US$1 billion Ebola fund gets just US$100,000 so far

UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A United Nations trust fund, seeking US$1 billion (S$1.2 billion) to fight Ebola in West Africa, has received a deposit of just US$100,000 nearly a month after it was set up to allow for rapid, flexible funding of the most urgent needs on the ground.

As of Thursday, just US$100,000 was paid into the fund by Colombia, although US$365 million had been committed.

Much of the pledged amount was donated directly to UN agencies and nonprofits working on the ground in the three worst affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, according to UN records.

The US$365 million was committed by 28 countries, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and several foundations and corporations.

But nearly all that money was donated directly to UN agencies and nonprofits working on the ground in the three worst affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, with just US$100,000 paid into the fund by Colombia, the records show.

"This is a very serious problem," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said of the lack of money in the fund, adding that while he appreciated all the support given to the UN appeal so far, it was time more countries with the capacity to help step up assistance.

"It's time that those other countries who really have capacity, (that) they would provide financial support and other logistical support," Ban told reporters on Thursday.

Ban created the Multi-Partner Trust Fund to accept donations after the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launched an appeal Sept 16 for US$988 million to tackle the deadly hemorrhagic fever over the next six months.

Dr David Nabarro, who is heading the UN response to the Ebola crisis, told Reuters the trust fund was intended to offer "flexibility in responding to a crisis which every day brings new challenges; it allows the areas of greatest need to be identified and funds to be directed accordingly."

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said on Thursday the world does not have a choice in whether to support to Ebola fight.

"It is not a matter of choosing whether to do it or not. It's just a question of when we pay the price for it," Kim told a Reuters summit. "Countries need to support the UN fund, they have to step up and they have to put the money in right now. It is the most rational thing to do from humanitarian, public health and economic perspective, it is the right thing to do," he said.

Erin Hohlfelder, policy director for global health for international campaign and advocacy group ONE, said the response to the UN appeal was "pretty disappointing" and that it was important to coordinate contributions so "we don't let aid resources go to waste."

"We have enough speeches and enough rhetoric that it starts to feel the case is solved," she said. "We're really concerned that until those speeches and that rhetoric translate into real services on the ground, we're not doing much to ebb the flow of this crisis."

Nearly 4,500 people have died from the worst Ebola outbreak on record, the World Health Organisation said Wednesday, with confirmed, probable and suspected cases of Ebola reported in seven countries, including the United States.

The United Nations has established a special mission, known as UNMEER, in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea to coordinate efforts to contain Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with body fluids from an infected person.

"We are hopeful that in the coming days and weeks we will see more countries investing in the Fund, using this mechanism to support the coordinated UN response on the ground. There are critical funding needs that must be met now," Nabarro said.

Australia has committed to a contribution of more than US$8.7 million into the trust fund, while Chile, Estonia, India and Romania have made non-binding pledges to the fund totalling US$19 million, according to a trust fund document.

The United Nations relies on donors, agencies and nonprofits to inform its Financial Tracking Service of their cash or in-kind contributions to the Ebola response and the list is by no means complete.

In addition to the US$365 million in cash and contributions of resources already registered under the UN appeal, another US$204 million in pledges have been made and are yet to be filled.

From that UN appeal, the World Health Organisation said it has so far received US$125 million out of the US$260 million it says it requires for the next six months to tackle Ebola.