CERF Regulations version September 2011 – published November 2011

This guidance note is intended to clarify definitions and explain the criteria for accessing funding from the rapid
response (RR) window of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). It outlines the application process
and the roles and responsibilities of the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC), OCHA, Resident/Humanitarian
Coordinators (RC/HCs) and humanitarian country teams (HCTs), sectors/clusters, and UN agencies as well as
the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in order to ensure timely and appropriate use of CERF funds.
For additional detailed information on the CERF please refer to the CERF website at http://cerf.un.org.
I. Background: The General Assembly 1 upgraded the CERF in December 2005 from a revolving loan
mechanism of $50 million to a fund composed of the existing loan mechanism and an additional grant element
with a funding target of $450 million per year2 to ensure more timely and reliable humanitarian funding.
The CERF grant element is divided into two windows: one for rapid response (approximately two thirds of the
grant element) and the other for underfunded emergencies (approximately one third of the grant element).
The grant element pools funds from several donors and adopts a decentralized, field-based approach to
decision-making. While the ERC serves as the overall manager of the Fund, the RC/HCs act as the principal incountry
leaders in the development of a CERF grant request. Consultation among technical experts is facilitated
through sectors/clusters. In addition, the CERF contributes to humanitarian reform3 by reinforcing humanitarian
leadership and coordination through the RC/HC and the cluster approach.
CERF funds are not a replacement or alternative to voluntary contributions to humanitarian programmes or
consolidated appeals processes (CAPs). Rather, CERF rapid response funds are intended to mitigate the
unevenness and delays of the voluntary contribution system by providing seed money for life-saving,
humanitarian activities in the initial days and weeks of a sudden onset crisis. CERF rapid response funds may
also be used to respond to time-critical requirements or a significant deterioration in an existing emergency. The
CERF acts as a source of humanitarian funding tool, rather than a strategic planning or resource mobilization
tool such as flash or consolidated appeals, which reflect the demand side of humanitarian response.

Overview of the CERF rapid response window
Amount available 2/3 of contributions to the grant element.
Normally a maximum of $30 million per crisis
Purpose Established by the General Assembly in 2005 in order to provide grants for the following 3 types of
situations: (a) sudden onset emergencies, (b) a rapid / significant deterioration of an existing
humanitarian situation, (c) time-critical interventions.
Eligible organizations UN organizations (excluding OCHA) and IOM
Application process Applications are submitted by the RC/HC following consultations with the humanitarian country
team. An application includes a cover letter from the RC/HC to the ERC and a completed CERF
application template. Applications may be submitted at any time during the year.

The request is reviewed by the CERF Secretariat. The ERC makes the final decision
Criteria for approval Proposed humanitarian projects should, where feasible, clearly:
– respond to the needs of a sudden onset emergency, rapid deterioration of an existing crisis, or
time-critical intervention.
– be based on recent, coordinated needs assessments, demonstrate access / capacity to
implement, be essential for the humanitarian response, and prioritized by the humanitarian country
team and the RC/HC through a consultative process.
– comply with the Guidance on CERF Life-saving Criteria (26 January 2010) and any sectoral
guidelines set by the ERC at the time of allocation.
– CERF rapid response funds should “jump-start” rather than fully fund projects. CERF cannot fund
100% of project requirements, except in rare circumstances.
Implementation timeframe All funds should be committed and project activities completed within six months of the date that
the funds are disbursed from CERF to the recipient agency headquarters. In cases where
agencies have had to begin expensing funds before this date in order to meet urgent priorities, the
agency may specify an earlier start date, not exceeding six weeks prior to the disbursement date
and not before the onset of the emergency.

