The Central Emergency Response Fund provides life-saving aid when new crises emerge and when existing crises worsen. From COVID to conflict to natural disasters, the CERF helps responders reach vulnerable people worldwide. With the generous support of donors, CERF responded to the dramatic increase in humanitarian needs, disbursing a record $848 million to support humanitarian action worldwide — up from $539 million in 2019.
Below are the stories of some of the people they helped in 2020 — with food, shelter, medicine, mental health, and more.
Protecting one another from COVID-19
Seven years ago, Hajara and her children fled their home in Konduga in northeast Nigeria. Their village was attacked by non-state armed groups commonly known as Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province.
Her husband was one of 70 people killed in the attack. She and her children now live in NYSC Camp in Maiduguri, home to about 2,000 other displaced people.
Hajara joined 50 other women last year to train as WASH hygiene promotion volunteers, working to share information on COVID-19 prevention measures throughout the camp and keep the community as safe as possible. With CERF support, IOM implemented the training as part of a global block grant allocation to support COVID-19 community awareness projects for IDPs.
“We told people about the importance of reporting symptoms and that they should adhere to the protocols; for example, sneezing into a napkin or on the elbow… If they use a napkin, we tell them they should throw it in a dustbin after use because children could pick it up and play with it,” explains Hajara. Along with the other trainees, Hajara visited households one-by-one, emphasizing the importance of washing hands properly.
For their work, Hajara and her colleagues received a small stipend. Hajara plans to use it to pay her children’s school fees and to buy supplies for her knitting business.
Medical and psychological support for safe births
Huda and her husband left home due to conflict. They were living in a camp in very basic conditions when they learned Huda was pregnant. She lost her first child shortly after it was born. “After my second pregnancy was confirmed, I felt intense fear and anxiety, remembering the time when I lost my baby.”
Her husband was also afraid. “I kept thinking about how to save my wife and child when there is not even a single qualified health centre in the whole area that could help us. I decided to take a risk and go with my wife in search of help.”
Huda and her husband travelled to Al Jawf governorate to access medical care at the Al Matoun hospital. There, Dr Hanan provided nutrition and psychological support before preparing Huda for the birth. The medical team identified meconium in the baby’s amniotic fluid — a potentially fatal condition that they were able to safely address.
“When I first saw my child, I couldn’t believe it. I thought she was going to die just like her sister had,” Huda said. Dr Hanan referred Huda for a psychological and medical follow-up at a specialized centre. In Yemen, CERF supported 55 health facilities in conflict-affected areas, providing sexual and reproductive health services to over 125,000 women and girls, including 18,000 safe deliveries for women like Huda. More than 100 midwives and outreach teams were deployed to remote areas to ensure women with high-risk pregnancies or deliveries requiring medical intervention were referred to hospitals.
Safe water and sanitation facilities for disabled children
Hamza is 12 years old. Since 2013, he and his family have lived in the Za’atari refugee camp. Hamza is paralysed from the waist down, a genetic condition that his father also suffers from. “His mother and I make sure he knows that his disabilities will not prevent him from having friends, playing and living a normal life,” explains Hamza’s father, a life skills trainer.
“Sometimes when I am outdoors, I come across other children who treat me nicely; some even ask if I need help pushing my wheelchair, but I usually say ‘no thanks’, because I like the exercise — and then there are the bad kids who make fun of me, but I just ignore them and go on my way,” says Hamza.
Hamza’s house was fitted with an accessible bathroom, with a ramp for wheelchair access, ceramic tiles and grab bars that enable him to use it independently.
“Before they renovated our bathroom, my mum would help me use the toilet, and it took me forever! It’s so much better now.”
CERF funding has helped UNICEF provide accessible WASH services to over 6,000 people living with disabilities in Za’atari and Azraq camps. These people continue to benefit from private household toilets that are now connected to the water and wastewater networks in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. More than 1,600 private latrines were installed following a camp-wide needs assessment.
The renovation has also helped Hamza in other ways. “Now that I’ve seen these engineers who think about people with disabilities, I’m inspired to be just like them and to build a new future — one that doesn’t discriminate based on whether or not you have a disability — because you have to think about everyone.”
