Field Offices

Value and Reach of OCHA Field Presence

Strengthening the predictability and accountability of the international humanitarian system has been an OCHA priority since 2006, as reflected in the current Strategic Framework.

OCHA field and regional offices have been at the forefront of translating “humanitarian reform” into the normal way that humanitarian partners work together at the country level. In practice, resources are deployed to facilitate humanitarian country team development of inclusive humanitarian action plans and appeals, and contingency plans that, from the outset, build the cluster approach into planning. Day-to-day leadership is supported, so HC/RCs may effectively perform their complex duties. Millions of dollars are managed across the globe in country-based pooled mechanisms. Inter-cluster coordination and information management systems support crucial, time-sensitive decision-making processes. These are simply a few key elements that demonstrate the breadth of OCHA field presence support.

What is the value of OCHA coordination efforts in the greater scheme of the international humanitarian system? In 2008, OCHA work at the country level facilitated the coordination of humanitarian plans valued at $7.2 billion. OCHA field and regional presence cost less than 2% of that amount.

Field Offices: Asia


Indonesia continues to be one of the most natural disaster-prone countries in the world, having experienced an estimated 409 natural disasters in 2008 — an increase from 205 in 2007. This has led to civilian casualties, population displacement, destruction of property and livelihoods, and environmental damage. As a result, Indonesia has recognized the need to reinforce its national humanitarian response system. OCHA has made considerable progress in supporting government response to disasters at various levels, through training and other measures. In 2008, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) expanded its mandate by adapting the 2007 Disaster Management Law, which legally recognizes the clear roles and responsibilities at the local, national, and institutional levels in the areas of disaster response and preparedness, as well as early warning. OCHA Indonesia has been an active supporter of this process and has collaborated with BNPB, in particular with regard to disaster response and preparedness and contingency planning.

A large number of humanitarian stakeholders have a presence in Indonesia with more than 60 international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), the IFRC and Red Cross societies, and international donors spread across the country. These donors highly value the presence of OCHA Indonesia as a coordinating body, including its role as the administrator of the Emergency Response Fund (ERF). Through the ERF, OCHA Indonesia has encouraged greater incorporation of disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and monitored and evaluated projects through field visits. The inclusion of NGOs in the implementation of activities in affected areas through the ERF has rendered partnerships more efficient and effective, both in terms of engagement and cooperation.

Performance Evaluation

A predictable and needs-based humanitarian financing system

In 2008, nine ERF projects were approved. This mechanism continued to support 21 projects in eight provinces and 14 NGOs for project implementation. Two donors, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), supported the ERF. While the ERF helped fill gaps in post-disaster contexts, partners were encouraged to include preparedness measures with their interventions.

Improved coordination structures at the global, regional, and national levels

Continued donor funding to support OCHA operations in Indonesia was instrumental to coordination efforts among the various international, national, and government actors. OCHA facilitated monthly coordination meetings with approximately 60 stakeholders and liaised with local NGOs through the Humanitarian Forum Indonesia. OCHA liaised with the Emergency Capacity-Building (ECB) consortium for a wider dissemination of an agreed upon needs assessment format and methodology. The implementation of clusters through the contingency plan (CP) increased NGO partnerships and assured inclusive decision-making processes.

In consultation with BNPB, OCHA organized and supported the Indonesia Rapid Assessment and Coordination Training (IRACT): the first training held at the national level geared towards Indonesian government officials, NGOs, INGOs, and humanitarian partners. The aim was to strengthen national capacity and partnerships in responding to medium- and large-scale disasters. IRACT also introduced UNDAC and its role in international disaster response, as well as comparative presentations of disaster response in other countries.

Greater incorporation of disaster risk reduction approaches and strengthened preparedness in humanitarian response

OCHA coordinated an inter-agency CP with eight emergency response clusters. It supported a district CP for Mukomuko in Bengkulu and a provincial CP for West Sumatra — initiatives which could not be replicated due to lack of funding. With financial support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), OCHA also conducted one major workshop on joint assessments and coordination for government officials.

More strategic advocacy of humanitarian principles and issues

The Gender Adviser supported clusters to mainstream gender into the CP; widely advocated the inclusion of gender considerations into each phase of the disaster cycle; and facilitated two targeted cluster workshops. OCHA also supported 13 national and provincial disaster preparedness exhibitions from the Consortium for Disaster Education.

Strengthened information management based on common standards and best practices

OCHA supported BNPB with information management through two trainings on mapping software and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). OCHA prepared four support tools for BNPB: a data readiness assessment; a Data Management Information System (DMIS); standard operating procedures for data management and map production; and a structural database.


