Part II

Information Analysis Section

Early Warning Unit

The Early Warning Unit’s (EWU) core function within the Information Analysis Section of AIMB is to alert senior management, relevant headquarters sections and partners when a country or region appears to be heading towards a humanitarian crisis. For structural and capacity reasons, the Unit focuses primarily on emerging complex humanitarian crises and slow-onset natural disasters.

In the last quarter of 2006 senior management decided to incorporate OCHA New York’s contingency planning functions into EWU, resulting in the formation of an Early Warning and Contingency Planning Section within the Coordination and Response Division in January 2007. By combining these two functions and locating them in the response side of the organization, OCHA will be able to respond with more targeted and timely preparedness actions both internally and with its partners.


Activities and Accomplishments

During 2006, significant progress was made in enhancing collaboration through inter-agency forums dedicated to conflict prevention, early warning, contingency planning and emergency preparedness. In the IASC Sub-Working Group on Preparedness and Contingency Planning, humanitarian agencies enhanced their efforts to share practices and develop guidance and tools for linking early warning to early action. The quarterly IASC Early Warning – Early Action report was also refined using editorial and user guidelines. The United Nations Interagency Framework for Coordinating Early Warning and Information Analysis Section Preventive Action (‘the Framework Team’), which meets regularly to formulate joint preventive measures for countries at risk of conflict, made significant structural changes to enhance its capacity to translate policy discussions into joint conflict prevention strategies at the field level. EWU was an integral part of both of these groups.

EWU provided early warning analyses to identify and respond to emerging, deteriorating and recurrent humanitarian crises. It produced over 20 early warning reports (mainly fact sheets and alerts) that provided a catalyst for early humanitarian action within OCHA. More than 1500 Early Warning Flashes, which provide updates on emerging humanitarian crises around the globe, were sent to OCHA colleagues and partners at headquarters, regional and field levels.

EWU refined the Early Warning – Early Action methodology (a tool for the systematic collection and analysis of early warning information) to make it more humanitarian focused. To ensure that early warning analysis translates into humanitarian action to prepare for and respond to crises, the Unit, in collaboration with other parts of OCHA, produced an action checklist that triggers specific preparedness actions to be undertaken by all sections of OCHA at headquarters, regional and field offices.

In 2006 EWU worked closely with the field in the production of the quarterly IASC Early Warning – Early Action Report. This presents early warning information provided by IASC members which can be used to identify potential humanitarian crises for the following months which may merit increased inter-agency humanitarian action. The report also contains a checklist of Minimum Preparedness Actions (MPAs) for use by CTs. Increased input from field offices ensured that OCHA’s strategic position was better reflected in the Report.

The EWU’s Intranet page was updated throughout 2006; by year end the site contained over 350 early warning-related documents. In addition, 3,000 early warningrelated news articles and analyses were uploaded to the early warning flash database.

Performance Evaluation





    New York & Geneva1 Kobe Total  
  Requirements 2,070,830 448,855 2,519,685  
  Income from Voluntary Contributions 2,250,197 350,000 2,600,197  
  Staff Costs 1,272,037 308,490 1,580,527  
  Consultant Fees and Travel 180,626 180,626  
  Travel 114,945 32,600 147,545  
  Operating Expenses 11,292 14,900 26,192  
  Contractual Services 224,620 11,000 235,620  
  Supplies, Materials, Furniture and Equipment 73,929 20,000 93,929  
  Fellowships, Grants and Contributions 1,000 1,000  
  Programme Support Costs 244,068 50,439 294,507  
  Total Expenditure (US$) 2,121,517 438,429 2,559,946  
1 Includes expenses of US$ 398,446 for the implementation of the ReliefWeb Technical Infrastructure Upgrade Project

ReliefWeb assists the international humanitarian community in the effective delivery of assistance by providing relevant, timely and reliable information as crisis events unfold. In 2006, ReliefWeb monitored 29 complex emergencies, 115 natural disasters and nine situations of concern (including forgotten emergencies). offices in three locations (Kobe, Geneva and New York) provided around-the-clock coverage and ensured comprehensive outreach to both users and information providers. NGOs, United Nations agencies, international organizations, governments, news media sources and academic institutions contributed approximately 40,000 documents to ReliefWeb during the year. In November, ReliefWeb celebrated its tenth anniversary.

