OCHA in 2009 Cover Download Hi-res PDF (6.4 MB)

2007-2009 Application of Lessons Learned

Greater Predictability, Accountability and Partnership: The New Norm

OCHA’s Strategic Framework 2007-2009 focused on striving to ensure “a better coordinated, more equitably supported international humanitarian response system”, building on the humanitarian reform process initiated in 2005. In the past three years, OCHA has played a critical role in consolidating reform across the humanitarian system, both at the policy and operational level.

The Principles of Partnership agreed on in 20071 underpin every area of reform and OCHA’s engagement with its partners. Humanitarian reform was premised in part on recognition that no single actor can meet all the needs of an affected population and that closer cooperation leads to greater efficiency. The last three years have shown the benefits, as well as the challenges, of an enlarged humanitarian community, including stronger partnerships between United Nations agencies, international and national NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and other humanitarian actors and stakeholders. OCHA’s coordination role has helped break down stove-piping in the humanitarian system, encouraging constructive interplay and dialogue across different sectors, both at global and country level. The result has been a humanitarian system that is better coordinated, more responsive, more accountable and more equitably supported.

The introduction of the cluster approach has been a key element in humanitarian reform, in which OCHA has been so closely engaged. The strengthened response and preparedness mechanisms that the international humanitarian system has helped establish at global and regional level have led to significant improvements in surge support and standby capacity for emergencies. The cluster approach has been applied in 36 countries around the world and is still being adapted and improved, based on continuous learning within the humanitarian system. OCHA plays a central role in supporting such learning by managing evaluations on behalf of the IASC, and feeding this back into the development of inter-agency normative frameworks and operational guidance. Such an evidence base provides the humanitarian system with the foundation for building consensus and making continual improvements.

In the past three years alone, OCHA managed inter-agency evaluations for Phase I (2007) and II (2009-2010) of the Cluster Approach, Common/Pooled Funds in DRC and Sudan (2007), and three Inter-Agency Real Time Evaluations for Myanmar (Cyclone Nargis, 2008), Pakistan (floods and cyclone, 2007) and Mozambique (floods and cyclone, 2007). In addition, OCHA managed a General Assembly-mandated two-year CERF review (2008). Each evaluation generates new lessons for OCHA and its humanitarian partners on how best to apply and integrate the various aspects of the reform, particularly at country level (see Mozambique box).

Improvements in the cluster approach that OCHA has helped facilitate include a clear designation of cluster lead agencies at global and country level. Cluster lead agencies now have more sharply defined roles and responsibilities for coordinating humanitarian action within a given sector, avoiding duplication and the possible neglect of key sectors, such as emergency shelter or protection in an emergency response. There are also numerous examples of clusters at the country level being led or co-led by NGOs, who are often best placed to fulfill these roles due to long-established relationships in the country and better access to the affected population (see case study below on the occupied Palestinian territory). IDPs’ needs are now firmly centre stage and addressed with comprehensive sectoral programming.

Mozambique — Clusters and Flooding

Following flooding of the Zambezi river delta in early 2007, humanitarian partners in Mozambique agreed to implement the cluster approach to better support the Government’s lead on disaster response and preparedness. A country with a strong development focus, Mozambique is exposed to recurrent natural hazards necessitating rigorous humanitarian preparedness planning, but this must be combined with the ongoing implementation of development programmes.

Having worked to enhance the coordination of the emergency response to the 2007 floods, the HCT agreed to continue using the cluster approach for preparedness and response planning to facilitate closer and more predictable support to the strong Government disaster response leadership. When floods broke out again in 2008, close collaboration between the Government sectoral working groups and the clusters led to a much more efficient and timely response. This could be attributed to several factors: better contingency planning; the use of inter-agency disaster simulation exercises; Mozambique’s participation in a SADC stocktaking of lessons learned prior to the flood and cyclone season; and a quicker Government declaration of a disaster situation. These collective efforts on preparedness have helped to minimize duplication of efforts at the national, provincial and district levels during the emergency and to save more lives. While the floods in 2000, 2007 and 2008 were approximately the same magnitude, improved planning and response meant that mortality rates dropped from about 700 in 2000, to 54 in 2007 and 33 in 2008.

As part of the new humanitarian coordination architecture, the concept of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) has evolved in recent years, based on United Nations and non-United Nations actors as equal partners (recognizing that 80 per cent of humanitarian operations in any emergency are carried out by non-United Nations entities). HCTs, or similar coordination mechanisms, have been established in nearly all HC countries, as well as in RC countries engaged in emergency response operations.

They function as the main strategic forum guiding and coordinating humanitarian action at the field level.

