Saturday, November 12, 2005

Proposed UN Disaster Fund a Mistake

Representatives of the British run "Save the Children" fund warn that a proposed UN disaster relief fund, CERF - the Central Emergency Relief Fund, could hamper efforts by non-government organizations (NGOs) to provide assistance, and would ultimately hinder relief in stricken areas. (Guardian Unlimited: Aid agency warns against planned UN disaster fund). They also raise the concern that money from a UN run fund would only be diverted to UN agencies, leaving a shortfall for the many other relief agencies that are instrumental in time of disaster.

Said Toby Porter, emergencies director of Save the Children, "At the moment the proposal is that it's only going to make grants to UN agencies. They simply cannot move quickly enough. They are too unwieldy. Global assistance is being delivered more and more by NGOs. One would not want to make up a system where the only people to benefit from UN funding are UN agencies."

For me, there are two other major concerns not cited by Porter. First and foremost, I do not want to give a UN sanctioned agency access to that much standing money. The UN's track record for handling aid is somewhat less than pristine. The amount of money CERF is looking to have pledged is simply a corruption scandal waiting to happen. That CERF would also use that money to distribute between other UN backed agencies is similarly troubling for all the same reasons. Simply put, I do not trust either the UN or any other single organization to manage that money. I happen to like the fact that it is currently being divided by many different organizations all competing for charity dollars. That competition breeds efficiency and lessens the risk of global corruption.

Secondly, I'm concerned that the bulk of the money would be allocated to regions that are "UN pet regions" at the expense of other equally deserving parts of the globe. A prime example is the UN's response to the disasters in Guatemala followed by the disaster in Pakistan. Guatemala was left by the wayside when it came to UN sanctioned donations. It was left to NGOs like World Vision to continue relief efforts in Guatemala. Of course, Africa and Asia are primary focus regions for Kofi Annan. I'm not sure he even knows Central America exists.

CERF supporters argue that there needs to be a single control point for relief funds; that they could better distribute relief money if it is all controlled by one agency and doled out from there. Perhaps, but a relief agency of that size would be a bureaucratic nightmare. When was the last time you saw any large bureaucracy do anything quickly?

They also complain that the last minute scramble for donations whenever there is a disaster slows aid response. According to CERF, there would be a standing fund that could be tapped whenever a disaster strikes. The truth is, however, that disasters are the best fund raisers these agencies have. Whenever a disaster strikes, private money pours into relief agencies and is immediately accessible. Centralizing this under CERF without taking advantage of the human outpouring of compassion in time of disaster simply does not make sense.

One proponent of CERF said, "We can have a debate about access once the fund it established." So let me get this straight. I can give you my money now, and once you have it then you'll figure out how relief agencies can get access to it? Sorry, pal, but that's not the way I do business. Yet, that's typical of the way the UN operates.

CERF is simply a bad concept based on higher administrative costs and increased bureaucracy. It is no way to provide relief in times of disaster. As the old saying goes, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."


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