ReliefWeb’s achievements in 2006 met the challenges posed by the humanitarian reform agenda, providing essential information management tools and products for informed decision-making by the international humanitarian community. ReliefWeb partnered with OCHA’s Field Information Support (FIS) Project to ensure cooperation and support for related field-based activities, and it strengthened its response capacity with links to the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS) and UNDAC. In line with reform objectives to ensure the availability and use of relevant tools and information services, ReliefWeb undertook a system-wide evaluation of its information services, and made progress on the further development and formalization of its own policies and guidelines.


Activities and Accomplishments

ReliefWeb’s technical infrastructure was upgraded in 2006, with the development of new features, interface and utilities improvements, and enhanced metrics capacity. The site’s management of information was also improved for easier access by humanitarian actors. To ensure faster and more accurate search results, the development of a search engine facility began in October. In line with efforts to increase staff efficiency, work started on building an automated search tool. Two usability tests were conducted in Geneva and New York and the outcomes were integrated into plans for improvements to the site’s architecture and mapping. A daily podcast service was trialled to test the site’s multimedia capacity and usability.

ReliefWeb was the primary organizer of the third regional HIN Workshop in Nairobi in May. The purpose of the workshop was to support the development of humanitarian information management, exchange and practice in Africa, particularly in the context of the humanitarian reform agenda. ReliefWeb promoted the use of standards for information management and exchange, and it won a 2006 Web4Dev Award for web design excellence. In November, the New York ReliefWeb team participated in panels at the Web4Dev Conference on web governance models and the importance of independence in the evaluation of web projects.

A key achievement for ReliefWeb in 2006 was the implementation of the RedHum initiative in OCHA’s Regional Office in Panama. An outcome of the HIN Workshop in Panama (held in 2005), RedHum is a Spanish language information system that facilitates information sharing in Latin America and the Caribbean (which should also encourage the addition of Spanish content to the ReliefWeb site).

>> The HIN Workshop, Nairobi, May 2006

In May 2006, humanitarian information practitioners from Africa met in Nairobi for the Humanitarian Information Network (HIN) Workshop. A first of its kind in Africa, the format of the workshop was guided by: the recommendations of previous regional HIN workshops in Bangkok and Panama; OCHA’s recent field information management workshops; planning for an inter-agency workshop on information management; and, most importantly, consultations with regional and national counterparts from Central, Southern and West Africa. The purpose of the workshop was to support the development of humanitarian information management, exchange and practice in Africa based on appropriate and sustainable technology (and including multi-language capacities), particularly in the context of the cluster approach. Special attention was paid to building links between information management, advocacy and early warning, and the development and maintenance of local and regional communities of practice.

The primary outcome of the workshop was the endorsement of a ‘Statement on Best Practices in Information Management and Exchange in Africa’, in which an overarching recommendation was the establishment of a Pan-Africa Humanitarian Information Network (PAHIN). This is notable because it takes account of existing mechanisms and systems in Africa and links to the development of a global network of communities of practice.

As part of moving the PAHIN initiative forward, the Southern Africa Humanitarian Information Management Network (SAHIMS) for coordinated disaster response will host a dedicated PAHIN section on its website. This will provide an opportunity for HIN workshop participants to highlight their work and develop important partnerships. A Symposium+5 event is planned for 2007, and steps are currently underway to ensure that other recommendations from the Workshop workshop’s ‘Statement on Best Practices’ are acted upon.

