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Performance of the Field — Overview

2009 Presence (PDF 2.8MB)

In 2008, the OCHA realignment process and standardization of regional offices was completed. 2009 was the year for review of in-country units, establishing clearer priorities and more rigorous bi-annual budgetary analysis. As a result, the OCHA global footprint became more consistent and better defined. New definitions of OCHA field-based organizational units — coupled with clearer reporting lines and basic operating parameters — aimed to reinforce the predictability of services and give staff a clearer sense of priorities. Working with improved global humanitarian architecture, OCHA was better placed to define the triggers for supporting preparedness and response, scaling its operations accordingly and applying the OCHA-supported suite of tools. To this end, OCHA began a more rigorous classification of disasters, leading to a progressively more predictable, tailored and timely response to individual humanitarian crises.

In 2009, along with all the continuing complex emergencies that required support at all levels, OCHA responded to 43 new emergencies1: 33 natural disasters, nine armed conflicts and one epidemic. The regional patterns that emerged showed that 15 emergencies occurred in Africa; 14 in Asia and the Pacific; eight in Latin America and the Caribbean; and six in Central Asia. Compared with 2008, the number of OCHA responses to new emergencies in 2009 increased in Africa and Asia and the Pacific. It decreased in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia.

In 2009, OCHA reinforced its response tracking of new emergencies to increase the effectiveness of country, regional and global coordination structures and its support to humanitarian coordination leaders: HCs, RCs and cluster leads. By maintaining an increasingly detailed log of response activities — including surge capacity, field coordination and leadership structures, humanitarian financing, information and staff management — OCHA aimed to increase accountability in response to new emergencies and better tailor Headquarters’ support to field operations. This included making available clearer guidance and standard operating procedures responsive to the realities on the ground.

OCHA field work focused on timely and efficient support to RC/HCs, HCTs and OCHA offices. This was in line with the OCHA Strategic Framework 2007-2009, and the envisioned OCHA leadership in coordination, financing, humanitarian policy, advocacy and information management. The OCHA response to minor emergencies was often limited to information exchange and situation updates in the first hours or days. The response to major emergencies was characterized by activating a series of tools, including, but not limited to, the designation of an HC, the roll-out and support of clusters and the launch of a Flash Appeal. There were no “corporate emergencies” declared by the ERC in 2009 that demanded a “whole of OCHA” effort to activate tools and services. The Haiti corporate response occurred in January 2010.

Regional Offices

In 2009, OCHA worked towards developing a more consistent approach to building up RO resources, structures and approaches. This included a rationalization of RO geographical coverage. By the end of 2009, OCHA had phased down the Nairobi-based RO to an SRO, and placed it under the existing regional leadership in South Africa. The Nairobi SRO’s main focus now is on cross-border issues in the Horn of Africa and monitoring the situation in the Great Lakes. OCHA also ensured the full functioning of the ROMENACA office in Cairo, following the mid-2009 transfer from its location in Dubai. The Cairo base is expected to allow improved access to areas with the most significant concentration of programme coordination activities.

Regional backstopping responsibility for the country office in Pakistan was also transferred from Bangkok to Cairo.

RO activities in 2009 included implementing the new Policy Instruction on the roles and responsibilities of the ROs. With the adoption of the 2009 policy, OCHA ROs focus on three key areas, particularly where there is no country office: response preparedness, including early warning and contingency planning; support to emergency response; and developing regional coordination networks. Representing about 11 per cent of the 2009 OCHA global budget and 18 per cent of OCHA field-based humanitarian coordination entities, the ROs were particularly cost-effective with regard to surge capacity. ROs directly responded to more than 30 new and ongoing emergencies in 2009, more than double the OCHA response of previous years.

By the end of 2009, OCHA's improved regional operations — including Humanitarian Support Units in RC offices — had significantly extended OCHA’s global reach. OCHA also strengthened internal linkages between ROs, and between ROs, COs and Headquarters units. OCHA worked closely with key partners, particularly UNDP-led Regional Director Teams (RDTs), ISDR and BCPR regional presences, and regional organizations (e.g. ASEAN, ECOWAS). OCHA ROs now actively participate in shaping the RDT agenda, ensuring the inclusion of humanitarian issues and advising regional directors of corrective actions necessary in priority countries.

With the groundwork done in 2009, ROs will now become the primary vehicle for delivering OCHA’s forthcoming policy on preparedness in RC countries, while continuing to provide a key “first line” field-based emergency preparedness and response platform.

Country Offices

OCHA made significant progress in defining CO operations in 2009. The OCHA 2009 Review of Sub-Offices built on the 2007 Review of Field Offices, and brought more clarity to OCHA’s in-country unit terminology and functions. OCHA also became more consistent and rigorous in its approach to CO work planning, cost planning and the CHAP/CAP, based on sounder inter-agency needs assessments and analysis. This proved particularly helpful in countries where a longer-term presence is necessary, such as DRC.

There is now a clearer definition of OCHA’s overall humanitarian coordination role at the country level. OCHA has worked towards direct HC support, as reflected in the HoO-HC reporting lines guidance, the provision of a secretariat to the HCT, inter-cluster activities, and administration and managerial support to pooled funds. The introduction of clearer HC and RC ToRs enabled OCHA to increase the use of contingency planning and preparedness measures in all COs.