II. Objective and Main Principles:
CERF rapid response grants are provided for critical emergency activities to promote early action and response
to reduce loss of life; and to enhance response to time-critical humanitarian requirements. CERF-funded
projects should be consistent with basic humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality.
Humanitarian partners implementing projects funded by the CERF should take into consideration the following:
 Partnerships: UN agencies and humanitarian actors at large are at the heart of planning, prioritization and
decision making in regards to the CERF. They are encouraged to maximize the interaction and
collaboration with governments and national and international non-government organizations in order to
effectively respond to emergencies and to ensure that the basic principles and priorities of the CERF are
followed and effectively applied. UN agencies who are recipients of CERF funds should continue to engage
with clusters/sectors and strive to ensure that funds are transferred to implementing partners in a timely
manner and base their interactions on the “Principles of Partnership”.
 Supports the Principles of “Good Humanitarian Donorship” and “Do No Harm”: Agencies will make all
efforts to ensure that assistance funded by the CERF empowers local communities and promotes selfsufficiency;
under the auspices of their own mandates conduct regular monitoring and evaluation of impact;
avoid contributing to conflict and inequity; contribute to recovery and sustainable interventions; and take
steps to actively create opportunities for effective participation of civil society and local governments.
 Empowerment of affected populations: Focusing on the immediate aftermath of emergencies, the CERF
expects agencies implementing programmes and projects to take into consideration the project activities
integration into future programming, with special consideration to gender and marginalized groups, who
may be particularly vulnerable in humanitarian crises.
 Vulnerability of particular groups: Children and women represent the largest group of individuals affected by
emergencies. Particular attention should be paid to the situation of boys and girls (including adolescents),
women and the elderly in all emergency situations. The situation of marginalized and other groups
particularly vulnerable in humanitarian crises, such as persons living with HIV, persons with disabilities, the
elderly, persons belonging to minorities, indigenous groups and trafficked persons, are also of special
concern in humanitarian crises. The CERF emphasizes the importance of ensuring that principles provided
in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)4, adopted in
1979 by the UN General Assembly and the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the
Child (CRC)5, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, together with the CRC’s Optional Protocol on
the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (adopted in 2000) 6, and other related
Resolutions such as Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, adopted in October 2000, be pillars
to the implementation of CERF funded programmes and projects. In all sectors of response, agencies
should ensure the application of gender equity principles that will promote the empowerment and protection
of women and girls. In this regard, the CERF Secretariat will use the IASC gender marker whenever
 Environment: Given the acknowledged fragility of the natural environment and possibly irreversible
deterioration of soil and water quality, agencies are requested to give maximum attention in the use of
funds to averting negative effects on the environment.
 Cross-cutting issues: Particular attention should be given to integrating and giving due consideration to
other cross-cutting issues including human rights and HIV.
 Sphere Project: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response: The cornerstone of
the Sphere Project is the Humanitarian Charter, which is based on the principles and provisions of
international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law, and on the principles of the Red Cross and NGO
Code of conduct. The Minimum Standards are organized into initial chapter that details process standards
for the planning and implementation of programmes, together with technical chapters covering water,
sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security, nutrition and food aid; shelter, settlement and non-food
items; and health services. The Sphere Project handbook has been recently updated and the 2011 edition
is available. Reference should also be made to the companion documents to the Sphere such as the MSEE.