>> Key Recommendations from ReliefWeb’s 2006 Evaluation

  • Become a more essential tool for decision-making by providing layers of insights, key linkages, framing and analyses of significant issues.
  • Expand partnerships with information providers by ensuring ReliefWeb presence at the regional level.
  • Clarify policies and develop content standards and formats for humanitarian information exchange.
  • Grow non-user audiences by improving access and usability through lighter pages, maps, CDs for archives and improved email, and by promoting existing services more widely.
  • Enhance the value of ReliefWeb’s products and services by personalizing the user experience, automating news feeds, improving the layout of email messages, expanding multilingual content
    and increasing interoperability.
  • Strengthen the management of ReliefWeb by recruiting a larger core of permanent staff, reducing
    staff time on content posting and expanding technical staff.
  • Ensure uninterrupted service 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and monitor support and troubleshooting.
  • Evaluate the current platform and identify potential future needs.

ReliefWeb’s three locations strengthened communities of practice with information partners through participation in conferences, seminars and meetings such as InterAction, the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED), ProVention, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and UNICEF Situation Centres and Operations Centres, the Humanitarian IT Network in Geneva, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, Voice, the United Nations Geographic Information Working Group, and the regional Humanitarian Reform Workshop in Panama. As decision-makers are among ReliefWeb’s primary audiences, incoming members of the United Nations Security Council were briefed on resources available through the site.

ReliefWeb strengthened its preparedness, early response and surge capacities by establishing a standard operating procedure for emergency coverage, including the production of map products. This was tested during both the Indonesia earthquake in May and the Lebanon crisis in July. The current trigger mechanism for disasters was refined, and through collaboration with the Emergency Services Branch tools like UNDAC and GDACS were strengthened.

Eighteen staff members from ReliefWeb’s three locations were brought together in October to devise a three-year strategic plan for 2007–09 focusing on people, products and platforms – approved by OCHA senior management at its November meeting. This also addressed recommendations that emerged from an evaluation of ReliefWeb undertaken in early 2006.

Performance Evaluation

Field Information Support Project


  Requirements 1,861,322  
  Income from Voluntary Contributions 1,602,892  
  Staff Costs 967,157  
  Consultant Fees and Travel 27,441  
  Travel 142,457  
  Operating Expenses -  
  Contractual Services -  
  Supplies, Materials, Furniture and Equipment 15,252  
  Fellowships, Grants and Contributions 15,000  
  Programme Support Costs 151,750  
  Total Expenditure (US$) 1,319,057  

The Field Information Support (FIS) Project supports the delivery and coordination of humanitarian assistance by taking a lead role in information management preparedness and response activities for the humanitarian community, and by enhancing OCHA’s information management capacity. In terms of preparedness, in 2006 FIS worked on defining situations in which enhanced information management capacity may be required and developing appropriate response tools and applications to meet those needs.

A key challenge for FIS in 2006 was to provide leadership to the humanitarian community through a system-wide approach to information management practices. This approach was informed by both the humanitarian reform process and an IASC information management workshop (held in June 2006) which outlined the steps required to improve ongoing alignment of information management priorities, mechanisms and systems among humanitarian agencies. The workshop report, which was submitted to the IASC Working Group for endorsement, emphasized the leadership role envisioned for OCHA in the provision of information management services.

Evaluations of OCHA’s recent responses to sudden-onset emergencies showed that the role of the Humanitarian Information Centres (HICs) needs to be thoroughly reviewed, and this will be addressed through the IASC Information Management Working Group.


Activities and Accomplishments

During the first half of 2006, FIS supported HICs in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Liberia and Sudan (Darfur) in their plans for the transitioning of functions and intellectual capital to appropriate partners or to an OCHA Information Management Unit. FIS also provided information management surge capacity to the OCHA offices in Somalia and Indonesia (Yogyakarta). In response to the July crisis in Lebanon and under a limited security ceiling which did not allow for the full deployment of HIC staff, FIS established an HIC in-country as well as a Virtual HIC at OCHA headquarters (New York) – allowing for
24-hour coverage and the ability to respond with the full complement of information management tools.