In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis struck, causing vast devastation, loss of lives, and humanitarian need in the Ayeyarwady Delta and Yangon Division. Cyclone Nargis was undoubtedly one of the worst natural disasters to affect Myanmar in its modern history. A population of approximately 2.4 million may have been affected. According to official figures, an estimated 84,537 people died, 33,754 suffered injuries and 53,836 remain missing. The cluster approach was activated immediately after the disaster. The clusters served as the prime fora for information-sharing and operational coordination during emergency response.

Access to the affected population remained a challenge during the first weeks following the disaster. The establishment of the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) — consisting of high-level representatives from the Government, ASEAN, and United Nations — represented a milestone in increased collaboration between all humanitarian stakeholders active in the Nargis response.

In Chin State, an area already suffering from chronic food insecurity, a rodent infestation beginning in late 2007 caused the destruction of food grains and other food items. According to the World Food Program (WFP), an estimated 70,000 people in 129 villages in six townships have been severely affected by the rodent infestation. The challenges are clear. Even as actors respond quickly and appropriately, chronic insecurity (food or other) may rapidly evolve into an immediate, localized humanitarian emergency. Limited humanitarian access — such as in Northern Rakhine State, Wa Special Region and the Southeast border areas — necessitates reinforced commitment and collaboration.

Performance Evaluation

Predictable and needs-based humanitarian financing system

To assist with the fundraising efforts for humanitarian relief in the wake of Nargis, OCHA facilitated the formulation of the 9 May Flash Appeal, as well as its July revision. Three CERF allocations were made to Myanmar in 2008; OCHA Myanmar ensured the prioritization, application, and reporting processes for humanitarian partners. OCHA also continued the management of the Humanitarian Multi-Stakeholder Fund (HMSF), a humanitarian fund for local NGOs, in hard to reach southeast border areas.

Improved coordination structures at the global, regional, and national levels

The cluster approach was activated immediately after cyclone Nargis, with 11 clusters operational in the humanitarian response. NGOs co-chaired three clusters. Cluster lead meetings chaired by OCHA served as an effective decision-making forum. OCHA supported the HC in his role as chair of the broad-based IASC Country Team, which grew substantially in the wake of Cyclone Nargis. OCHA established six hub offices to support coordination and cluster mechanisms at the field level. These hubs accommodated ASEAN colleagues who fulfilled government liaison needs; they also replicated the strengths of the tripartite mechanism at the township level.

Analysis of humanitarian trends through accurate humanitarian reporting, public information, and advocacy

From the first day of the disaster, situation reports were drafted and published in collaboration with all clusters. They served to brief the local and international humanitarian community on the latest significant developments. Once the hub offices were established, hub-level situation reports, consistently appreciated by all actors, were published in English and Myanmar. Public information messaging was undertaken in cooperation with partners, and the HC supported it with analysis of the humanitarian situation and formulation of accurate advocacy.

A common approach to needs assessments and impact evaluation

OCHA was heavily involved in carrying out needs assessments such as the Post Nargis Joint Assessment (PONJA) and facilitating an Inter-Agency Real-time Evaluation in collaboration with IASC partners. Through close collaboration and support to the Myanmar Information Management Unit (MIMU), OCHA enabled the collection of reliable 3Ws information, supported the production of maps, and ensured reliable tracking of financial flows. Regular inter-agency field visits were undertaken to identify potential gaps and overlaps in the response.


In 2008, the former Maoist insurgents won a decisive electoral victory. This paved the way for the declaration of a Federal Democratic Republic, the abolition of the monarchy, the formation of a new government, and steps toward a new Constitution. With the largely peaceful elections, conflict-induced humanitarian needs declined. Yet, reminders of vulnerability remained: millions of food-insecure Nepalese; the high natural disaster risk profile; and the relative fragility of the gains made in the peace process to date.

Over the course of the year, the rise in food prices further affected the eight million Nepalese living at or below poverty line. People requiring food assistance expanded during the year from 1.3 million to 2.7 million. Meanwhile, in August, Nepal’s biggest river, the Koshi, broke through its embankment and flooded several villages in Nepal and large sections of the state of Bihar in India. Sixty thousand Nepalese were displaced, a major challenge for the newly formed government and humanitarian community. Similarly, flooding in the mid and far western regions of the country displaced 180,000 individuals. Supplies procured for drought-affected and other vulnerable populations had to be diverted to flood victims.