III. Eligibility Criteria
 Eligible grant recipients include UN operational funds, programs and specialized agencies, and the
International Organization of Migration (IOM) (referred to as “agencies”). NGOs are able to receive funding
indirectly as implementing partners of agencies. As manager of the CERF, OCHA cannot receive grant
funding but may apply for a loan. UN agencies may not pass on CERF funds to other UN agencies. When
several UN agencies or IOM collaborate on a project, separate budgets should be presented for individual
agency components of the project.
 Only grant requests submitted by Resident/Humanitarian Coordinators (RC/HCs) will be considered.
RC/HCs have the overall authority to determine funding priorities in country following an inclusive and
transparent consultation process.
 Eligible humanitarian activities for CERF grant funding are those that adhere to the Guidance on CERF
Life-saving Criteria (26 January 2010). Exceptions to this are rare and would require strong justification.
Common humanitarian services (e.g. humanitarian air support) that are necessary to implement life-saving
activities or to improve access to affected populations are also considered as life-saving. Activities such as
disaster mitigation, prevention and preparedness, economic recovery, and poverty reduction, are not
suitable for the CERF grant element, but may be considered under the loan element if they are linked to
humanitarian response. Adherence to the life saving criteria is a necessary condition for funding but does
not in itself guarantee funding. Each project proposal will be reviewed within the specific emergency
 Applications to the CERF must be based on recent, coordinated and where possible, joint needs
assessments7, and ensure that minimum safety conditions are in place for the delivery of humanitarian
assistance. Where relevant, CERF submissions should be based on the existing humanitarian strategic
planning frameworks (i.e. CHAP, CAP, and Flash Appeals, country strategies).
IV: Steps in the application process
1. Preparing for an application to the CERF rapid response window: Rapid response grants are intended to
provide initial funds to start-up essential humanitarian activities. In parallel, agencies will be looking for others
sources of funding to complement the CERF. The maximum amount applied to a crisis in a given year typically
does not exceed $30 million, although higher allocations can be made at the discretion of the ERC in
exceptional circumstances. The CERF provides rapid response funding for life-saving, humanitarian activities in
the following contexts: sudden onset disasters, rapid and significant deteriorations of existing crises, and timecritical
2. Informing the ERC of a rapid response emergency: If a crisis meets the criteria of the rapid response
window and the RC/HC considers it necessary to access CERF funds, it is recommended that the RC/HC signal
the need for rapid response funds as soon as possible by contacting the ERC via letter or email. The RC/HC
can also decide to directly initiate the prioritization process and submit a complete CERF application package
along with a cover letter to the ERC.
In situations where a Flash Appeal is planned, the development of both the Flash Appeal and CERF requests
should start immediately and proceed in tandem. CERF funds should be requested for the most time-critical life
saving elements of the flash appeal and those that have the potential to make the greatest impact within the six
month timeframe of the rapid response window. All CERF-funded projects should be included in the Flash
Appeal (please refer to the Flash Appeal Guidelines for additional details)
V. Complementarity with other Humanitarian Pooled Funds
The existence of a Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) or an Emergency Response Fund (ERF) in a country
does not preclude the CERF from providing rapid response funds. Employing the CERF in combination with incountry
pooled funds (i.e. ERFs or CHFs) provides the Humanitarian/Resident Coordinator (RC/HC) and the
humanitarian country team with a powerful toolbox of humanitarian financing options for responding quickly to
emergencies within a given country.
To achieve a high degree of complementarity between the pooled funds and to maximize impact of the funding
available through these mechanisms, it is recommended that a common framework is used at country level to
7 The IASC Needs Assessment Task Force has developed an Operational Guidance for Coordinated Needs Assessments in Humanitarian
Crises to enhance the quality of humanitarian response. These are mainly geared to the first phases of a crisis, but can be useful for
planning a well-timed campaign of needs assessment in a protracted crisis prioritize funding from the different channels.

Where CHFs and ERFs exist these funds have established a standardized framework for prioritization and allocation of funds at the country level,

a framework that should be
supported by a well-defined management structure and based on strong sector/cluster participation. In order to
improve overall coherence and effectiveness it is strongly recommended that the RC/HC utilizes these
structures to identify needs and to undertake prioritization of activities if/when applying for CERF funding for the
country. This will help to ensure that CHF, ERF and CERF funds are used to complement each other as much
as possible, that both UN and non-UN partners are actively involved in CERF prioritization, and that
sectors/clusters are playing a lead role in identifying needs and priorities for all funding streams.

VI. Project prioritization and selection
A CERF grant request is based on a field-driven process, which gives the RC/HC overall authority for
determining priority activities for funding and submitting the grant request to the ERC. The grant development
process should be inclusive and transparent, involving UN agencies, IOM, national and international NGOs,
government partners, and any other relevant in-country humanitarian actors. If NGO or government partners
are not part of these established coordination forums, every effort should be made to engage them through adhoc
arrangements. Reference to the consultation process and stakeholders involved, the tools/criteria used to
establish funding priorities and select activities for funding, and the arrangements for the implementation of
activities forms part of the application package for CERF funding.

