UNITED NATIONS -- Countries rich and poor on Monday called for a $500 million U.N. fund to meet humanitarian emergencies after a year of devastating disasters from the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquakes in Asia and hurricanes in the Americas to drought in Africa.
General Assembly President Jan Eliasson said the current $50 million revolving fund was insufficient, and the increase would help the United Nations respond quickly to sudden and underfunded crises.
"The complexity of today's crises and the growing magnitude of disasters require that humanitarian assistance remains one of the highest priorities of the work of the United Nations," he told the opening of a daylong debate on improving U.N. humanitarian and disaster relief.
As the U.N.'s 191 member nations were meeting, he said, the death toll in Pakistan from the Oct. 8 earthquake was still rising "and thousands of people are in danger of freezing to death as winter sets in."
An especially destructive hurricane season has also left thousands homeless in the Caribbean, Central America and the United States, and nearly 35 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are hungry and need food as a result of "a lethal combination of conflict and drought," he said.
The General Assembly adopted resolutions on the tsunami and quake without a vote. The quake resolution called for strengthening "the rapid response capacities for immediate humanitarian relief" and appointment of a special envoy to promote reconstruction. The tsunami resolution urged support for medium- and long-term rehabilitation.
Jamaica's U.N. Ambassador Stafford Neil, speaking on behalf of a group that includes 132 mainly developing countries and China, offered support for the increased fund and said "addressing the funding capacity of the U.N. system is one of the most critical steps to achieving the objective of improving the U.N. emergency response capacity."
Pakistan's U.N. Ambassador Munir Akram said the South Asian earthquake showed that the U.N.'s disaster coordination machinery must be strengthened, he said, but "more importantly, it is imperative that the U.N. should be provided with adequate financial resources to respond quickly and effectively to such disasters."
South African diplomat Andries Oosthuizen said it was troubling that U.N. appeals to address crises in Africa received scant money, citing an appeal to help drought victims in Djibouti which received just 5 percent of the required US$7.5 million. The appeal to help drought victims in Malawi also receiving little funding and now the situation has gotten worse _ which means more money will be needed, he said.
Oosthuizen strongly backed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's request to donors to fund it with additional money _ and not take money away from other development programs.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, speaking on behalf of the European Union, supported the fund and expressed hope that it will become operational in early 2006.
U.S. Ambassador Sichan Siv, an alternate representative to the General Assembly, said the United States generally supported the idea of a rapidly available source of funding and wants to see how a U.N. fund would operate. It also hopes for a broadened donor base, additional voluntary resources, strengthened early warning systems, and improved U.N. coordination.