Annan says quake shows need for global fund

GENEVA - Pakistan's scramble for earthquake aid shows the need for a permanent global fund to rush relief to disaster sites at a moment's notice, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today.

The Global Emergency Fund, already approved by world leaders at a UN summit in mid-September, will go before the 191-member General Assembly for final ratification in mid-November. The UN expects it to be operational by early 2006.

Annan, in Geneva to lead a fund-raising drive for victims of the Pakistan quake, said the way the international community still raised money for disaster relief -- always after the fact -- led to critical delays that cost lives and left some hotspots overlooked.

"We need a global revolving fund very urgently," he told a high-level meeting, likening the current system to a village asking for a new fire station only after a fire had started.

"If we had had a revolving fund of US$500 million, we could have started the (Pakistan relief) operation immediately," he told journalists. "Now, without the fund, we have to wait for the funds to come in."

Aid agency Oxfam echoed the call, saying the system of "passing the begging bowl" after each disaster was inadequate, as illustrated by Pakistan's initial funding shortfall.

"The failure to fund this appeal is further proof that the UN needs a global emergency fund instead of this chaotic and haphazard approach that puts lives at risk," a spokesman said.

The UN almost doubled its emergency request for Pakistan to US$550 million on Wednesday, as aid workers warned that thousands of survivors faced death from exposure and disease.

UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland, spearheading the fund-raising drive, said only 12 per cent of the US$550 million had been committed so far and that some UN agencies had already run out of cash, hindering operations.

Many injured had undergone limb amputations due to delayed evacuations, while hundreds of thousands more faced hunger and exposure, he told a media briefing.

"If we had had this fund, we would have been able to do more earlier," Egeland told officials from around 60 countries at the emergency donors' conference to boost rescue efforts.

The October 8 quake killed at least 54,400 people, leaving around 74,000 injured and up to three million people homeless.

For crises which were overlooked or failed to precipitate a flood of donations, the fund would be ideal, Egeland said.

In Central America there were hundreds of thousands of homeless in the wake of Hurricane Wilma, while 12 million displaced people in southern Africa required food aid from relief organisations and the UN, he said, adding:

"There are too many neglected and forgotten emergencies." Donor pledges to the planned Global Emergency Fund currently total only US$187 million, according to Oxfam.

It said only seven countries -- Britain, Sweden, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland and Luxembourg -- had so far made firm promises of money.

Other powers from the United States to Belgium, Italy, France, Canada and Australia had not yet pledged anything.

Asked for the Washington view on the fund, US Agency for International Development chief Andrew Natsios said in Geneva that US relief operations were the world's most generous and most sophisticated.

But he saw "no problem" with helping other donors, who lacked operational capability, through Egeland's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "We already have a system that works and my view is do not kill the goose that laid the golden egg," he told reporters.

- REUTERS

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