There were no new corporate emergencies in 2009 and no new large OCHA COs were established. However, following the deterioration of the situation in Northern Yemen, in consultation with the main humanitarian actors in country, the ERC decided to open an OCHA CO in Sanaa to support the RC and the HCT in addressing the needs of the affected population. OCHA also established a CO in the Philippines, with a sub-office in Mindanao, to help coordinate international assistance during current and future humanitarian emergencies.

Difficulties that OCHA had to contend with included staffing shortages in some offices and unpredictable funding. Nevertheless, OCHA made important gains in rationalizing its CO staffing. New norms were introduced, whereby each CO will be headed by a P5/D1, with a more distinct position defined for the Deputy Head of Office. OCHA also implemented the policy of placing an international Administrative Officer in each CO, and a more systematic use of the National Officer category was initiated in the field.

Other advances related to the development of country strategies for OCHA COs, beginning in transition situations, for example in Côte d’Ivoire and Nepal. Transition strategies incorporated an approach to handing over substantive programming, such as response preparedness and coordination functions, to local counterparts. Further elements included the management of human resources and assets, such as intellectual capital. OCHA is now better placed to agree with partners on appropriate transition benchmarks, with roles and responsibilities clearly demarcated well in advance of actual transition processes.

In 2009, the Humanitarian Country Team model became accepted globally as the standard, putting into practice the partnership principles agreed between United Nations and non-United Nations organizations. This was an important milestone for ensuring improved partnership and decision-making at the country level. OCHA sought to reinforce the role of COs in inter-cluster coordination, as the cluster approach is now an accepted, standardized way of operating in emergencies. However, significant challenges remain and are now being addressed through the implementation of the new OCHA Strategic Framework for 2010-2013 and the application of lessons from the Cluster Evaluation Phase II.

With the endorsement of the full Integrated Mission guidance package in 2009, OCHA COs are now in a position to support partners more effectively in situations where the principles of integration apply, for instance Chad, Haiti, DRC and Sudan. This means that the relevant CO will now be more informed and educated about integration developments, and be in a better position to fulfill integration obligations, including, but not limited to, participation in integrated field coordination mechanisms and shared analytical and planning capacities.

The attacks on United Nations staff in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia in 2009 underscored the increasing violence faced by the humanitarian community and the difficulties that the United Nations and NGOs encounter when attempting to ensure access for humanitarian action. The number of deaths, kidnappings and attacks also increased in Chad, DRC and Sudan. The worsening security situation and constrained humanitarian access continue to constrict the operating space for international and national aid organizations in high-risk environments. For example, the level of security incidents in Afghanistan rose between approximately 30 to 35 per cent from 2008 to 2009. This has had an increasingly harmful impact on the population.

A deadly, targeted attack on a United Nations guesthouse in Kabul in late October 2009, along with increasingly direct threats against the United Nations, have forced aid organizations to review security arrangements and reassess the impact and viability of their programmes.

New OCHA Field Architecture

Over the past few years, OCHA has brought more consistency and transparency to its organizational structure worldwide. In late 2009, OCHA formalized definitions of its field-based organizational units following recommendations from three initiatives: the Regional Office Working Group, the Field Office Review and the Sub-Office Review, and the internal review of field presences. It also clarified reporting lines and set basic operating parameters for these unit types. They will take full effect on 1 January 2010.

Regional Office

An RO is located in a strategic hub of regional humanitarian significance. For countries with no permanent OCHA unit, an RO concentrates on three sets of activities: response, preparedness and regional networks. ROs are OCHA’s first line of emergency response in countries where there is no CO. They provide surge capacity to COs when required.

Sub-Regional Office

An SRO, formerly called Regional Disaster Response Advisors, enables an RO to extend its coverage to areas in the region of concentrated humanitarian requirements. SROs report directly to the RO, and follow their strategy and planning systems.

Humanitarian Support Unit

The HSU includes and replaces all current types of non-RO and non-CO field presences, including national disaster response advisors, national officer presence and international officer presence. An HSU also includes all deployments from the OCHA suite of surge capacity tools, including deployments from the RO, the Emergency Response Roster and from standby partners. An OCHA HSU, reporting to an RC, is an integral part of the RO and subject to the regional strategy.

Country Office

A CO, formerly known as a Field Office, supports the HC in leading a coordinated response to a humanitarian crisis. Each CO undertakes all OCHA core functions to a degree specified by the needs of the HC and HCT. The CO can manage one or several sub-offices and their antennae. It centrally administers all OCHA operations within a country.


An SO, reporting directly to a CO, is located in the vicinity of populations of concern. The SO extends the HC’s leadership to provide coordination services to centres of humanitarian response or encourage humanitarian agencies to extend their operations into neglected areas. The SO receives its direction and strategy from the CO and is therefore included in the CO’s workplan and costplan. Similarly, it is administered by the CO and can be headed by a professional or national officer.


An antenna is not an office in its own right, but a small extension of an SO. It is established to extend the presence of a sub-office or to provide operational flexibility on a temporary basis. Typically, an antenna is temporary in nature and co-located with other agencies or NGOs at the approval of the United Nations Designated Official, responsible for overall security in the country concerned. Depending on its size and capacity, an antenna can perform all the functions of an SO. An antenna is usually headed by a national officer, receiving direction from an SO.