How CERF works

CERF receives contributions from various donors—mainly governments, but also private companies, foundations, charities and individuals—into a single fund. This is set aside for immediate use during crises.

In emergencies, humanitarian organizations on the ground get together and apply jointly for funding. Funds are immediately released if these proposals meet CERF’s criteria, i.e. the needs are urgent and the activities will save lives.

With money at hand, organizations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) can provide food during a drought; the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) can keep children safe during conflict; the World Health Organization (WHO) can provide medical care after an earthquake; and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) can buy tents to shelter people who fled their homes in a war zone.

CERF is quick: Rapid Response

Most lives are saved in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, such as a cyclone, an earthquake or a tsunami. This is when time is of the essence and it is critical that emergency relief operations get under way quickly. The challenge is that fundraising and signing agreements with donors take time, but humanitarian first responders need money immediately. And as time passes, people become more desperate and more lives are lost.

CERF helps to remedy this problem through its rapid-response window. Rapid-response grants, which can be approved in as little as 48 hours, are deployed immediately to save lives at the beginning of a crisis while governments determine how much to donate and before charities and public fundraisers mobilize money.

CERF is equitable: Underfunded Emergencies

CERF also serves another critical function: it provides funding to the world’s most neglected and underfunded crises. When a disaster is front-page news, donors are motivated to help. But when a disaster fades from the headlines, or never makes the headlines, it is much harder to raise funds. The needs, however, are no less significant.

CERF helps to address this imbalance through its underfunded-emergencies window. Twice per year, grants are disbursed for emergencies that have not attracted, or are unlikely to attract, sufficient funding for life-saving activities in time. These underfunded grants support operations where acute humanitarian needs are far greater than the funding available. CERF funds enable better coverage of core humanitarian or life-saving activities.

CERF and OCHA-managed pooled funds

Following a humanitarian crisis, humanitarian actors in the field can immediately provide life-saving assistance using pooled funds managed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). There are three types of pooled funds: CERF, Common Humanitarian Funds (CHFs) and Emergency Response Funds (ERFs). While CERF can cover all countries affected by an emergency, CHFs and ERFs are country-based pooled funds that respond to specific humanitarian situations in currently 18 countries.

The pooled funds enable humanitarian organizations to provide the most urgently needed assistance following a natural disaster; fill critical gaps in the response in countries with large, on-going humanitarian operations; and provide basic life necessities for people struggling to survive in many of the world's forgotten emergencies.

Since these funds were created, billions of dollars have been disbursed to help millions of people in dire need of assistance in 88 countries. Funds come from the voluntary contributions of over 125 countries and private-sector donors.

Immediately following a disaster, the Resident or Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC) can submit a CERF application for funds to cover life-saving projects identified by UN agencies, and prioritized by the Humanitarian Country Team. CERF provides the funds directly to UN agencies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who provide a portion of the funding to NGOs, civil society organizations and host governments for joint implementation. In countries where there is an ERF or a CHF, the HC can immediately release available funds upon agreed priorities at country level. CHFs and ERFs can allocate funds directly to NGOs.

Decisions on prioritizing life-saving activities are managed by humanitarian actors on the ground. These priorities are organized into an appeal document and presented to Member States and other partners for funding. Generally there are two types of appeals: Consolidated Appeals developed on an annual basis in countries where there are on-going humanitarian needs; and Flash Appeals developed following a sudden-onset emergency such as a flood or an earthquake. CERF, CHF and ERF funding is recorded against these appeals. All funding information is recorded in the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) database. OCHA coordinates the appeals and manages FTS.

OCHA’s management of pooled funds allows for faster response to humanitarian needs. The appeals ensure coordination of humanitarian action, while the tracking of funding facilitates transparency in how humanitarian funding is provided. OCHA works with Member States and the private sector to mobilize funds for the pooled funds and humanitarian appeals.