foreword

Foreword

In writing this foreword, I am struck not only by how much has changed, but also by how much is still the same since I wrote the foreword for the 2006 Annual Report. I think, for example, of Darfur, where things have only changed for the worse since I made my first trip there as Emergency Relief Coordinator in March 2007. Although it may sound all-too-familiar from New York or Geneva to talk of the millions of displaced, access problems and renewed fighting, spare a moment to think of those most affected. It is bad enough that one family, or the population of one village, should be trapped in a shelter made out of cloth and sticks in the middle of the stifling desert in a huge camp – but millions have been trapped there for four years now. Women and girls run tremendous risks every time they go out looking for firewood. The boys and men are bored, despairing and vulnerable to politicization and militarization. How many will be able or want to go back to their homes when peace finally comes? It is dreadful that a tragedy of this scale can go on so long with no respite in sight.

Other complex emergencies too give us little room for immediate hope. I have spoken out against what I believe to be collective punishment by the Government of Israel against the population of Gaza, and about the worsening humanitarian situation there. I have been strongly critical of the cynical tactics of Hamas in attacking Israeli towns, and particularly in attacking the crossing points. Somalia continues to depress, with little prospect for the population of relief from wrenching poverty, constant displacement and fear of attack.

Here and elsewhere, such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, OCHA maintains a strong presence, as well as working in many of the emergencies that we tend to call ‘forgotten'. We cannot of course be everywhere with our existing resources. I hope very much that we can begin or continue the process of phasing out in places like Côte d'Ivoire and Burundi, and that, for example, the situation in Kenya will allow over the course of the next year the safe and secure return of IDPs, which would in turn allow OCHA to scale down there.

On the natural disaster front, 2007 was marked by a seemingly never-ending series of floods and storms across Africa, much of Asia, and Central and South America. We launched no less than fifteen flash appeals (by a considerable degree the most ever), even though in some of the bigger disasters, for example in India, OCHA's assistance was not requested and it was not involved in the response. It was hard to escape the conclusion that we were seeing the predicted effects of climate change in terms of more and more intensive extreme weather events. The importance of disaster risk reduction and preparedness has rarely seemed more relevant. We need to step up further our efforts to increase national and regional capacities in these areas, and our strengthened regional offices are helping to play a vital role here.

On the broader humanitarian front, we have continued to see good progress – with donors' help – on humanitarian reform and the strengthening of OCHA. 2007 saw considerable strides in rolling out and running clusters, and in the raising and disbursement of funds for the CERF. We also worked hard on the Humanitarian Coordination Strengthening initiative and the Global Humanitarian Partnership, although much more remains to be done. Meanwhile, OCHA has established its new emergency roster (which has already led to some improvements in deployment times and quality), pushed on with implementing the recommendations of its major Information Management Review, and started new projects on needs assessment and impact evaluation.

I spent a good part of the second half of the year looking at OCHA's management and administration procedures, and struggling with what often seemed like ill-adapted methods, for example for planning and managing OCHA's finances. I am strongly committed to working with my senior management team to modernize and streamline these procedures to match our current size and structure, not least as we grapple with continuing upward pressure on our budgets. We have already made some progress in working with donors to free up earmarked funds in dormant accounts, and we expect that in 2008 cost centre managers will have much better real-time information that will in turn allow them to manage their resources more efficiently. We still need to do more to improve our accountability for the resources entrusted to us, and I am confident that we can take significant strides forward in budgeting and accounting in 2008.

2007 saw significant changes in the senior management team, not least the departure of Margareta Wahlstrom, who made an incalculable contribution to OCHA's evolution. Her successor Catherine Bragg is also already making a strong impact on the organization, and will add significantly to OCHA's development.

The challenges facing OCHA and its humanitarian partners continue to grow, particularly as we face the new challenge of rapidly rising food prices and the increasing impact of climate change – together with what often seem like multiple threats to humanitarian space and our ability to operate safely and effectively. The only way forward is for all humanitarian agencies and organizations to work even more closely together. Here the signs are good, with a real spirit of cooperation and togetherness evident on the many occasions we get together at headquarters and in the field. I am particularly pleased by the progress we have made in partnerships between the United Nations and non-United Nations agencies. OCHA is also committed to working more closely with governments, donors and recipients in managing its work and addressing these major challenges.

In conclusion I want to thank warmly all of OCHA's donors for the tremendous support provided over the year. OCHA's work is only possible because of your unfailing commitment. I pledge every effort to make sure that your investment is returned through stronger, better and more predictable responses to humanitarian needs around the world.

John Holmes
May 2008