Clusters function as fora for strategic planning. They provide a mechanism - though still not always realized to its full potential - for partners to jointly assess and prioritize needs, set agreed plans of action, provide sound evidence for financing decisions and monitor progress. The spread and deepening of the cluster approach have resulted in much broader consultation and participation in joint planning, manifested in the increased use of CAPs to map and coordinate actions of all humanitarian organizations.

For example, for the past two years, the number of NGO projects in the appeals (1,034) has significantly exceeded the number of United Nations projects (683). The CAPs are also increasingly focused on outcomes and impact of collective humanitarian action in major crises.

Improved joint planning has begun to improve the basis for decision-making regarding the use of resources. OCHA has played a central role in developing flexible, reliable financial mechanisms that can rapidly be brought into play in the face of new emergencies and shifting circumstances.

Establishing the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in 2006 has ensured better funding arrangements for humanitarian response operations, both kick-starting responses to new emergencies and channeling funds to underfunded emergencies. A total of $1.4 billion has been provided to 71 emergency situations since CERF was established. In 2009, CERF received $399 million in pledges and allocated some $397 million to 466 humanitarian projects in 51 countries.

CERF has also served as a catalyst for improving coordination in the field, as CERF applications are developed and coordinated within the framework of clusters. The CAP, Flash Appeal and Emergency Response Fund (ERF) guidelines have also been updated to facilitate disbursement of funds for coordination projects, providing much-needed sources of funding to support the new humanitarian coordination architecture.

occupied Palestinian territory — Partnership as the Foundation for the Cluster Approach

The cluster approach in oPt highlights the crucial role of national and international NGOs in the leadership of and participation in clusters. Given the access challenges, particularly the continued blockade of Gaza and the fragmentation of the West Bank, as well as the geographical and de facto political separation between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, close coordination and cooperation between partners is an essential component of humanitarian action in oPt.

The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees, the Palestinian Center of Organic Agriculture, the Palestinian Farmers Union and the Palestinian Hydrology Group were crucial actors in the response to the conflict in the Gaza Strip in early 2009. All four organizations are key players in the clusters and appealed for funds through the 2009 Gaza Flash Appeal.

Save the Children co-leads the Education Cluster with UNICEF. The Norwegian Refugee Council is the cluster lead for shelter, Handicap International leads the sub-cluster on disability and Oxfam GB leads the WASH Cluster in the Gaza Strip. National NGOs have been actively involved in all the clusters, and have supported the development of strategic response strategies and programme implementation. The PNGO Network is the principal coordination umbrella for Palestinian NGOs. It has played a critical role in ensuring the participation of Palestinian organizations in coordination mechanisms, including clusters.

Humanitarian Reform through 2009 (PDF 1.26MB)

For these improvements to work well, strong humanitarian leadership is needed. Over the last three years, OCHA has strengthened its relationship with UNDG and UNDOCO, which respectively govern and support the RC system. OCHA’s relationship with the RC system remains essential, as the humanitarian coordination leadership function is largely anchored to the RC system and RCs assume humanitarian coordination responsibilities in sudden-onset emergencies. In working towards a more transparent, professional and effective recruitment process, and better availability for selection of qualified humanitarian candidates, an HC Pool has been established. All humanitarian agencies and organizations are regularly encouraged to submit candidates.

Terms of Reference outlining the roles and responsibilities of HCs and RCs have been revised to better reflect their responsibilities within the context of the humanitarian reform now taking root. OCHA has a clear role in offering guidance and support to humanitarian leaders at all levels, drawing on its extensive field experience, understanding of the new humanitarian architecture and knowledge of the ever more demanding emergencies the humanitarian community is confronting. OCHA is finalizing a handbook to be issued in 2010, offering guidance to RCs and HCs. Targeted training has also been provided.

Democratic Republic of the Congo — Pilot Country for Humanitarian Reform

The Democratic Republic of the Congo was one of five pilot countries targeted for humanitarian reform in 2005/2006, implementing the cluster approach, as well as using a Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) to support in-country funding priorities. Humanitarian activities in DRC are the largest recipient of CERF funding. They have received approximately $178 million since the fund was established in 2006.

Significant improvements have been registered. The cluster system, working at national and provincial levels, has led to better data collection, facilitated needs assessments and helped address gaps in humanitarian response. The Humanitarian Advocacy Group, bringing together United Nations and NGOs, has served as a critical forum for sharing information and helped in designating NGO co-leads for clusters at the field level. Clusters have been actively involved in planning CHF and CERF funding allocations, helping identify priorities. CHF and CERF represent 30 per cent of funding for the DRC Humanitarian Action Plan. While sustained progress in a consistently challenging environment requires strong leadership from the HC and the HCT, the successful initiatives taken in DRC have been closely studied by OCHA and other stakeholders. They form the basis for models to be replicated in other counties.

