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Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP)

Highlights

  • OCHA responded successfully to seven simultaneous emergencies in Asia and the Pacific in September and October 2009, with a combination of surge capacity deployments and remote support to Resident Coordinators/Humanitarian Coordinators (RC/HCs) and country teams. The emergencies included Bhutan (earthquake); Indonesia (earthquake); the Philippines (Typhoons Ketsana, Parma and Lupit); Viet Nam (Typhoon Ketsana); Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) (Typhoon Ketsana); Cambodia (Typhoon Ketsana); and Samoa (earthquake and tsunami).
  • ROAP staff directly supported the preparation of CERF requests totalling over US$47 million in 2009. They also contributed to rapid response or strengthening core humanitarian interventions in underfunded crises in Bhutan, the Democratic People‚Äôs Republic of Korea, the Lao PDR, Myanmar, Pakistan and the Philippines.
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Asia and the Pacific remains the world’s most natural disaster-prone region. In September and October 2009, typhoons struck the Philippines, Vietnam, Lao PDR and Cambodia. Indonesia and Bhutan experienced the deadly effects of earthquakes and Samoa was hit by a devastating tsunami. The region is also increasingly exposed to new and emerging threats, such as pandemics. Conditions in the region make it a possible flash point for new and potentially deadly pandemic virus mutations.

The succession of emergencies in Asia and the Pacific in 2009 highlighted the need for effective coordination and a rapid response capability from the humanitarian community and governments across the region. ROAP worked closely with different partners to ensure that contingency planning and disaster preparedness looked at all available response tools and anticipated key coordination challenges. These included agreeing on possible cluster leadership configurations, external funding requirements and response options prior to an emergency.

ROAP’s preparedness activities were a key element in the successful engagement with country teams and national authorities during emergency responses in the region, particularly in Bhutan, the Philippines and Viet Nam. Better preparation ensured roles and responsibilities were understood before disaster struck.

ROAP deployed surge capacity to provide hands-on guidance and coordination support for Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs) in the region. ROAP’s response activities included establishing clusters, preparing CERF applications and appeals, and establishing important technical services, such as IM, civil-military coordination and public information support.

Between September and October, ROAP staff members were deployed to concurrent disaster responses in Bhutan, the Philippines, Samoa, Lao PDR and Indonesia, supporting three appeal processes and four CERF requests. During the year, 929 staff days were spent on surge deployments or technical support missions. ROAP also facilitated the deployment of four United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) response teams to disasters in Indonesia, Samoa and the Philippines. ROAP staff members led three of these teams. ROAP’s experiences with disaster response in 2009 highlighted the need for continuous staffing beyond the initial response phase and the value of appropriately focused preparedness activities.

ROAP’s use of humanitarian financing mechanisms and the cluster approach brought clear benefits, particularly in sudden-onset disasters. Perhaps the most notable success in 2009 was in the Philippines, where the clusters were rolled out in response to Typhoon Ketsana, which struck less than a week after a ROAP-facilitated workshop on cluster management.

There is now a solid understanding of humanitarian reform, the availability of response tools and the need for inter-cluster cooperation at regional and international levels. However, ROAP is addressing the same issues at the country level, particularly in countries that have not faced regular humanitarian challenges. Humanitarian reform needs to be accompanied by a high level of awareness of roles and responsibilities, particularly given the high turnover of humanitarian coordination leaders. In addition, continuing efforts are required to ensure that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement are included in central decision-making processes during emergencies. Finally, ROAP will work to improve accountability in emergency response through participation in the Regional Directors Team (RDT).

ROAP has worked closely with regional networks and organizations, including the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Islands Applied Geo-science Commission. Collaboration with such entities has enabled OCHA to promote a better understanding of its role and to support ongoing efforts at strengthening regional disaster management and risk reduction. For example, ROAP has worked closely with the ASEAN Secretariat on developing a work plan for the implementation of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.

As outlined in ROAP’s Gender Action Plan for 2009-2010, the Regional Office continued to try to ensure that gender considerations featured strongly in emergency response and preparedness efforts. ROAP worked with partners to ensure that it supported process for Flash Appeal, CERF and Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) and included gender analysis and initiatives designed to respond to identified gaps. In its own data for disaster preparedness and contingency planning, ROAP routinely highlights disaggregated data on age and sex. It also shares and distributes tools such as the IASC Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action with partners.

