The increasing vulnerability of populations and the growing magnitude of emergencies mean that OCHA’s global presence must be flexible and adaptable to the ever-changing demands on the humanitarian system. To coordinate, lead and improve humanitarian action, OCHA must operate where natural disasters and conflicts occur. It has to respond quickly and effectively and then depart as the affected country moves from crisis to recovery.
OCHA has planned for field operations in 47 countries in 2011, subject to evolving global humanitarian needs. At the start of 2011, this number will include 22 country offices, five regional offices, three sub-regional offices, three liaison offices and 14 humanitarian support units. Country offices in Iraq, Kenya and Uganda are expected to transition to support units during 2011. This represents a year-on-year decrease in OCHA’s field presence since 2008 (see related chart). OCHA formally reviews its field presence at least twice a year and makes adjustments accordingly.
OCHA country offices will continue to be located in the world’s least developed countries, as ranked by the UNDP 2010 Human Development Index (HDI). All country offices are located in countries in the bottom half of the HDI; five country offices are in the bottom 10 (see graph). OCHA has offices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Zimbabwe, all of which are ranked lowest on the HDI due to a combination of factors such as life expectancy and adult literacy, and daily caloric intake and access to health services. Due to insufficient data, no HDI figures exist in four places where OCHA has country offices: Eritrea, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory and Somalia.
In 2010, OCHA brought consistency to its global presence by defining roles and responsibilities for its field operations. A framework now exists to govern OCHA operations before, during and after an emergency. Guidance has been issued on the role of regional offices and country offices, and on OCHA’s role in preparedness and transition.
The breakdown of OCHA’s response in any given emergency is as follows: in a new emergency, regional offices are the first line of response. If a country becomes locked in a protracted crisis, OCHA will establish a longer-term presence. OCHA will only phase out when conditions improve to the extent that the immediate threat of crisis is gone, leaving the affected population and Government better equipped to face the next emergency.
Regional offices are located strategically in areas of humanitarian significance. They have become increasingly vital in countries with no OCHA country office. Regional offices typically focus on preparedness, support to emergency response and the development of regional coordination networks. Sub-regional offices allow regional offices to extend their coverage to areas with concentrated humanitarian needs.
Country offices support the Humanitarian Coordinator in leading the response to a humanitarian crisis, with sub-offices located in the vicinity of populations of concern. Country offices have five operational priorities: building a shared situational awareness; building a common approach; building a common strategy and implementation plan; facilitating implementation and monitoring; and developing shared lessons learned.
Humanitarian support units exist in places where a fully fledged country office is not justified, but where there are risks of relapsing into crisis. OCHA’s policy on transition has resulted in a more predictable and better-
managed process to phase down OCHA operations from country offices to support units, in consultation with partners.
In 2011, OCHA faces the challenge of adapting its field operations to growing needs in a global context where the resources available to the humanitarian system are already stretched, and where humanitarian access is shrinking due to security and bureaucratic constraints. Country offices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan will remain OCHA’s largest operations, followed by Afghanistan and Haiti.
OCHA will continue to fulfill its mandate by seeking to put in place an enabling and effective humanitarian coordination system that addresses evolving challenges. It will focus on strengthened humanitarian leadership, more accountable humanitarian country teams, more effective cluster coordination, and quicker and more predictable funding tools tied to need.
At the regional and country level, OCHA will find new ways of working with partners, particularly governments and development actors, to tackle chronic vulnerability and save lives. OCHA staff in the field will be working to ensure that humanitarian responses are not a collection of disjointed efforts, but are context specific, integrated and needs based in support of action by national governments.