Challenges Ahead

Much has been achieved since humanitarian reform was initiated in 2005. However, OCHA’s Strategic Framework 2010-2013 is being introduced against a background of ever more demanding and complex humanitarian emergencies. The recommendations from the soon-to-be-released Cluster Evaluation Phase II, as well as findings from other evaluations, will be pivotal in locating and filling strategic and operational gaps within the global humanitarian architecture. Several key areas have been identified on which to focus further effort and energy:

Right People, Right Time, Right Place

In 2006, numerous evaluations, including those emanating from the Indian Ocean tsunami, emphasized that weak surge capacity was hampering early response to sudden-onset emergencies. More investment was recommended in surge staffing and emergency rosters, as well as the inclusion of qualified, geographically diverse staff with broad experience. From 2007, OCHA began phasing-in an improved and better-coordinated suite of surge solutions for a more predictable, reliable and effective response.

During the period, OCHA clarified the role of its regional offices as the “first line” of surge in new emergencies, systematically building regional staff capacity in emergency response. By 2009, ROs deployed staff to more than 70 missions in response to new emergency situations. Meanwhile, OCHA strengthened its centralized surge capacity mechanisms, creating the ERR in December 2007, with a first deployment in January 2008. Since that time, the ERR has continued to become more diverse and robust. The overall number of applicants to the roster rose from an initial 17 to 108 in the latest rotation, as the number of deployments over time increased from 18 per year to 35. The Stand-By Partnership Programme mechanism underwent a similar evolution as the numbers of deployments rose from 21 in 2006 to 62 in 2009, and the number of partners rose from six to 10. Surge deployments from the ROs and the ERR now include more diverse staff with both general coordination experience and specialized skills in areas such as information management, civil-military coordination, reporting and public information.

OCHA’s concept of internal surge capacity is now more integrated with long-standing, OCHA-supported mechanisms such as UNDAC and INSARAG. Since 2006, the UNDAC and INSARAG networks have been expanding, bringing in new countries from the Middle East, CIS countries and West Africa. This has been particularly useful to reinforce UNDAC’s ability to support a regional response to disasters in Francophone West Africa. There is now a broad network of donors, bilateral responders, disaster-prone countries, regional organizations, national disaster management agencies, United Nations agencies, IFRC, NGOs and private sector organizations who are now active in the UNDAC and INSARAG systems. This has fostered closer collaboration, mutual support and cooperation in emergency response and preparedness.

The enhancements to each of these mechanisms, now coordinated by cross-OCHA task teams, have led to fewer gaps and more appropriate surge support. The latest string of emergencies in South-east Asia (Padang, Indonesia and cyclones in the Philippines) demonstrated a smoother sequencing between the different surge actors throughout the duration of the emergencies.

OCHA recognizes that more work is needed to further strengthen and expand its suite of surge solutions. Two new surge tools have been developed for introduction in 2010: Roaming Emergency Surge Officers (RESO) on permanent surge duty, and an Associates Surge Pool (ASP) of internally pre-cleared consultants and independent contractors in a variety of disciplines. While the ERR, SBPP, RESO and ASP can help bridge the gaps prior to the arrival of regular, longer-term staff, OCHA recognizes that this transition needs to be more seamless and predictable. Accordingly, OCHA will continue investing in its Roster Management Programme, the primary mechanism for regular field recruitment. It was introduced in 2009 and is currently being refashioned in line with the wider Secretariat reform of contracts and recruitment processes.

OCHA Staffing Solutions for New or Escalating Emergencies*

OCHA Staffing Solutions for New or Escalating Emergencies

* These options do not represent a step-by-step approach according to lead time. Rather, they represent a “suite of possible surge solutions” from which OCHA can draw. ASP — Associates Surge Pool; ERR — Emergency Response Roster; RESO — Roaming Emergency Surge Officers; ROS — Regional Office Surge; SBPP — Stand-By Partnerships Programme; UNDAC — United Nations Disaster and Assessment Coordination

Transition: Staging an Orderly Departure

In 2007, it was recognized that more needed to be done to provide strengthened and more predictable coordination to the RC in managing the transition from relief to development. To that end, OCHA, together with the United Nations Development Group Office (UNDGO, now DOCO) and UNDP/BCPR 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 (DRC, Haiti, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda), identifying gaps and recommending actions to address them.

As a result, significant advances have been made at the policy and operational levels to systematize an approach to transition planning.