Primarily due to recruitment delays and resulting long-term vacancies, ROAP's expenditure rate in 2009 was below the average for an OCHA Regional Office. Recruitment delays were linked to the introduction of United Nations contractual reforms in mid-2009 and the related, ongoing effort to build an OCHA roster for recruiting field personnel.

Sub-Regional Office: Fiji

OCHA’s Sub-Regional Office (SRO) for the Pacific supports 14 Pacific Island countries and two RCs based in Fiji and Samoa. The office played a leading role in strengthening coordinated disaster response and preparedness. OCHA helped set up the Pacific Humanitarian Team (PHT), a coalition of all the relevant humanitarian actors in the Pacific region, including United Nations agencies, the Red Cross Movement, NGOs, regional organizations and donor partners. The PHT has established regional clusters that work on preparedness for national and local response in Pacific Island countries when requested.

The clusters and the PHT were officially activated following the tsunami in Samoa during September, which led to a well-coordinated response by the Samoa Government and the PHT. Clusters also responded effectively to floods and cyclone responses in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, with national government agencies, Red Cross and local NGOs all engaged.

The PHT also provides a good forum to reinforce response capacity in Pacific Island countries that do not have a presence of United Nations agencies or international organizations yet are highly disaster prone. OCHA facilitates inter-agency contingency planning workshops that bring together local, national and international response actors to improvise a disaster scenario relevant for that Pacific Island country. The PHT structure also allows OCHA to mobilize resources and support for multi-agency assessment missions, such as those to the Ambrym and Gaua volcano eruptions in Vanuatu.

New Country Office: Philippines

In 2009, demands for humanitarian response to natural disasters and complex emergencies, as well as strengthened humanitarian coordination, grew rapidly in the Philippines.

Throughout 2009, OCHA played a key role in ensuring improved humanitarian coordination in the conflict-affected southern island group of Mindanao, where up to 430,000 people have been displaced by fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and armed opposition groups. With OCHA support, humanitarian actors in Mindanao developed a contingency plan and joint advocacy strategies to address protection concerns. OCHA also helped strengthen IM and facilitated joint resource mobilization, including a CERF request for Mindanao.

In addition to the conflict, a series of devastating cyclones affected large parts of the Visayas and Luzon island groups in September 2009. OCHA bolstered its capacity through surge deployments. These deployments included two full UNDAC teams and OCHA staff sent from ROAP and Headquarters. Shortly after the typhoons struck, a decision was reached to designate an HC for the country. In support of the HC, OCHA ensured improved reporting and IM, as well as effective cluster coordination. With OCHA support, the HCT prepared and revised a Flash Appeal as well as a CERF request. An Inter-Agency Real Time Evaluation of the typhoon response noted, in particular, that OCHA’s National Disaster Response Adviser was crucial in providing an interface between the Government and the international humanitarian community throughout the response.

Following the launch of the 2009 Philippines Flash Appeal, OCHA opened a Country Office in October 2009. Initial staffing was ensured through internal and external surge mechanisms while long-term recruitment was under way.

Humanitarian Support Unit: Papua New Guinea

Since its establishment in 2006, the OCHA Humanitarian Support Unit (HSU) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has supported the United Nations RC in his responsibilities for coordinating humanitarian assistance and disaster response preparedness. In September 2009, the HSU provided on-site coordination support in Morobe Province in response to the country’s first confirmed cholera outbreak, serving as a member of the National Cholera Task Force. During the height of the response, the HSU assisted the provincial taskforce by coordinating a consolidated cholera response action plan, preparing situation reports, establishing a contact list and facilitating coordination meetings and liaison with donors. OCHA continued to be a key player in the national response as the outbreak spread to other parts of the country.

The HSU is responsible for leading the Disaster Management Team’s activities in PNG. It has also been actively involved in the PHT’s work. That team is led by the RCs for Fiji and Samoa, and composed of all humanitarian organizations with capacity to respond in the Pacific. In December 2009, the Government of Vanuatu requested the HSU’s assistance following increased volcanic activity in the Pacific Island country. OCHA immediately deployed its Humanitarian Affairs Analyst to support the Government and humanitarian partners with evacuating 500 people and preparing an evacuation plan for 3,000 people.