While the use of the humanitarian country team and the sectors/clusters is highly encouraged, the RC/HC is
responsible for determining the process, tools, and entities involved in the establishment of funding priorities
and the selection of proposals for funding based on the context and coordination forums in country. In countries
where OCHA is present, the OCHA office may provide support including provision of guidance and technical
support, providing relevant information for the prioritization process, organizing consultative meetings, and
consolidating the request in the CERF template. In countries with no OCHA presence, the relevant regional
OCHA office8 can provide technical support and in some cases may deploy a staff member on a surge capacity
basis to support the prioritization and application process. In addition or alternatively, the RC/HC may decide to
form an interagency task team including agency staff with CERF experience to support the prioritization process
and the development of the CERF submission.

The CERF Secretariat recommends the following series of steps:

Step 1: The RC/HC and the humanitarian country team review current needs and gaps in the overall
humanitarian response, taking into consideration the funding situation of different sectors/clusters and up-todate
needs assessments.

Step 2: The RC/HC, in consultation with the humanitarian country team, determines priority sectors/clusters
and/or geographic areas or beneficiary groups based on Step 1 for inclusion in the CERF request. Taking into
consideration the unmet humanitarian needs, the funding situation of prioritized sectors/clusters and specific
emergency programs therein, the RC/HC may suggest preliminary funding amounts for each prioritized
sector/cluster. For countries with a Flash Appeal or CAP, this document should form the basis for priority setting
and project selection.

Step 3: Based on the guidance and overarching priorities provided by the RC/HC, sectors/clusters identify
priority projects/activities for CERF funding. Projects should be selected based on available needs assessments
data, their funding situation, compliance with the CERF Life-saving Criteria (26 January 2010), as well as
agencies’ operational capacity. In addition, expertise and comparative advantage as well as the ability to
implement CERF grants within the timeframe of the CERF rapid response window should also be taken into
account. In Parts I and II of the CERF submission template sector/cluster leads are expected to provide a brief
explanation of the strategy for identification of priorities for inclusion in the CERF proposal. Where more than
one project is submitted within a cluster, the prioritization approach applied and the complementarity between
the projects should be explained.

Step 4: Agencies prepare CERF grant proposals for prioritized projects. The suggested minimum amount
requested per project is $100,000. As a general recommendation, funding should not be spread too thinly
among many projects, but rather be focused on fewer high impact priority projects. To ensure coherence with
8 Detailed guidance on the role of OCHA regional offices and OCHA country, review and management of CERF Grant Requests is available
on the CERF website (http://cerf.un.org)  the agreed strategy and priorities for the sector/cluster it is recommended that projects are submitted to the
relevant sector/cluster lead for review, and that, when feasible, the sector/cluster lead submits a consolidated
proposal package to the RC/HC on behalf of the sector/cluster.

Step 5: The RC/HC with support from OCHA and / or the interagency task team, (as relevant) ensures that
drafted proposals meet the necessary requirements. The RC/HC also validates the specific amount requested
by each proposal and agency. This should include an appraisal of pledges or contributions received including
funding information from the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) where available. Other available resources, such
as internal agency reserves and un-earmarked funds should also be taken into account.

Step 6: The RC/HC office with support from OCHA where present consolidates the application package and
completes Parts I and II of the application template.

Step 7: The RC/HC endorses CERF submission and submits it to the ERC and the CERF Secretariat
(cerf@un.org) along with a cover letter.
The CERF secretariat can be contacted at any point in the process for technical support and guidance.

VII. The CERF Grant Application
Agencies should submit CERF grant applications on the standard CERF application template available on the
CERF website (http://cerf.un.org). The CERF application template is comprised of a consolidated sections (all
sections under II: Overall Grant Request) and individual agency project proposals (all sections under part III:
Agency Project Proposals). The humanitarian country team is expected to provide inputs for the completion of
all consolidated sections of the template including the humanitarian context and response; the grant request
justification and the project allocation table. Requesting agencies must also complete a project proposal for
each project they are submitting. Inputs will be consolidated by the OCHA or RC’s office in support of the
RC/HC into one document.