Therefore, despite certain gains, significant challenges remain. Most notably, the need for continued humanitarian action during political transition must be adequately addressed. Ultimately, OCHA was compelled to prolong its presence in Nepal into 2009. This was primarily due to poor humanitarian indicators, the deteriorating insecurity and inter-communal rumblings in the South (Terai), the emergence of new armed opposition groups, and the persistent tensions that threaten a fragile peace.

Performance Evaluation

Improved coordination structures at the global, regional, and national levels

OCHA supported strategic measures to improve humanitarian coordination structures in Nepal at both the central and local level. In collaboration with IASC partners and the government, OCHA adopted the cluster approach to respond to the floods. Eight clusters were formalized and an early recovery network was set up in November. The cluster approach and the identified focal points improved response by reinforcing accountability and predictability at all levels of government. OCHA supported these structures by setting up four satellite offices in the affected districts to assist government-led coordination efforts. OCHA organized reconnaissance flights, coordinated local response, and provided critical information.

Greater incorporation of disaster risk reduction approaches and strengthened preparedness in humanitarian response

OCHA facilitated 16 pre-monsoon season preparedness workshops at the national, regional, and local levels. This strengthened local capacity and common assessment formats, thus improving flood response. OCHA also conducted central and regional government trainings on expedited customs and immigration procedures in the event of an emergency. Through the cluster approach, OCHA supported the revision of contingency plans, subsequently tested during disasters.

A strategy contributing to seamless transition and early recovery

OCHA supported initiatives to ensure that political and humanitarian-to-development transitions proceed smoothly. It worked closely with the United Nations mission and partners in Nepal to determine peace-building priorities in the post-conflict environment. OCHA assisted with the establishment of an early recovery network within the work of existing clusters. Similarly, OCHA developed a transition strategy and initiated discussions with United Nations agencies and donors regarding its gradual exit, beginning end 2009. The strategy emphasizes building the response capacity of national partners, increasing the focus on disaster preparedness, and continuing the advocacy regarding residual humanitarian needs.

More strategic advocacy of humanitarian principles and issues

OCHA Nepal supported strategic and operational coordination for common advocacy, resource mobilization, and response. OCHA advocated humanitarian access by promoting respect for humanitarian principles and monitoring violations of the Basic Operating Guidelines (BOGs). It tracked the impact of armed groups’ activity on the operational space and highlighted the need for unhindered access for humanitarian action. In response to the government’s request, OCHA actively participated in the IDP task force of Nepal’s multi-donor Peace Trust Fund. OCHA facilitated a $106 million Common Appeal for Transition Support for 2008 (funded at 73 percent). During the Koshi floods, OCHA facilitated a $15 million appeal (currently funded at 65 percent). With OCHA facilitation, in 2008, Nepal received four CERF allocations for both under-funded projects and rapid response for the food and flood crises.

Action-oriented analysis of humanitarian trends and emerging policy issues

OCHA manages the United Nations humanitarian information website. In 2008, it received 147,500 visits from 193 countries and an average 402 visits per day. OCHA produced over 150 thematic maps, 40 reference maps, thematic reports, and situation reports/updates for partners. Over 13,500 maps were printed in poster and A4 format.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s 25 year-long conflict saw significant developments during 2008. In January, the Government withdrew from the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) and stepped up efforts to erode the operational capacities of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As the ground situation grew increasingly insecure, United Nations and INGO staff were forced to relocate from Kilinochchi to Vavuniya. Since then, humanitarian access to the northern conflict-affected Vanni region has been highly restricted, with United Nations supply of critical food complementing Government provisions. In the last months of 2008, high levels of physical insecurity, multiple displacements, and the limited provision of relief assistance heightened concerns for the civilian population.

While the intensified conflict in the North remained the main focus of humanitarian activities, work supported Government efforts regarding resettlement of the remaining displaced communities in the East. During 2008, nearly 17,000 people returned home, bringing the total number of returns in the East to over 136,000. Despite this progress, challenges remained including lingering community tensions with associated security and protection concerns and difficulties in restoring livelihoods to support a durable return process.

Throughout 2008, OCHA played a central role in monitoring emerging needs, vulnerabilities, and risks. It led humanitarian planning efforts through development of the 2008 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) and inter-agency contingency plans. To assess coordination strengths and gaps, OCHA facilitated a sector review that formed the basis of the clusters approach roll-out. OCHA Information Management Unit (IMU) generated comprehensive routine and analytical information products. Given protection and access challenges, analysis and advocacy were central to OCHA efforts, including fostering strong links between field operations, national level policies, and international standards.

