Regional Office for the Middle East, North Africa,
Iran and Afghanistan
The Regional Disaster Response Advisor (RDRA) Office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was established during the latter part of 2005. Noting the logistical advantage that Dubai provides as a support hub and the lack of an OCHA presence in the Middle East and North Africa region, it was decided to expand the role of the office from an RDRA to an official regional office, covering the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan, and North Africa.
Given the increasing role and contribution made by the Islamic charities and aid organisations from the Arab-Islamic world to the humanitarian aid operations in various parts of the world (Indian Ocean tsunami, South Asia earthquake, Sudan, oPt, etc.), as well as the existing disconnect between them and the UN and other international humanitarian players, the objective is for the regional office in Dubai to ensure a more coordinated humanitarian response regionally and globally, as well as encourage these actors to increasingly work in a coordinated manner at the multilateral level. OCHA is also striving to provide a platform for discussion and interaction with organisations within the region in order to overcome suspicion and mistrust towards the UN and other international organisations that could be seen among certain humanitarian stakeholders, particularly following 9/11.
The region provides a diverse set of humanitarian challenges that underscore the need for enhanced OCHA attention and coordination support. Various countries and territories in the region continue to be affected by intricate political, religious and other socio-economic challenges resulting in conflict, insecurity, violent hostilities, terrorism or fragile post-conflict environments. Furthermore, the region is prone to serious natural and man-made disasters, including floods, landslides, earthquakes and droughts.
With the transformation of the RDRA Office into a Regional Office, the objectives and key priorities were expanded in 2005 to include, in conjunction with the originally envisaged RDRA activities, other humanitarian coordination support services. The expanded key objectives for 2005 were as follows:
- Improve capacity of national counterparts and the UN system in the region within the domains of natural disaster and emergency preparedness and response
- Strengthen humanitarian partnerships and networks in the MENAIA region
- Improve humanitarian decision-making and response through advocacy and information management
The Regional Office was established in August 2005, with its primary focus on practical matters relating to the technical and operational functions of the office, as well as the development of a new strategic direction and initial regional networking. The office quickly became fully functional and, in October, undertook an exploratory mission to Iran in order to obtain a more thorough understanding of the most pertinent humanitarian challenges there and the role of the OCHA presence in Tehran in that context.
Given the revised objectives with the expansion to a regional office and in view of the nascent character of the office, the primary focus was on the establishment of a regional humanitarian network, involving analytical groundwork, such as compiling country profiles and steadily growing supportive activities in the region as required.
The RO also initiated the groundwork on disaster profiling, risk mapping and prioritisation on the basis of assessments of vulnerabilities and response capacities of various countries in the region. Initial interaction with humanitarian/disaster response players in the region revealed that many partners sought OCHA’s guidance and support in capacity building, in order to become better organized internally and to strengthen coordination with the international humanitarian response system.
The RO also developed strong links with Red Crescent Societies in the region with a view to developing proposals for joint collaboration in various fields. The RO has, for example, worked intensively on financial tracking issues with the Qatar and UAE Red Crescent Societies, as well as on training and capacity building initiatives, disaster response and coordination.
In an effort to strengthen partnerships and networking with Islamic charities and aid organizations from the Arab/Muslim world, the RO participated in meetings with charitable organisations from the Gulf region (in Kuwait in September 2005, for example). That contributed to an improved identification of concerns among players in the region, as well as prospects for future collaboration between the UN system and Islamic charities and aid organisations.
The office also engaged in the development of detailed partnership profiles (for UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait) that map out ‘who is who’ within the humanitarian community and related domains in countries covered by the RO. These profiles will serve as a basis for further networking, external and donor relations. The office started to play an increasingly prominent role in terms of advice and liaison work on resource mobilisation in the Arab world, as well as related matters such as the need for improved financial tracking of donations in the region through OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS).
The RO became increasingly involved in public information activities aimed at disseminating information on the work of OCHA and the wider UN system, as well as general humanitarian concerns, in a region where OCHA’s This entailed media contributions, among other things, but also participation in charitable and corporate responsibility events, as well as an active role as part of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD 2006). This is a conference and exhibition on international humanitarian assistance, organized for April 2006, which is to include an address by the USG/ERC.
Important progress was made during the initial phase in terms of creating vital links and substantive interaction with key humanitarian constituencies in the Arab/Muslim world, such as Islamic charities and Red Crescent organisations. In addition, the office contributed to enhancing knowledge of resource mobilisation within the region.
Since the main focus of the RO throughout the remaining few months of 2005 was on setting up the office and establishing a network in the region, the office was not in a position to fully provide support to national and UN counterparts with regard to contingency planning and preparedness activities. It is expected that this critical objective will be actively pursued in 2006.