OCHA’s Advocacy and Public Information Section (APIS), located in New York, and the Advocacy and External Relations Section (AERS), located in Geneva, assisted and supported the Secretary General, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Humanitarian Coordinators and other parts of OCHA, including CRD and ESB, in advocating for effective and principled humanitarian action at the global, regional and country levels.
Advocacy support was also either undertaken directly or provided to other OCHA branches interfacing with various fora, including regional organisations, the Office of the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General (OSSG), and other international and regional bodies. Both APIS and AERS promoted advocacy on key humanitarian issues and worked for the inclusion of humanitarian concerns in UN decisions and communications, as well as with UN Member States in their decision-making. Regular contacts were maintained with the media, NGOs, civil society groups and academic institutions.
- Improve the visibility coverage of complex emergencies, emerging crises, natural disasters and sudden-onset crises through proactive publication in, and outreach to, diverse media, with the deployment of trained and rostered public information specialists
- Develop joint advocacy campaigns on common priorities with IASC partners
- Support and develop field and regional advocacy strategies
- Improve OCHA Online by increasing and updating content
In 2005, media outreach was increased to ensure that the ERC’s field missions and humanitarian priorities received maximum coverage, particularly through an increased number of op-eds, or opinion articles. There was also a significant increase in OCHA’s interactions with international media, particularly after the Indian Ocean tsunami. Between the ERC, other senior officials and OCHA’s public information officers, more than 1,500 interviews were done with media outlets worldwide. In addition to providing guidance for the interviews, the section disseminated press releases, organized press briefings and provided regular inputs to the noon briefing of the OSSG.
APIS established OCHA’s first ever public information surge capacity roster comprising 21 OCHA field and headquarters staff, as well as staff from the OSSG and DPI. Two newly-trained staff from this roster were quickly deployed after the earthquake in Pakistan and hurricanes in Latin America. APIS and AERS also provided critical advocacy and public information support for the tsunami response, and conducted field support missions to the DRC, Nepal and Sudan.
APIS piloted an advocacy and public information preparedness and early response model in Latin America (natural disasters) and West Africa (violent conflict), organised events with the International Peace Academy, and continued joint advocacy activities with InterAction and selected INGOs, including by hosting meetings with advocacy counterparts on crises in the DRC, Uganda, and Darfur.
The section also led advocacy efforts on the Secretary-General’s UN reform, notably that of the humanitarian system and the enhanced CERF, and undertook joint advocacy campaigns with IASC partners such as Oxfam, and with Refugees International.
In 2005, APIS continued to manage OCHA Online, the organisation’s corporate website, adding content to cover human security and gender equality, and resolutions adopted by all the major UN bodies on humanitarian issues. The site continued to add links to field-based OCHA websites and headquarters sub-sites.
OCHA Online also complemented OCHA’s flagship websites, ReliefWeb and IRIN, in providing public information on complex emergencies and disasters. While OCHA Online functioned as a consolidator, pulling together information from all parts of OCHA to create strong thematic coverage, a concerted effort was made to increase the links to both ReliefWeb and IRIN wherever possible. Examples of this included the “campaigns” pages incorporating links to both sites, and the use of maps from ReliefWeb and photographs, films and web specials from IRIN to provide visual impact. In planning new campaigns and considering content for the forgotten emergencies and natural disaster sections, OCHA Online liaised with ReliefWeb and IRIN to avoid duplication of material, while maximising the reach of the information.
APIS and AERS continued to strengthen and expand advocacy partnerships with regional organisations, the private sector, policy-making organisations, INGOs and academic institutions. AERS advocated for the EU Council, at the Foreign Ministers level, to endorse critical policy decisions reaffirming the primary role of the UN in directing and coordinating humanitarian relief in emergencies and disasters. The section worked to ensure European relief mechanisms are geared to integrate and cooperate with those managed by the UN.
The section implemented an advocacy plan for the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan in January 2005. AERS also launched the Quarterly OCHA-Geneva Natural Disaster Bulletin, widely distributed to all permanent missions in Geneva and through ReliefWeb.
AERS developed public/private disaster response initiatives with the World Economic Forum operational network. AERS also launched a pilot project, in cooperation with the Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, to use major sports events in Europe to promote the UN’s role in humanitarian action. AERS ensured regular liaison with European NGOs in support of inclusive system-wide coordination at the field level on specific issues.
Coverage of humanitarian issues increased in 2005 through a push on op-eds, press releases and other forms of media outreach, as well as the development of field advocacy and crisis communications strategies. The number of ERC op-eds published (sometimes repeatedly) rose, for instance, from eight in the last half of 2004 to more than 30 in 2005 – more than at any time in OCHA’s history. All of the op-eds produced were successfully placed, in newspapers including the New York Times, Le Monde, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Al Hayat,Moscow News, USA Today and the Financial Times.
Advocacy work with NGOs, governments, civil society and other entities was enhanced through meetings and briefings through the NGO forum/InterAction and the IASC, and with parliamentarians, donors, universities, focus groups and other stakeholders.
The first public information surge capacity roster was established to ensure the immediate deployment of a UN spokesperson to sudden-onset crises, and it deployed staff for the first time. The roster is intended to ensure the coordination of UN public information activities on the ground and have official UN spokespeople available to meet media demands.
Staffing constraints curtailed certain initiatives, such as joint advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of neglected emergencies and encourage greater funding.
The number of page views for OCHA Online rose from 2.5 million in 2003 to 5 million in 2005, and the addition of new pages on major natural disasters, and sections on neglected and emerging emergencies strengthened the site.
Access to decision-makers in Europe was enhanced, with OCHA invited to contribute to major EU and NATO policy events relating to response to humanitarian crises and preparations for peacekeeping operations.