Securing predictable and adequate funding for transition activities remains a major challenge for the international system. An additional major challenge is ensuring RCs receive adequate humanitarian coordination support once OCHA phases down country operations.

Leadership on Global Challenges

OCHA’s Strategic Framework 2007-2009 recognized how global challenges become drivers of humanitarian needs, requiring a strong policy response. This was highlighted by the food price crisis of 2007-2008 and the record number of Flash Appeals for climate-related disaster responses in 2007. Since then, OCHA has continued to prioritize engagement in food security and climate change policy, while expanding its focus on the implications of global challenges for humanitarian operations.

Food Security:

Climate Change:

OCHA increased its engagement with the climate change and academic communities. It also worked with Member States to better understand how climate change will affect humanitarian need and how humanitarian systems can best adapt to support climate change adaptation. Work supported the ERC’s advocacy on climate change and inputs to the UNFCCC process.

Global Challenges:

Advocacy: Making Messages Matter

The 2007 Annual Report noted the need for consistency and coordination in OCHA’s advocacy efforts, encompassing public information, media outreach and mass communications. Without providing these essentials, humanitarian assistance will inevitably be criticized for lacking transparency, responsiveness and an understanding of local contexts. Three years later, OCHA has taken a number of steps to ensure that its advocacy work is consistent, predictable and well coordinated.

The ERC’s role has been enhanced through more consistent support to his advocacy efforts, both during missions to crisis-affected countries and through engagement with the Secretary-General, the Security Council, the General Assembly and the media. Advocacy has been effectively mainstreamed across the organization through the provision of policy guidance, training for key staff working on public information and through key events such as World Humanitarian Day. The Advocacy and Information Management Branch has been completely revamped. It is now the Communications and Information Services Branch and focuses more clearly on communicating OCHA’s advocacy messages:

Much of OCHA’s work in the context of advocacy remains outside the public domain by necessity. OCHA’s approach often requires quiet diplomacy either at the country level or in the corridors of capitals and the United Nations. Working with Member States to reach consensus on humanitarian principles, supporting inter-governmental processes that support the reform of the humanitarian system, and advocating quietly with non-State actors and governments to protect affected populations, respect humanitarian principles and improve access are all forms of advocacy which, by their very nature, cannot be highlighted publicly.

Protection: Ensuring the Safety of Civilians

Concerted efforts made in recent years by OCHA and others to highlight protection issues finally bore fruit in 2009, with the creation of an informal Security Council Expert Group on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. This was established on the Secretary-General’s recommendation and chaired by the UK Permanent Mission. From January 2009, OCHA began providing briefings to the Expert Group. By the end of 2009, Council members were receiving more detailed analysis and information on protection-related issues than ever before. Rather than relying on bilateral approaches to Council members, as in the past, the humanitarian community, both at Headquarters and in the field, participates in OCHA-led consultations to prepare for Expert Group briefings, allowing a more comprehensive consideration of protection concerns, as well as possible actions to address them.

This approach is expected to lead to greater coherence in formulating humanitarian policy and operational activity aimed at enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In particular, greater focus can be placed on protection issues, including more robust language in Security Council resolutions on actions of parties to conflict and the steps of peacekeeping missions to protect those on the ground.

Since 2002, when the first major scandal broke concerning sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian workers and peacekeepers, the United Nations and NGOs have made significant advances. They include the 2003 adoption of the Secretary-General's Bulletin affirming the prohibition on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA). More recently, OCHA has co-led the ECHA/ECPS United Nations and NGO Task Force on Protection from SEA, which has produced guidance and support, and served as a forum for sharing good practice and pooling resources. However, implementation across agencies and across the globe is uneven. Strengthened institutional leadership will be essential in bringing compliance on the ground. To address this, in 2009 OCHA initiated an inter-agency Review of Protection from SEA to clarify how far the United Nations and NGOs have come, identify remaining obstacles to progress and recommend how to overcome them.

Since 2006, OCHA has worked closely with the Global Protection Cluster (lead and members) to provide a range of support services to ensure that the cluster functions at the field and global levels in line with humanitarian reform. OCHA has made significant contributions to the cluster’s work at the global level, including seconding staff to the cluster Support Cell, providing secretariat services, supporting resource mobilization, and contributing to policy development and field support. Helped by OCHA’s efforts, the Protection Cluster meets regularly, has a clear workplan, has dedicated staff to run the cluster and is providing concrete support to the field (e.g. training, advice, policy, resource mobilization). In the field, there are currently 30 protection clusters in operation with clear lead agencies. Most have regular coordination meetings, and workplans or strategies either under development or being implemented.

