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Surge Capacity and Contingency Planning Section

As part of strengthening OCHA's rapid deployment to sudden-onset disasters and emergency situations, and timely support to the field, the Surge Capacity Project was renamed and expanded in early to include both Surge Capacity and Contingency Planning 2005. The main tasks of the section were to support RC/HCs and United Nations Country Teams at the sudden-onset or intensification of a crisis that was beyond the capacity of the country team, and to provide internal support within headquarters. This particularly included coordination support; undertaking assessments of the needs of affected populations; assessing the capacity and capability of the UN to address the emergency; and providing experienced leadership in designing and facilitating contingency planning.

The capacity of OCHA and the humanitarian community to respond to both sudden-and slow-onset natural disasters was severely tested in 2005, given the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Sahel food crisis, hurricane season in the Caribbean region and the South Asia earthquake. Furthermore, a combination of man-made and natural disasters stretched the capacity of many UNCTs that had a mainly developmental profile. An expanded Surge Capacity Team served to bolster the capacity of country teams and national governments in a number of these crises.

Key objectives

  • Support the RC/HC and UNCT at the sudden-onset of a new crisis, or the intensification of an existing crisis that is beyond the scope of the country team
  • Fill critical human resources gaps in existing OCHA field offices
  • Undertake assessments of the needs of beneficiaries and of the capacity of the UNCTs to address the emergency/disaster
  • Support UNCTs in developing contingency plans


Staff were deployed at very short notice to fill key coordination positions in tsunami relief efforts in Aceh, Indonesia; and to address the drought and food crisis in Niger and surrounding countries in the Sahel; the intensification of civil unrest in Nepal; the South Asia earthquake; the 'triple threat' of food insecurity, weakened governance capacity and HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe; and potential civil unrest in Guinea Bissau.

Members of the Surge Capacity Team assisted RC/HCs in the establishment of OCHA sub-offices in Aceh; country and sub-offices in Nepal ; and country and sub-offices in Niger . They reinforced OCHA's presence in other RC offices in the Sahel and assisted in the establishment of sub-hubs in Pakistan . Furthermore, advice on strengthening existing coordination mechanisms was provided to RC/HCs and UNCTs in Guinea Bissau and Laos , and in particular, to the protection network in Côte d'Ivoire.

Specific missions were carried out to assist UNCTs in developing or updating contingency plans. These included support in Nepal , Iran , Guinea Bissau, Laos , the Great Lakes Region, the Sahel and at the sub-hub level in Pakistan.

The Senior Emergency Officer was deployed to fill critical gaps at the head of office level in Niger , Eritrea and DRC. Furthermore, associate humanitarian affairs officers provided support to geographical desks at headquarters.

The sheer scale and number of disasters and ongoing emergencies in 2005 warranted the mobilisation of a much larger number of OCHA staff worldwide, as well as secondments from standby partners and the recruitment of external candidates on a short-term basis to fill critical gaps and vacancies. Furthermore, specialised branches are increasingly seeing the need to develop thematic rosters to ensure that trained and experienced staff with the necessary expertise can be deployed at short notice. In this regard, the Surge Capacity Section will work with all branches within OCHA to ensure that specialised rosters are developed and a higher quality of assistance is provided to UNCTs in 2006.

Performance evaluation

Some 60 percent of requests from RC/HCs were deemed urgent and necessary by CRD management and were responded to by the rapid deployment of Surge Capacity Staff within 48 hours. In three sudden-onset disasters, coordination mechanisms were established within 48 hours of arrival, helping to ensure that proper lines of communication between humanitarian actors and local authorities were established from the onset of the crises.

Of the five critical human resource vacancies that arose in 2005, three (or 60 percent) were filled within 24 hours.

All eight of the contingency plans prepared with the assistance of the Surge Capacity Team were prepared in accordance with IASC guidelines. However, only 40 percent were prepared in cooperation with national authorities due to political sensitivities.

Three deployable members of the Surge Capacity Unit were available in 2005 and were deployed to a total of 13 missions. Six of those were deemed urgent and saw staff arrive in-country within 48 hours. Staff members were deployed within seven days to other planned or less urgent missions.

An official and fully functional Emergency Response Roster was not developed but, with the leadership of the AERC and the support of desk officers and regional offices, several hundred OCHA staff worldwide were mobilised and deployed to respond to sudden-onset and large-scale disasters. Furthermore, some branches within OCHA developed specialised rosters, including Public Information, Information Management and Protection Capacity (PROCAP) rosters, in collaboration with UN Agencies. These mechanisms were used in meeting OCHA's needs for an Emergency Response Roster. In order that OCHA can deploy staff in a rapid and organised fashion, an OCHA roster for field recruitment will become operational in 2006.

In order to increase the Surge Capacity Section's usefulness, more needs to be done to integrate its role with early warning, early action and contingency planning activities.




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