PART Iii: performance in 2007
application of 'ten key lessons learned in 2006'

Application of 'Ten Key Lessons Learned in 2006'

OCHA’s Annual Report 2006 presented ten lessons drawn from some of OCHA’s most important experiences in 2006. These were based on independent, system-wide evaluations (such as the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition’s evaluation of the international response to the Indian Ocean tsunami and an inter-agency evaluation of the drought response in the Horn of Africa) and also on internal lesson-learning reviews conducted by OCHA of its own performance (including its emergency responses to the earthquake in Pakistan and conflict in Lebanon). This section considers how these lessons were applied to OCHA’s coordination of humanitarian response during 2007.

Surge Capacity

Lesson 1. Weak surge capacity due to insufficient human resources assigned for surge continues to hamper early response and the rapid scaling-up of humanitarian presence in sudden-onset emergencies. More investment is needed in surge staffing and emergency rosters, as well as the inclusion of quality, geographically diverse staff with broad experience.

While significant progress was made in 2007 in strengthening the surge capacity rosters managed by OCHA – including diversifying staff language skills and levels of experience, and establishing new rosters – more remains to be done in terms of the overall management of surge capacity, surge deployments and the sequencing of surge to medium and longer-term human resources solutions. Both of OCHA’s real-time evaluations conducted in 2007 (in Mozambique and Pakistan) pointed to the need to improve surge capacity, in particular to ensure that staff have appropriate language skills and that they are available to remain in-country for at least six weeks. In addition, clear terms of reference need to be drawn up that provide clarity on the role OCHA plays in cluster management.

In the second half of 2007, the Surge Capacity Section began to play a more central coordination and advisory role in surge capacity and rapid response within OCHA. The ‘Whole of OCHA Approach’, in which the Section plays an advisory role, aims to coordinate action prior to, during and after an emergency (involving a range of internal and external actors) to ensure the flexible and coordinated use of all available resources. In late 2007, OCHA also established an Emergency Response Roster (ERR), which is designed to be the primary internal mechanism for deploying OCHA staff in sudden and unforeseen emergency situations where an OCHA office or presence needs to be initiated or reinforced. The ERR is expected to help span staffing gaps in the initial stages of a crisis until longer term and more regular recruitments are able to replace roster members.

Selection for the ERR takes into account geographical distribution, gender and language skills, and the ERR is open to national staff. Two national officers (out of the fourteen ERR members) were included in the first roster rotation. In response to a number of emergencies in 2007 national staff were deployed to provide support to Resident Coordinators’ Offices; for example, national staff from Zimbabwe and Sudan were deployed to Mozambique in the aftermath of the floods and cyclone crisis.

Regional offices have increasingly assumed a lead role in providing first-line surge capacity to countries without an OCHA presence and, to a lesser degree, to field offices during emergencies. OCHA has continued to build the skills of staff in regional offices to act in this capacity through training. OCHA is currently updating the emergency response manual to ensure the full articulation of relevant procedures (post internal realignment) as well as strengthened capacity in regional offices.

In December 2007, OCHA began implementing multiple duty station recruitment in order to pre-select qualified candidates for certain occupational groups for field assignments (heads of office, humanitarian affairs officers and administrative officers). This initiative is expected to reduce significantly the time taken to fill posts after the initial surge.

OCHA continues to work on expanding the geographical diversity of other rosters. With high demand for Arabic, French and Spanish language capabilities, the Stand-By Partnerships Programme has actively encouraged the participation of members with these language skills. New memoranda of understanding with additional partner organizations have been signed (including Canadem, Swedish Rescue Services Agency and Irish Aid).

The UNDAC system relies primarily on United Nations Member States and secondly on OCHA and United Nations Agencies, and deployments of members tend to take place from the region in which the disaster occurred – taking advantage of local knowledge and language skills.


Lesson 2. In order to attract instant funding and allow agencies to mobilize quickly, the initial flash appeal should be issued within a few days, based on quick common needs assessments. A more rigorous joint needs assessment involving national stakeholders should then take place and inform a subsequent revision of the appeal a few weeks later. Appeals must be realistic in order to be credible and help meet the needs of the affected population.