Each CERF project proposal must include a budget which details the costs to be funded by CERF and which
strictly adheres to the CERF budget template and CERF budget guidelines. The budget should reflect activities
described in the project narrative, and include sufficient detail to provide a transparent overview of how CERF
funds will be spent. Budget lines should be itemized wherever possible, including quantity and unit prices of
items to be procured whenever possible. Budgets should not include government staff salaries, recurrent costs
for regular agency operations (e.g. maintenance costs), prevention activities, or stockpiling. Capacity-building
and training should not be included, unless related to direct implementation of emergency response, and then
only at minimal levels. Staff and travel costs should be kept to a minimum.
If more than one agency will implement a project, separate budgets must be completed for each agency. There
will be a separate disbursement to each agency, as CERF funds may not be passed from one agency to

VIII. Grant Request Submission, Approval and Fund Disbursement
All CERF requests must be transmitted to the ERC and CERF Secretariat (cerf@un.org) by the RC/HC. UN
agencies and IOM may not send proposals directly to the ERC.
Following the submission of the grant request, the package is reviewed by the CERF Secretariat in consultation
with other branches of OCHA, including the Coordination and Response Division (CRD), and recommendations
are prepared by the CERF Secretariat for the decision of the ERC. Applications are reviewed in relation to the
mandate of the CERF, the quality of the request based on needs assessments and the field-based prioritization
process, availability of funds from other sources, compliance with the CERF’s life-saving criteria, and feasibility
given the implementation period for the RR window.

If necessary, the CERF Secretariat may request further clarification or revisions to the proposals to ensure that
the projects meet CERF criteria and include an adequate level of detail. The most common causes of revision
requests are insufficient detail in the budget, a lack of direct linkage between the proposed activities and the
budget, a lack of clarity on the strategy or rationale for prioritization and selection of projects or inadmissibility
under the life-saving criteria.

For those projects approved by the ERC, the recipient agency’s headquarters will receive an approval letter to
be counter-signed by an authorized representative of the recipient agency and returned to the CERF
Secretariat to reconfirm implementation according to the terms of the duly signed umbrella LoU. The approval
letter send to agency headquarters will be accompanied by the final approved version of the agency proposal.
Once the CERF Secretariat receives a counter-signed approval letter from the recipient agency, funds are
disbursed to the agency headquarters within approximately five working days. If joint projects are proposed and
approved, individual disbursements to each participating agency will be made for multi-agency projects.
Funding commitments with dates of approval and disbursement are posted on the CERF website
(http://cerf.un.org) and reflected in the Financial Tracking Service to ensure transparency of funding decisions.
When all projects within the submission have been processed and either approved, withdrawn or rejected, and
when allocations have been accepted by agency headquarters, the ERC will officially communicate in writing to
the RC/HC the total amount approved and listing the individual amounts approved for each project.
The RC/HC shall inform the HCT, sector/cluster leads and other relevant stakeholders at country level of the
decision of the ERC. Sector/cluster leads shall in turn communicate information on relevant CERF allocation
decisions to all sector/cluster members.

IX. Implementation period.
The implementation period for rapid response grant is six months from the date of disbursement9. During this
period all funds should be committed and project activities completed. In cases where an agency has begun
expensing funds prior to the date of disbursement in order to respond to urgent needs at the onset of an
emergency, an earlier start date may be specified in the agency project proposal. This date cannot exceed
more than six weeks prior to the date of disbursement and not earlier than the onset of the crisis. Justification
for the earlier start date should be provided in the project proposal.
A no-cost extension can be requested only in cases where the inability to implement are clearly documented to
be outside of the control of the recipient agency (See section XI).

X. Reporting
1. Narrative Reporting: Agencies headquarters as well as RC/HCs have to provide an annual narrative report
detailing the use of CERF funds for life-saving and/or core humanitarian activities. Reporting at country and
agency levels offers two perspectives on how CERF funds have made a difference in the agencies’ capacity to
respond as well as in the humanitarian community’s timely and coordinated response to a crisis.
Headquarters level: Agencies should submit an annual headquarter-level report by 20 April, which follows the
UNDG or agency standard reporting format. As part of the report, agencies should provide a global perspective
on lessons-learned on accessing funds from the CERF and an analysis on the impact of CERF on the agencies’
capacities to respond to humanitarian needs. Agency reports will serve as input for the Secretary-General’s
report on the use of the CERF. Reports are due two months prior to the submission of the Secretary-General’s
report and should be based on CERF funding received in the previous calendar year.

