(Adds details on lack of contributions, background)
By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton
UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - A United Nations trust fund seeking nearly $1 billion for rapid, flexible funding of the most urgent needs to fight Ebola in West Africa has received a deposit of just $100,000 nearly a month after it was set up.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Sept. 16 that $988 million is needed to tackle the deadly hemorrhagic fever over the next six months. Since then $365 million has been committed to stop Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which have been hit hardest by the epidemic.
Nearly all that money was donated directly to U.N. agencies and nonprofits working in West Africa with just $100,000 paid by Colombia into the trust fund set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, according to U.N. records.
Some diplomats and officials said many donors had made commitments to U.N. agencies before the trust fund was established. Others said donors were already overstretched and suggested they might be wary of how money put into the trust fund would be spent.
“This is a very serious problem,” Ban said of the lack of money in the trust fund. He said that while he appreciated the support given to the U.N. Ebola response so far, it was time more countries with the capacity to help increased assistance.
“It’s time that those other countries who really have capacity, (that) they would provide financial support and other logistical support,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Dr. David Nabarro, who is heading the U.N. response to the Ebola crisis, said 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 the 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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 Organization said on 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 U.N. response on the ground. There are critical funding needs that must be met now,” Nabarro said.
The fund is expecting to receive an additional $19 million. Australia has committed to a contribution of more than $8.7 million, and Chile, Estonia, India and Romania have made non-binding pledges, according to a U.N. 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 $365 million in cash and contributions of resources already registered with the United Nations, another $204 million in pledges have been made and are yet to be filled.
The $365 million has been committed by 28 countries, the African Union, the European Union, the World Bank, the African Development Bank and several foundations and corporations. (Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Tom Brown, Toni Reinhold)