The timing of flash appeals was highlighted as a key criterion for the success of the appeal. In 2007, OCHA set a target of issuing 75 per cent of flash appeals within five days of the decision to initiate the appeal by the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC). By year end, however, only 20 per cent of flash appeals had been issued within five days (the median time taken was twelve days). The delays can be attributed to lack of local experience in coordinating international humanitarian assistance (as most flash appeals in 2007 were issued for countries with development-oriented United Nations Country Teams) and the lack of an OCHA presence in the country along with overstretched surge capacity from the regional office. The frequency of natural disasters in 2007 also made the target difficult to meet.

During 2007, the IASC indicated that OCHA needs to support RCs/HCs in making rapid decisions, and then also to provide more support to them in developing the appeal on time. United Nations Country Teams in disaster-prone countries (including those considered to be in a development context) could better avoid delays in flash appeal development by: forming clusters and defining responsibilities ahead of a disaster as part of contingency planning; coming to prior agreements with governments on the role of international organizations in the event of a disaster and subsequent flash appeal; and defining key analytical tools and sources of information to rapidly assess the scale and severity of a disaster. The adoption of the updated contingency planning guidelines along with the development of a tool to be used by regional offices in prioritizing preparedness efforts should improve the situation of those more vulnerable countries at highest risk of hazards.

Following a review of the flash appeal process, OCHA, United Nations Agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross movement and donors agreed in early 2008 that speed in the release of flash appeals was crucial for ensuring the immediate availability of funding. It was recommended that flash appeals be released within 48 hours of the disaster if possible (and no later than seven days), with a revision to follow within about a month.

Disaster Risk Reduction

Lesson 3. The impact of natural disasters can be greatly reduced and loss of lives minimized if risk reduction becomes a standard feature of preparedness and response. OCHA should support the capacity-building of national actors to ensure that appropriate disaster risk reduction strategies are embedded in national contingency and preparedness plans as well as in ongoing development programmes and policies.

OCHA continued to work with the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the UNDP Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to promote and facilitate the inclusion of disaster risk reduction strategies in national plans and programmes. To help implement the priority initiatives set out by the Hyogo Framework for Action, the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction was established in June and a discussion paper on humanitarian actions in disaster risk reduction was elaborated and endorsed. Extensive discussions took place with UNDP/BCPR and ISDR on the development of Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative programmes on preparedness and disaster risk reduction.

Information Management

Lesson 4. The lack of a common needs assessment methodology impedes coordinated planning and response. OCHA must take the lead in developing a common needs assessment methodology and an information management platform within the cluster approach.

In relation to the role of clusters in information management, in 2007 OCHA developed a set of guidelines with IASC partners on the role of cluster leads in information management, and the role of OCHA in supporting information management among clusters. These guidelines clearly set out the responsibilities of cluster leads and of OCHA at the country level.

See Humanitarian Policy in Action (pp. 55–59) for a discussion of OCHA’s work on developing a common needs assessment.

Lesson 5. Collection of gender- and age-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive needs assessment and monitoring are essential for effective targeted programming. In large-scale emergencies, the RC/HC should be supported by the early deployment of a gender adviser to provide technical advice and facilitate gender equality programming.

OCHA was the driving force behind the establishment of the IASC Gender Standby Capacity (GenCap) project. GenCap advisers are deployed to support HCs and cluster leads in mainstreaming gender equality programming through all sectors of humanitarian action. They provide technical advice on the collection and use of sex- and age-disaggregated data in support of better information collection and analysis, programme planning and monitoring, capacity building and advocacy. In 2007, a roster of seventeen gender advisers was established and ten deployments were made to nine country operations, and in 2008 the GenCap project is undergoing expansion.

From its first deployment, the GenCap project has been monitored by an independent consulting group, and preliminary findings show that the deployment of advisers with technical expertise can have a significant positive influence on how humanitarian action is conducted. Further outreach is needed to ensure that the advisers are called upon in the crucial first phase of sudden-onset emergencies (all deployments to date have been made to ongoing emergencies).

OCHA is supporting the IASC Sub-working Group on Gender in Humanitarian Action to identify key obstacles to the collection and use of sex- and age-disaggregated data along with suggestions for practical next steps.

Advocacy and Communications

Lesson 6. Unless there is a consistent and coordinated advocacy strategy which encompasses public information, media outreach and mass communications, humanitarian aid will inevitably be criticized for lacking transparency, responsiveness and understanding of local contexts. More consistent information sharing would also contribute to reducing opportunities for manipulation and corruption of humanitarian funds.