A global training course was conducted in July to expand the pool of HIC-trained staff: a total of 21 humanitarian and/or technical professionals were trained as managers, liaison or GIS officers, and data coordinators. OCHA organized internal evaluation meetings for HICs in Pakistan, Niger and Lebanon. A joint OCHA/ DFID/OFDA/ECHO mission reviewed the HIC and the information management environment in Pakistan, and made recommendations for improvements. A consolidated report on the evaluations and lessons learned reports on HICs were prepared by FIS and shared with the IASC.

At the request of its humanitarian partners, OCHA assumed a leadership role in the IASC team formed to ensure ongoing implementation of the IASC-agreed recommendations on information management support to the humanitarian reform process. It was also proposed that OCHA work with cluster lead agencies to assess the information management capacities and review all relevant information management tools, services and capacities available for emergency response of cluster lead agencies and other relevant partners. An internal process of information management review was developed and an Inter-Branch Working Group on Information Management was established, with two key deliverables: the development of an internal OCHA policy on information management and clarification of OCHA’s role in information management in the context of humanitarian reform and the cluster approach.

In response to the humanitarian reform agenda and the framework it provides for improved information management at the field level, regional information management workshops were integrated into ongoing regional Humanitarian Reform Workshops. In August 2006, the first Humanitarian Reform Workshop was held for Latin America and the Caribbean; West Africa’s workshop was held in early September; and East and Central Africa’s was held in late September. FIS staff participated in all of these workshops, giving training in information management as it relates to the humanitarian reform agenda.

Performance Evaluation

Field Information Management Project


  Requirements 1,642,702  
  Income from Voluntary Contributions 1,937,789  
  Staff Costs 793,173  
  Consultant Fees and Travel 115,609  
  Travel 229,700  
  Operating Expenses 810  
  Contractual Services 102,984  
  Supplies, Materials, Furniture and Equipment 432,574  
  Fellowships, Grants and Contributions -  
  Programme Support Costs 217,988  
  Total Expenditure (US$) 1,892,838  

In 2004 OCHA’s Field Information Management (FIM) Strategy was approved and three years’ thematic funding was provided by the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) to assist with the development of OCHA’s information management capacity. The FIM Project, charged with implementing the Strategy, aims to increase support to the humanitarian community through improving decision-making tools and analysis.

During 2006 the FIM Project’s activities centred around mainstreaming information management into OCHA’s field operations through the rollout of OCHA’s standardized suite of information management tools, including field websites, ‘Who Does What Where’ contact and project information databases, a geospatial data repository (OCHA GeoNetwork – the United Nations Standard Geographical Data Discovery Platform) and the Field Document Management System (FiDMS). FIS supported field offices with the recruitment and training of Information Management Officers to work in OCHA field and regional offices. FIM’s staff, in close collaboration with FIS, provided technical support to field offices, and worked towards improving information management tools based on field Office feedback.

In the last quarter of 2006, the FIS Project absorbed the activities of the FIM Project as part of mainstreaming the objectives of the Field Information Management Strategy into the core functions of OCHA. The FIM Project was formally closed at the end of 2006.


Activities and Accomplishments

During 2006 the FIM Project improved the integration of existing OCHA applications with those being brought online under the FIM Strategy, through the provision of training for OCHA field and headquarters staff. In January 2006, FIM conducted a global Field Information Management Training Course attended by 27 participants from 18 field offices.

FIM developed an OCHA Information Management Toolbox – a resource designed to assist humanitarian affairs professionals manage information in support of better humanitarian planning and response. The Toolbox covers: Information Management Principles and OCHA Standard Products; GIS and Technical Tools; Humanitarian Information Centre Management and Administration; and General Reference.

FIS and FIM, in collaboration with ReliefWeb and the Information Technology Section, initiated a series of fortnightly Brown Bag Lunch training sessions in which information management tools were explained to staff at headquarters in New York and Geneva – aimed at all staff but with a focus on those who regularly work with the field. A series of teleconferences were held with fieldbased Information Management Officers to ensure ongoing dialogue and feedback on the application of information management tools in the field offices.

Performance Evaluation