Moreover, OCHA has supported a more predictable procedure to determine protection cluster leads in natural disasters — a gap area identified in the original 2005 agreement on leadership arrangements for protection clusters in the field.

Following OCHA advocacy, UNHCR announced in 2009 that it would increasingly attempt to provide that leadership. A challenge remains to obtain similar commitments from OHCHR and UNICEF where they are in a position to lead, e.g. in countries where they have a strong presence prior to a sudden-onset disaster.

Information Management: Improving Standards and Services

Timely, relevant and reliable information remains central to effective humanitarian coordination and response. It is also increasingly needed to support evidence-based advocacy, decision-making and resource allocation.

From 2007, OCHA began addressing these challenges, undertaking an extensive review of its own information products, services and information management practices. Next, in collaboration with cluster/sector leads and their members, OCHA established agreement on the roles and responsibilities of partners operating in emergency contexts in managing information according to the principles and goals of humanitarian reform. At the international level, OCHA convened global fora on information for humanitarian action in order to build consensus across the humanitarian community.

Responding to the recommendations of the 2007 Information Management Review, OCHA has significantly improved its reporting and communications practices and the quality of its products. The introduction of a new, unifying visual design, using common templates and logos, has been supported by an overhaul of core external information products, including situation reports, press releases, key messages and maps.

In 2007, OCHA led the development of “Operational Guidance on Responsibilities of Cluster/Sector Leads & OCHA in Information Management”. This document clearly defines OCHA’s roles and responsibilities for information management within the cluster approach, and has provided much-needed clarity in what was once an ambiguous area. Establishing the Inter-Agency Information Management Working Group in 2007, and its successor, the IASC Task Force on Information Management in December 2008, has provided new fora for policy-level discussions, improving coordination and the harmonization of inter-agency information management efforts. There is still much to be done in this area, as highlighted by some of the information gaps in the early response to the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

In response to the recommendations on consolidating OCHA’s web presence, a new OCHA Portal was envisioned. The first phase of this was completed by the end of 2009 (it went ‘live’ in January 2010). OCHA Online has been revamped to streamline content and move the site more towards a portal function, channeling web visitors to other main OCHA sites. OCHA's intranet was redesigned to provide more opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing within OCHA.

Implementing a More Strategic Approach to Planning and Performance Management

In early 2006, OCHA recognized that progress in broader humanitarian sector reform needed to be matched by an internal reform process to meet the evolving expectations of partners and stakeholders. Two external reviews were commissioned to help determine how to realign the organization in response to the changing external environment. Both reviews urged OCHA to focus on strengthening its administrative structures, performance management and strategic planning. In response, OCHA management launched an improved annual performance management and reporting system. The Strategic Framework 2007-2009, developed by a small internal planning task team, set out a joint vision for OCHA globally and in the field. The framework formed the basis for each subsequent annual plan, which reflected how this joint vision was translated into concrete action across OCHA Headquarters branches and field offices. The joint programme allowed OCHA to track performance and achievements more systematically and to achieve a greater focus on results.

By the end of 2009, OCHA had made substantial progress towards fulfilling these earlier commitments, incorporating lessons learned along the way. OCHA has institutionalized a system that minimizes much of the stove-piping and rigidity that had undermined collaboration in the past, with corporate planning, monitoring and reporting now centred on strategic objectives rather than each organizational unit. Performance monitoring helps ensure accountability against clearer indicators, while the application of annual risk analysis in planning and a more robust mid-year review have helped adjust corporate strategies to meet end-of-year targets. Clear policy instructions and standard operating procedures provide clarity of roles and procedures and help ensure that expectations are met in performance assessment. And finally, OCHA has put in place a new system to ensure that the results and recommendations of evaluations, reviews and audits are addressed, as formalized in the 2009 evaluation policy.

While implementation of the 2007-2009 Framework was largely an internal exercise, it was recognized at the outset that future planning should be preceded and informed by strategic discussions with key partners in the humanitarian community, including the IASC, the ODSG and Member States. The creation of the new framework for 2010-2013, developed over the course of 2009, was a widely consultative and transparent process, reflecting shifting paradigms, while drawing on policy debates, key United Nations and external reports and evaluations, and other developments affecting humanitarian assistance. While the 2007-2009 Framework comprised the goals and objectives around which OCHA planned, the launch of the new framework includes multi-year strategies detailing risks, milestones and a path to achieving the ends stated by 2013.

The evolution of these frameworks has brought a change of thinking, making staff more responsive to corporate planning and reporting, and helping OCHA become a more forward-thinking, results-oriented and mature organization.