PART Iii: performance in 2007
Performance of the Field
natural disaster response

Natural Disaster Response

Context and OCHA’s response

The frequency of natural disasters and environmental emergencies has increased globally. In 2007, an estimated 134 million people suffered the effects of hurricanes in the Caribbean and Central America, droughts in Africa and China, wildfires in the USA and Greece, and widespread flooding in Africa, South America and Asia. These disasters undermined progress in development and caused approximately US$ 35 billion in damage.

In this compelling context, OCHA invested heavily in coordinating more effective response to emergencies related to natural disasters, while also focusing on assisting disaster-prone countries to prepare appropriately.

A total of fourteen United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) missions were deployed (nine to the Americas and the Caribbean, two to Africa and three to Asia-Pacific), of which twelve were for emergency response and coordination and two were for disaster response preparedness. Seven of the emergency response missions were in response to floods, one was for an earthquake, one was for a tsunami and three were for hurricanes. UNDAC teams were pre-positioned in Jamaica, Belize and Honduras to provide assistance with preparations for coordination of an immediate response on the ground. The effectiveness of the UNDAC teams was enhanced by the contribution of environmental experts who worked to identify and mitigate any acute environmental issues arising from the disasters. United Nations Civil–Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) capacities were also drawn upon, and seven CMCoord Officers (graduates of the Civil–Military Coordination Section’s UN-CMCoord Training Programme) were deployed during the year.

During 2007, OCHA and its partners had the opportunity to put the tools and mechanisms developed as part of the humanitarian reform process to the test, and to evaluate their impact during the disaster response phase. Humanitarian finance mechanisms (such as the CERF) and the cluster approach were particularly effective in responding to floods and storms in the Philippines, Mozambique and the Dominican Republic.

2007: A year of floods
Heavy annual monsoon rains caused several waves of flooding in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Vietnam, affecting hundreds of millions of people. Floods also ravaged west, central and east Africa over the summer, hitting approximately 20 countries across the continent and affecting millions of people.

More than 272 metric tonnes of relief items (valued at approximately US$ 2 million) were dispatched by OCHA from the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Italy in response to disasters in several locations – Africa, the cyclone- and flood-ravaged regions of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and the most earthquake-affected provinces in Peru. A total of US$ 224 million in funding was distributed in response to a record number of flash appeals (fifteen) launched in west, central and east Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific. In addition, a total of US$ 119 million under the CERF rapid response criteria was provided in support of natural disaster response in 32 countries.

Analysis and trends

The trends observed in 2007 were no exception; rather, these high costs of recent natural disasters represent the continuation of an unmistakable pattern over recent years. While none of the natural disaster events experienced in 2007 can be attributed solely to climate change, their greater incidence and intensity is consistent with evidence from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shows a clear link between natural disasters and climate change.

The rise in frequency of natural disasters is being exacerbated in some areas by population growth (especially in coastal and low-lying areas) and increased vulnerability, and this may in time have the effect of blurring ‘traditional’ distinctions between natural hazards and complex emergencies (for example, water scarcity tends to increase the risk of conflict and migration). It is also of great concern that many of these natural phenomena tend to be recurrent and affect the same regions and populations (for example, floods and flash floods in Africa, the Americas and Asia). Those affected have limited opportunity to restore their livelihoods and coping mechanisms between events, finding themselves on a downward spiral to chronic vulnerability and poverty.

Preparedness

The prominence of natural disasters on the humanitarian landscape of 2007 demonstrated emphatically the importance of investing in preparedness to deal with more frequent and intense natural disasters, particularly at the national and regional levels. This requires greater commitment and support from both the international community and the governments concerned. For example, despite improved disaster emergency preparedness and response capacity in Madagascar and Mozambique, the severity of early rains in 2007 stretched those governments’ capacities. In contrast, the human impact of large-scale natural disaster events – such as 2007’s Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh which claimed over 4,000 lives – was shown to be mitigated by better preparedness. In the face of the increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, and the prospect that climate change will only exacerbate this trend, OCHA places great emphasis on preparedness and prevention measures, including operational improvements to response effectiveness and practical in-country assistance.

A vital component of effective humanitarian response is ensuring that environmental risks are promptly identified and that steps are taken to reduce them. OCHA has strengthened its work in this area by, among other activities, training and ensuring the availability of additional experts who can be deployed to undertake rapid environmental assessments. In 2007, over 30 major natural disasters were screened for potential environmental risks, and country and UNDAC teams were briefed by OCHA on how to undertake more detailed assessments. Through the United Nations system, potential secondary risks are now routinely identified at the onset of all major disasters, and relevant actors within the system have begun to integrate environment-related concerns into their overall humanitarian response.

OCHA paid particular attention during 2007 to supporting its regional offices in their work on enhancing preparedness planning. It launched the Capacity for Disaster Reduction Initiative and provided preparedness and contingency planning assistance to national governments in collaboration with Resident/Humanitarian Coordinators and country teams. Increasingly, OCHA is being called upon to provide temporary in-country coordination services in the wake of sudden-onset natural disasters, and in meeting this demand it has strengthened its surge capacity substantially. OCHA manages both internal and external surge mechanisms (the Stand-By Partnerships Programme and the OCHA Emergency Response Roster) which allow it to provide the human resources needed within very short timeframes.