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: Latin America and the Caribbean


In 2008, the fundamental challenge to the operational environment in Colombia remained the protection of civilians. Official figures reveal a continuous increase in displacement. On average, there have been 300,000 new IDPs per year since 2007. The Government of Colombia acknowledged an overall IDP caseload of at least 2.8 million, while human rights NGOs placed the estimate closer to 4.2 million. Despite concerted efforts, local response was hampered in areas where municipal authorities lack the necessary technical and financial capacity to respond to field emergencies.

Four main factors defined the humanitarian environment in Colombia in 2008: an increasing number of IDPs; the emergence of “new armed bands”, intensifying the risk to vulnerable communities; the most severe rainy/winter season in 20 years, affecting over 1.5 million people; and a strengthened engagement of United Nations and non-United Nations actors, with the implementation of OCHA-supported Humanitarian Reform.

Humanitarian actors faced increasing operational and security constraints, particularly in remote and isolated regions where conflict is escalating, i.e. the Pacific coast and the border areas with Ecuador and Venezuela. Resources must be mobilized and humanitarian presence reinforced to protect vulnerable and affected populations such as indigenous and afro-descendants. OCHA continued to provide on-the-ground coordination services to alleviate these challenges. However, the laying of landmines by non-state armed actors and the intensification of combat reduced the humanitarian space. Operational costs and logistics increased significantly, limiting a predictable and timely humanitarian response.

Performance Evaluation

A predictable and needs-based humanitarian financing system

Although Colombia is a non-CAP country, OCHA helped mobilize funds for people affected by floods and volcanic eruptions. OCHA coordinated the preparation of a joint Flood Response Plan with United Nations agencies, international NGO partners, and Colombian members of the UNETT. The plan of $33 million, 50 percent for immediate humanitarian assistance, covers half a million affected persons. OCHA facilitated the mobilization of $3.1 million from the CERF Rapid Response Window and presented the Flood Response Plan to the donor community in-country. By the end of 2008, the Emergency Response Coordinator (ERC) also apportioned $5 million from the CERF Under-Funded Window for Colombia, which will primarily address humanitarian needs caused by complex emergencies.

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

OCHA played a pivotal role in consolidating in-country coordination mechanisms and ensuring greater partnership with NGOs. The IASC Country Team is composed of 11 United Nations agencies and 45 INGOs (80 percent of the NGOs in-country) working at the capital and local level. There are nine local coordination mechanisms in the most affected areas.

Strengthened OCHA emergency response capacity

In 2008, OCHA established a new antennae office in Pasto to increase southern coverage given growing protection, assistance, and coordination demands. The antennae office located in Barranquilla was relocated to Cartagena. These decisions were made in consideration of IASC partner recommendations on the ground. OCHA delivered training on humanitarian principles, SPHERE standards, gender mainstreaming and preparedness to over 500 officials (United Nations, NGOs/INGOs, and government). The trainings served to enhance humanitarian response capacities in the most affected regions. In addition, OCHA coordinated 10 rapid needs assessment missions that were the basis of the UNETT Flood Response Plan.

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

UNETT, facilitated by OCHA, developed the national contingency plan on natural disasters. The plan was endorsed by the UNDMT and presented to the Government. Based on local coordination arrangements and tied to IASC Thematic Groups, the plan reflects IASC guidelines and establishes specific responsibilities for all relevant actors. Updated twice a year, the plan serves to reinforce United Nations and NGO preparedness capacity as per the national disaster response system.


In 2008, political instability, food insecurity, natural disasters, and extreme poverty compounded an already dire situation. Soaring food and oil prices reduced food consumption and severely impacted a vulnerable population devastated by the 2007 hurricane season. This situation was further aggravated by natural disasters that hit Haiti in August and September 2008. Four successive tropical storms and hurricanes swept across the country between late August and early September affecting nearly 800,000 people. They destroyed homes and buildings, wiped out roads and agricultural crops, and damaged basic social services such as health, water, and nutrition centers. Currently, an estimated 3.3 million people are moderately or extremely food-insecure (including the approximately 800,000 people affected by the storms who were already food-insecure). In April, Haiti’s Government fell. The political stalemate continued for nearly four months, weakening government institutions and impeding the launch of a joint United Nations and government emergency food security response.

