Recently reported in the Guardian newspaper, a leaked memo between the director of policy at DFID, Nick Dyer and the Secretary for International Development, Andrew Mitchell suggested that there will be significant spending cuts to the UKs aid budget under the new coalition government. As part of these suggested cuts the UK would reduce funding to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) a pooled humanitarian fund that operates on a global level.
This United Nations managed fund was established in 2006 with a more ambitious target of US$450 million compared to its predecessor which had a grant element of only US$50 million. This expansion was encouraged, according to the Guardian, by the UK. The fund provides humanitarian funding to sudden onset emergencies such as Pakistan and Haiti and to forgotten or underfunded emergencies such as Niger or Chad. This year alone the fund has already allocated US$313 million to 36 countries.
Since 2006 the UK has been the largest donor to the CERF contributing a total of US$358 million over 5 years, equivalent to an 18.3% share of the total money received. The second largest donor, the Netherlands has provided a 14.3% share and Sweden, third largest, has contributed 13.1% towards the total.
Although the contributions to the fund are totally unearmarked, hypothetically speaking the UK’s proportion of the US$17 million of CERF funding to the Pakistan floods equates to US$3 million, since it has granted 17% of the total CERF funding for 2010. Of the US$35 million spent on Niger so far this year the UKs share would therefore equate to US$6 million. These are substantial amounts of assistance and without the UKs commitment to the CERF it could be argued that there would be a considerable reduction in humanitarian funding for emergencies especially in those countries such as Niger, which are not subject to the same level of media attention as Haiti or Pakistan.
If this cut in spending does affect contributions to the CERF it comes as a surprise since at last year’s CERF conference the now Shadow International Development Minister, Gareth Thomas, praised the fund for its contribution to humanitarian assistance and pledged multi-annual support to the CERF until 2012 on behalf of the UK.
“Without CERF funding, some 5 million people affected by drought would have gone without food – 2.5 million children would have suffered malnutrition. So this fund saves lives and today I am pleased to announce that over the next three years UK funding for CERF will be £120 million.” Remarks from Gareth Thomas at CERF conference 2009
If the UK government does not uphold this commitment to the CERF made by the previous administration, could this be just one part of a series of reductions in funding for humanitarian aid, including support for other humanitarian in-country funds to which the UK has been a significant and leading donor.
Or is this a restructure of priorities and not actually a cut in overall spending. Are savings here to spent elsewhere, such as Afghanistan? Would this be a move away from unearmarked multilateral contributions to humanitarian need?