Field level: At country level, it is the responsibility of the office of the RC/HCs to report on behalf of the
humanitarian country team on CERF allocations through an annual report, which will be based on inputs
prepared and submitted by the recipient agencies. The report provides a field level analysis of the challenges
faced when prioritizing needs, project implementation arrangements, results achieved, and lessons learned.
This will help to determine the added value of the CERF. An emphasis on lessons-learned contributes to the
Fund’s continual improvement. The RC/HC will be assisted by the OCHA country office, if there is one.
The annual country reports are essential to ensure accountability to CERF donors, stakeholders and to
beneficiaries. Please refer to the CERF website http://cerf.un.org for the current reporting template. Countries
that do not meet reporting requirements risk not being selected for new CERF funds in the future.
The deadline for the submission of annual CERF country reports is 15 March of the following year. Should a
project start towards the end of the calendar year, please state that the project has started and is on-going. A
preliminary account of the results to date should be included in the March report. A full report of the project
would then be expected in the annual report of the following year.

 The implementation timeline for rapid response has changed from 3 to 6 months to six months with the introduction of the new umbrella

2. Financial Reporting: Financial reports on CERF grants are provided by agency headquarters for all projects
received from the CERF. An interim financial statement should be provided by 15 February and a final report
by 30 June of each year (financial status as of 31 December of the prior year) for all grants received the prior
year and for all outstanding balances (amounts of the grant for which expenditures have not been reported) on
grants received in previous years. For rapid response projects with an implementation-period end date
between 1 January and 30 June of a given year, an interim report should be provided by 15 August (status as
of 30 June) of the same year.

XI. No-cost Extensions and Budget Modifications
1. No-cost Extensions: Within six months from the date of disbursement to the agency headquarters, CERF
funds received through the rapid-response window must be committed (i.e. obligated) and related project
activities completed.
Project extensions are only permissible, if the reasons for the inability to implement are clearly documented to
be beyond the control of the recipient agency. Compelling reasons for project extensions include unforeseen
and increased access restrictions, unforeseen changes in government policy, or a fundamental change in the
humanitarian situation underpinning the application for CERF funds. Please note that with the implementation
of the new Umbrella LOU no-cost extensions (NCE’s) will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
A request for a project extension must be submitted to the ERC by the RC/HC as a formal request on behalf of
the recipient agency prior to the expiration of the project implementation period. If such a request affects more
than one CERF project implemented by different agencies, the request for project extension should come in a
consolidated letter from the RC/HC. The CERF has a template for NCE requests that should completed for
each project requiring an extension (the NCE template can be found on the CERF website).
Project extensions for CERF funds are granted at the discretion of the ERC. If the ERC finds that the request is
not adequately substantiated, or if the proposed revised commitment period is found not to be feasible, the
remaining funds will have to be returned in accordance with umbrella LoU. Extensions are usually not given if it
becomes evident that the project is suspended for the foreseeable future.

2. Budget Modifications: CERF funds have been approved on the basis of specific proposals and as such any
substantial changes in CERF funded activities need the prior approval of the ERC. Still, to retain a level of
flexibility in project implementation minor adjustments of exiting CERF budgets are considered acceptable, and
budget modifications that involve a cumulative shift of less than 15% of the direct project costs (i.e the project
total less project support costs) will not require the prior approval of the ERC. However, in cases where
modifications are expected to result in any increase in staff costs or a change in programme support cost (PSC),
formal approval must always be sought from the ERC.

The ERC may on an exceptional basis approve larger changes (beyond the 15%) within existing projects, if
these are due to external circumstances affecting project implementation and provided that the original project
objective is retained. Such revision requests should be submitted by the RC/HC to the ERC explaining and
justifying the changes.
In the case of major changes of scope (target beneficiaries, sector, or geographic area), recipient agencies are
requested to return unused funds and to prepare another grant requests for the new emerging situation.

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