Throughout 2008, in support of the government and in partnership with the humanitarian/development community, OCHA played a central role in monitoring emerging acute needs, vulnerabilities and risks, as well as strengthening in-country coordination. OCHA led humanitarian planning efforts through the development of a comprehensive food insecurity strategic plan in response to the food crisis, done in association with the Coordination Nationale de la Sécurité Alimentaire (CNSA) and the inter-agency preparedness and response plan.

OCHA also facilitated coordination fora, enhanced information-sharing mechanisms with the NGO community, and advocated for the strengthening of sectoral coordination mechanisms both at central and departmental levels. In addition, through the ERF, OCHA facilitated a timely and adequate delivery of life-saving health, water and sanitation, and non-food assistance to the populations affected by natural disasters.

The overwhelming nature of the emergency severely strained in-country capacity to sustain inter-agency preparedness and effective humanitarian response and coordination. During the last hurricane season, additional support was provided by the UNDAC team, United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and CANADEM (roster of international experts) stand-by partners, a Protection Capacity Standby Project (ProCap) consultant, and OCHA surge capacity colleagues.

Performance Evaluation

A predictable and needs-based humanitarian financing system

A summary of the Emergency Relief Response Fund (ERRF) guidelines was translated into French and transmitted to international humanitarian partners. Two presentations of the ERRF were produced in the Humanitarian Forum.

A $127 million Flash Appeal for an eight month period, launched in September, was revised in December to ensure consistency with the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) — a comprehensive framework for early recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction. Norway, the United Kingdom and Sweden delivered an additional $2.6 million funds for the ERRF. This will help to ensure crucial start-up funds for United Nations agencies and NGOs to address immediate needs during the first phase of an emergency, prior to the mainstream response.

Furthermore, OCHA facilitated the mobilization of $5.8 million from the CERF Rapid Response Window in response to the food crisis. By the end of 2008, an additional $10.1 million was apportioned to address humanitarian needs caused by natural disasters.

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

To strengthen the coordination and delivery of emergency response, the HCT implemented the cluster approach in September at both national and Gonaïves levels. During the most critical period, OCHA deployed a more permanent international presence in two of the most affected areas. Given the urgent need for efficient inter-cluster coordination and limited in-country emergency capacity, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General office (DSRSG/RC/HC) and OCHA shared inter-cluster coordination tasks. In clusters with weak capacity, the global cluster leads provided further coordination support.

Participation of national authorities in preparedness activities and cluster coordination was limited to the health, WASH, and nutrition sectors. However, national authorities contributed tools to rapid needs assessment and identified program priorities. Over 30 joint assessments were conducted across the country. OCHA facilitated the preparation of the joint government/international community Food Insecurity Response Plan and the Natural Disaster Preparedness and Response Plan.

Strengthened OCHA emergency response capacity

Political instability and the food crisis limited UNETT participation to one of nine trainings scheduled by the OCHA regional office. The disturbances also prevented a planned two-day workshop on disaster preparedness. Nevertheless, OCHA supported the development of the inter-agency preparedness and response contingency plan on natural disasters. The plan reflects IASC guidelines and establishes specific responsibilities for all relevant actors. Updated once a year, the plan is in line with the Government strategy.

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

Only the Food Insecurity Response Plan was based on a risk analysis. In the future, all humanitarian and development projects should incorporate disaster risk reduction approaches.

A strategy enabling seamless transition and early recovery

With regards to emergency and response planning, all sectors identified transition/early recovery actions. However, during the emergency response phase, cluster leads may not have adequately incorporated what was agreed upon.

Action-oriented analysis of humanitarian trends and emerging policy issues

Eighty percent of monthly situation reports included information analysis based on OCHA information management tools. All humanitarian partners were issued situation reports once per week. Maps were produced to illustrate the situation. They included affected areas, inaccessible zones due to damaged or destroyed roads, relief distributions, and evaluation missions.