See Advocacy and Public Information (pp. 63–64) for a discussion of OCHA’s work in this area.

Supporting Local Capacity

Lesson 7. Working with highly capable national authorities requires a different coordination approach. OCHA needs to review its interaction with national coordination structures and develop guidance for staff on how to complement national coordination systems.

While internal guidance has not been developed specifically for OCHA staff, the updated IASC Inter-Agency Contingency Planning Guidelines for Humanitarian Assistance reaffirm the principle that governments have the primary responsibility for providing humanitarian assistance to people in need. The Guidelines also indicate that country-level sector/cluster leads should establish and maintain appropriate links with government counterparts in their sectors – strongly reflecting the need to complement government capacities. They call for cluster leads to: build on existing local skills and knowledge; ensure appropriate links with national and local authorities, government institutions, civil society and other relevant actors (including peacekeeping forces); and ensure appropriate coordination and information exchange among these actors.

Guidance at the operational level – both for OCHA and members of the IASC as well as for the wider humanitarian community – should be developed to support better interaction with national coordination structures. This would address the issue of the role of clusters outside emergency situations (for example, in contingency planning and preparedness) and take into account the role of those agencies that not only have a humanitarian mandate but also a development one, given their long-term support to build national capacities.

Lesson 8. Agencies should develop an exit strategy in tandem with their entry strategy to ensure proper handover to national government.

In recognition of the fact that more needs to be done to provide strengthened and more predictable coordination assistance to the RC in managing the transition from relief to development, in 2007 the United Nations Development Group Office (UNDGO), the UNDP/BCPR and OCHA launched the Joint Initiative on Recovery Coordination. Under this Initiative, OCHA, UNDGO and UNDP/BCPR reviewed coordination arrangements for the transition and recovery phase in eight countries (the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda), identifying gaps and recommending actions for addressing them.

The role of clusters in the transition period was also considered, and an agreement was reached that each cluster should undertake an analysis of the role it might play during transition and working towards recovery, with a focus on maximizing potential links with the government. Possible options for clusters to consider in this process include their modification, merger or winding up during the transition.

Internally, OCHA has given high priority to the issue of effective transition, and a related objective has been included in its Strategic Framework. All field offices have been requested to prepare exit strategies during 2008, and special attention will be paid to the strategies of offices that are expected to phase out. A policy note on OCHA’s role on transition and guidelines on defining exit strategies will be drafted in 2008.

Relationship with the Military

Lesson 9. An effective humanitarian response requires appropriate coordination with national and international military bodies. Civil–military coordination must be strategic and adequately resourced.

On behalf of the United Nations, in 2007 OCHA developed and implemented a comprehensive strategy on civil–military coordination in order to address more effectively the challenges faced in relation to:

  the protection of humanitarian principles;
  the dissemination and implementation of the various United Nations Civil–Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) Guidelines;
  the expansion of the pool of trained UN-CMCoord Officers; and
  increased demands for UN-CMCoord training in new and existing missions, as well as for CMCoord expertise throughout the humanitarian and military communities.

OCHA established a UN-CMCoord Deployment Roster which was used to meet requirements in Darfur, eastern Chad and northeastern Central African Republic, and Afghanistan. OCHA managed and conducted UN-CMCoord training courses for the international humanitarian community, which were complemented by a French language version (in addition to the English version) of the interactive self-study training package on civil–military relationships in complex emergencies (IMPACT). Another key component of the strategy was the provision of pre-deployment training for international military forces along with in-mission training for United Nations field operations.

OCHA assisted in the planning and coordination of United Nations Agency participation in military exercises that included significant humanitarian assistance scenarios. OCHA’s engagement with military exercises and training focused in particular on senior military leadership in an effort to influence the doctrine and standard operating procedures of the military organizations – in accordance with the UN-CMCoord Guidelines. OCHA worked closely with the European Commission and United Nations Member States on refining the distinction between civil protection and defence/military assets, resulting in the improvement of the Guidelines on the Use of Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief (the ‘Oslo Guidelines’).

The Cluster Approach to Coordination

Lesson 10. There were initial problems in the application of the new cluster approach in 2006, in part due to lack of guidance and effective dissemination of the approach’s principles and objectives to the field. As with any new approach, a solid testing and learning period is required to ensure that lessons identified inform ongoing practice and guidance.

Lessons related to the cluster approach are discussed in Humanitarian Policy in Action (p. 55–59).