Access to education during the global pandemic
Education provides a ray of hope for children living in Burj El Barajneh Palestinian Camp, home to Lebanon’s largest population of Palestinian refugees. Globally, refugee children are five times more likely to be out of school than other children.
Last year, with the help of CERF UFE funding, UNICEF’s Palestinian Programme supported in-class and online access to early childhood education (ECE) programmes for around 3,000 girls and boys aged between three and five, enabling children to continue their education during the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, children in the camp attended four hours of classes a day, five days a week. Following the outbreak, UNICEF and partners supported online learning through videos and games. Throughout the year, the hybrid curriculum alternated between in-class and online learning as lockdown restrictions allowed.
Facilitators and teachers also recognized the protection challenges facing families during periods of lockdown and offered classes for parents and children on child protection and positive discipline.
Classes were taught in Arabic and English, and involved creative online exercises designed to develop fine-motor skills, including for children with disabilities. As Mariam, one of the teachers, explains: “We have children with various difficulties including autism and reduced mobility. With a specially adapted classroom — and appropriate activities — our teachers are trained to work on special needs and, when necessary, a speech therapist comes too.”
While the ECE project initially targeted 1,400 children, the lockdowns and school closures presented an opportunity to divert resources; due to the shift to online and distance learning, UNICEF has succeeded in reaching 3,000 children. Improving the online curriculum also allowed partners to provide tailored support to 100 children with disabilities in the camp.
“Investment in education remains crucial to giving children hope for a better future,” explains Nazih Yacoub, UNICEF Palestinian Programme Specialist. “We all need to remind ourselves to put the most vulnerable children at the core of everything we do.”
Protection support after displacement.
“I still remember what happened. The killing, looting and burning. It makes me scared, and I find it difficult to concentrate. I keep fearing that my family will be attacked again, and I am afraid of going back,” says Fatima, who was displaced by violence in West Darfur.
Two months after an attack on her village, the schools remained occupied by people living in fear of further violence. Students had to travel a long way to attend their exams at Dar Elelim High Secondary School.
“I feared for my safety during my travels, but I managed to come,” explains another student, 17-year-old Safina, who lost her father and two older sisters in the attack.
Following fighting in West Darfur in July 2020, when many houses were burned to the ground, people sought refuge in schools and public buildings.
Supported by CERF through a historic $100 million allocation, partners responded with life-saving assistance, including protection monitoring and community engagement initiatives. UNHCR Protection Officers met with residents and community leaders to discuss the security situation, identify protection incidents — and ways to redress them or mitigate their effects — and, where relevant, refer them to other services.
Protection monitoring also helped to identify people who are at particular risk and link them to more specialized assistance.
The support provided to displaced people in Geneina is part of a project implemented across Darfur, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile, targeting more than 1.7 million people in Sudan who are caught up in protracted displacement situations or, in many cases, newly displaced by local conflicts.
Inclusive dignity kits help people prepare
Anticipatory action — helping people before disaster strikes — saves lives and resources. Mobilizing early also allows people to prepare with dignity and on their own terms.
On 4 July, a high probability of severe flooding was forecast for mid-July along the Jamuna River in Bangladesh, with one-third of the area’s total population likely to be affected. CERF released a $5.2 million emergency grant to UN agencies in Bangladesh to help people prepare.
With CERF support, UNFPA distributed a dignity kit that included hygiene, menstrual and reproductive health supplies to over 15,000 people in Bogura, Gaibandha, Kurigram, Jamalpur, and Sirajgonj districts. Kits were tailored to meet the needs of women, girls, and Hijra, members of Bangladesh’s transgender community.
Since 2013, Bangladesh has recognized the Hijra community as a third gender. However, many of them continue to suffer due to misconceptions, harmful superstitions, and increased economic vulnerability — which COVID-19 has only exacerbated.
Kajli was one of the people who received a dignity kit prior to the predicted floods. “I am so happy to see these arrangements for us. After the pandemic, we were scattered about, and we don’t have any income. I don’t even have a proper place to live at the moment, and the place where I am staying could go underwater any minute.”
CERF’s anticipatory funding helped Kajli and thousands of others better prepare for the floods in July.