Performance Evaluation

Improved coordination structures at the global, regional, and national levels

OCHA continued to serve as the secretariat to the humanitarian country team, in support of sector-based planning, international standards and principles, and humanitarian needs and resources advocacy. OCHA field offices provided secretariat services for inter-agency and sector meetings, facilitated contingency planning, and supported missions and inter-agency assessments.

To reinforce coordination and information exchange between the humanitarian community and the Government, OCHA seconded a liaison assistant to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. In addition to support for the Ministry’s role as the Chair of the Consultative Committee of Humanitarian Assistance, collaboration with the Disaster Management Center strengthened coordination, reporting and mapping of flood responses.

More strategic advocacy of humanitarian principles and issues

As the conflict intensified, OCHA stepped up information gathering, collation and analysis on key humanitarian concerns in particular access, and safety and security of humanitarian workers. OCHA also promoted and reported on the Guiding Principles (GP) for Humanitarian and Development Assistance in Sri Lanka through, for instance, brochures, posters, and informational cards in conflict-affected districts. The linking of the GP and a United Nations security database was completed; this enabled future sharing of GP information.

A common approach to needs assessments and impact evaluation

In collaboration with partner agencies, OCHA initiated a review of assessment tools, established a Survey of Surveys database, and acted as Chair for the Assessment Steering Group. Reports of inter-agency assessments shared by agencies were published on the Humanitarian Portal: Inter-agency assessments continued in district offices using common methodology developed by the steering committee, wherever possible.


In 2008, the humanitarian situation in Timor-Leste improved and significant progress was achieved in the resettlement and relocation of IDPs. By year-end, a total of 16,500 internally displaced families registered for assistance under the Government’s National Recovery Strategy. Fifty-four of 63 camps in Dili and Bacau closed, and the number of families benefiting from the recovery package reached 11,335.

With the shift in national priorities from an emergency to a post-crisis recovery mode, United Nations/NGO engagement and coordination increased, with a focus not only on security and stabilization issues but also on a revamped development-oriented agenda. The new focus coincided with the kick-off of the second UNDAF for Timor-Leste starting in 2009.

Validated by strong political momentum, the shift facilitated the effective closing-down of the OCHA Timor-Leste field office in December 2008. United Nations partners and Timorese institutions were increasingly phased in to anchor the IDPs within longer-term reconstruction initiatives. To satisfy the coordination of residual humanitarian activities, a national officer is to be made available to the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General office (DSRSG/RC/HC) for 2009.

Performance Evaluation

A predictable and needs-based humanitarian financing system

The 2008 Transitional Strategy and Appeal (TSA) for Timor-Leste received over 70 percent funding ($19 million out of the requested $33.5 million). The TSA consisted of 67 projects in three thematic areas — emergency assistance; recovery assistance; and, emergency preparedness — to be implemented by six national NGOs, 13 INGOs, and eight United Nations agencies, including the IOM. The TSA was unique in covering the transition from emergency assistance to recovery, emphasizing transitional planning as a priority.

Strengthened OCHA emergency response capacity

OCHA facilitated and/or participated in regular inter-agency contingency planning meetings for surge deployments and logistics support before and after OCHA withdrawal. Meetings were held amongst the field-level based IASC — Humanitarian Coordination Committee (HCC) — to discuss coordination support functions and clarify roles/ responsibilities amongst the various actors on the ground (Government,United Nations, NGOs, and others). Additionally, a Dili workshop was organized to formalize a cluster-based arrangement roll-out, with clear lines of responsibilities and accountability for future crisis.

A strategy enabling seamless transition and early recovery

To enable a smooth transition and eventual phase-out of OCHA in Timor-Leste, key benchmarks were progressively identified and refined. These benchmarks were drafted through mutual consultation with OCHA partners, agencies, and Government authorities. Because Timor-Leste still remains fragile and volatile, OCHA also advocated with the Government and early recovery coordination partners (United Nations Development Program/Crisis Prevention and Recovery [UNDP/CPR] and the RC office) that medium to longer-term planning be included in the recovery and development areas.

Strengthened information management based on common standards and best practices

OCHA played a crucial role in producing information products on IDPs. The widely disseminated products, with the most up-to-date data, provided awareness about humanitarian emergencies and priorities, particularly the displacement crisis and natural disasters’ risks. The wide range of IM products helped garner greater attention from the international community, donors, and government. The products included: humanitarian updates; district and camp atlases/maps; Transitional Strategy and Appeal Fact Sheets; special focus newsletters and updates; and regular maps (three maps per week) on IDP camps, including flood hazards, food insecurity, access, field presence, and areas of origins.