic crisis, CERF has attracted several new contributors, both public and private.

President Treki and Secretary-General Ban urged Member States to contribute to the Fund. Treki commented, “if we come close to the goal of [USD] 450 million that we have set as the annual target for this Fund, we would have mobilized nearly [USD] 2 billion in the Fund’s first five years.”

John Holmes: CERF in 2009

In his briefing, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes echoed Ban, stating that CERF “is a reliable and early source of humanitarian funding, and has established itself as an important part of the humanitarian financing architecture.”

Holmes said that in 2009, CERF received USD 399 million in UN pledges. He also explained that in 2008, the pledged amount for 2009 was reported to be $450 million, with the difference “accounted for by exchange rate differences.”

In 2009, 15 new countries became contributors to the Fund, totaling 77 contributors and four private donors. Holmes stated that:

  • Worldwide, 13 different agencies received funding from CERF;
  • Rapid Response Allocations totaled over USD 203 million to agencies working in 36 countries and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (“Rapid Response” grants promote early action and enhance responses to time-critical requirements);
  • CERF allocated USD 130 million to underfunded emergencies; and
  • CERF continued to strengthen its management and administrative arrangements, including making significant progress on developing a Performance and Accountability Framework.

Follow-up to 2008 Evaluation

Holmes updated States on CERF’s follow-up to its independent evaluation, completed in 2008 upon two years of the Fund’s operation. The evaluation was requested by the GA in the founding resolution of CERF (60/124), with the goal of assessing the Fund comprehensively. The evaluation resulted in 37 recommendations, including on improving the quality of CERF-funded projects and its accountability system.

According to Holmes, CERF largely has implemented the recommendations. Completed steps are described below.

  • Underfunded Window: The CERF Secretariat has reviewed the Underfunded Window (grants for neglected crises), including on loan and/or grant disbursement. “CERF will now aim to disburse at least 75% of annual underfunded grants during the first round” (of grant allocation).
  • Life-saving criteria: The CERF Secretariat will ensure that the life-saving criteria continue to be defined as tightly as possible. Holmes asserted that some flexibility should be maintained, nevertheless, to allow for preventive, time-critical actions.
  • Performance and accountability framework – This was one of CERF’s main priorities in 2009, and the CERF Secretariat worked to develop a framework with the assistance of an external consultant, and in consultation with some of the agencies at UN Headquarters and in the field. The key to this framework is to show who is accountable for what. Holmes stressed the need for CERF to find a way to show the “added value” of the Fund, “for beneficiaries and for donors to justify.” The draft framework reportedly provides clarification on definitions of accountability and performance, presents a logical model identifying the key elements of CERF’s work, and defines accountability for each element. Additional tools included in the framework are: independent country evaluations, after-action reviews, and updated application and narrative reporting templates.

Recommendations from CERF Advisory Group

On 8 December, Secretary-General Ban circulated a note on the outcome of the CERF Advisory Group’s latest meeting, held in November.

The GA established the Advisory Group in on 15 December 2005 to advise the Secretary-General on the use and impact of the Fund. The Advisory Group reports to Ban through the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The Group meets twice per year, as “appropriate for reviewing the annual use and implementation of the Fund, and for facilitating its annual replenishment.”

The Advisory Group is made up of sixteen members, including: government officials from countries that have contributed to or have received funding from the Fund, representatives of humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and academic experts.

In November, seven new members were appointed by Secretary-General Ban. They are the representatives of the following countries: Colombia, Finland, Mozambique, Poland, Qatar, Spain, and the United States. One-third of the Group is elected each year, allowing the remaining two-thirds of the group to maintain its “institutional memory.”

During its 2-3 November meeting 2009, the Advisory Group reportedly discussed and issued the following conclusions and recommendations (A/64/558) on several working areas of the Fund:

Performance and Accountability Framework

A strong performance and accountability framework is important for both beneficiary countries and donors. A strengthened framework should:

  • Link to the three objectives of the Fund, namely
    • Promoting early action and response to save lives,
    • Enhancing response to time-critical requirements based on demonstrated needs, and
    • Strengthening core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crises;
  • Focus on measuring the Fund’s added value and its response to the humanitarian situation in the country. With this in mind “the performance and accountability framework should be light but robust, and make maximum use of existing reporting process.”

Underfunded window

CERF must be “as transparent as possible about the methodology and data used in these allocations.” The Secretariat should ensure that allocations are having an impact and avoid giving relatively small allocations to already poorly resourced programs.

Umbrella Letter of Understanding

The Group urged that CERF quickly finalize its “Umbrella Letter of Understanding.”

Currently, a Letter of Understanding (LoU) must be completed by the senior management for each allocation of a CERF grant. However, as this has been found to delay disbursements, the Fund has agreed to using annual letters instead. The text for the annual agreements, known as the Umbrella LoU, is being deliberated.

Relationship with NGOs

On the important partnership between the Fund and non-governmental organizations, CERF should provide the Advisory Group with regular updates on the progress of the work currently being led by several UN agencies on this issue.

The Inter-agency Standing Committee should consider whether the umbrella agreements – which are used between UN agencies – could be also used between UN agencies and their NGO partners.

TOR of the Advisory Group

The Group’s current Terms of Reference (TOR) could be revised by:

  • Expanding the Group to 18 members, with each serving a single three-year term, and
  • Continuing the policy of rotating one third of the Group’s membership each year.

Next Steps

CERF intends to update its Performance and Accountability Framework and submit it to the Advisory Group for its consideration in April 2010. Once the framework is approved, CERF’s Secretariat will begin implementation.

CERF will begin preparing for an independent evaluation requested by the General Assembly, to be conducted and presented at its 66th Session.

The next meeting of the Advisory Group is scheduled for April 2010 and possibly will be held “at the field level in a recipient country.”

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