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OCHA AT WORK

 
 
Coordination and the Indian Ocean Tsunami
 
 
Evaluations at Work
 
 
OCHA Women and Men: Working Towards Gender Equality
 
 
Information Management and OCHA
 
 
Coordination Snapshot: OCHA in Sudan
 
 
Humanitarian Response Reform
 

 

Humanitarian Response Reform

The last three years have been turbulent years for the humanitarian community—Afghanistan, followed by Iraq, the Darfur crisis in Sudan and then the Indian Ocean Tsunami and South Asia Earthquake. Together, we have confronted a major crisis each year; each in its own way larger than the last. The humanitarian response system has coped with these major events and we have managed to save lives and mitigate suffering, but these events also have changed the humanitarian environment in which we work. Each of these major crises has in its own way tested the humanitarian response system; they have challenged perceptions of humanitarian assistance as impartial, they have challenged the appropriateness of our response and they have challenged our capacity to respond.

The humanitarian response system was designed well over a decade ago. In general, it has stood the test of time well and while there is no need for major reform we do need a “system upgrade” that makes the tools that we developed in the 1990’s work more effectively in the environment of 2006.

There are three main elements to the humanitarian reform: 1) to create more predictable humanitarian finances to ensure and enable a prompt response to new or rapidly deteriorating crises; 2) to strengthen response capacity by establishing a system of cluster leads in those areas of activity where there are clearly identified gaps, and finally, 3) to strengthen the Humanitarian Coordinator system to better support field coordination. As such, OCHA field offices will in many ways be at the forefront of all three elements of humanitarian reform.

One priority of the reform process has been to modernise the existing Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF) by adding a grant element, thereby creating a Central Emergency Response Fund (upgraded CERF) which will have a target of US$ 500 million to be achieved over three years (US$ 450 million grant, US$ 50 million revolving loan). A number of pledges have already been made to the new CERF. Pending GA approval, OCHA anticipates that we should be able to have the new mechanism in place with an initial US$ 250 million in early 2006. This will be a significant achievement that will help allow us to respond promptly to new crises and rapidly deteriorating existing crises. It will also enable us to address core needs in chronically under-funded emergencies. This upgraded CERF is an additional mechanism alongside the CAP – to which we remain strongly committed and for which we will continue to advocate for full funding.

Strengthening the capacity of the humanitarian response system is the second crucial element of humanitarian reform. In consultation with the IASC, we have agreed to establish cluster leads in ten areas of humanitarian activity where there is a need to reinforce the current response capacity.1 So far the current discussion has focused on strengthening existing capacity.

The cluster leadership approach, at field level, should provide more effective technical support to the HC while also broadening the base of technical coordination through a stronger engagement of humanitarian partners. However, cluster leadership and coordination as currently envisaged goes beyond this in proposing that cluster/sectoral structures should be maintained at both the field and global level. As such, clusters would provide support to agencies and partners involved in cluster activities as well as supporting standard setting and potentially engaging in common training activities. OCHA believes that these commitments by cluster leads constitute significant progress in establishing improved predictability, accountability and greater effectiveness of response for the humanitarian system.

The IASC Principals have agreed that there needs to be a phased implementation of this approach. It will be applied to all new major disasters, as is currently the case in the South Asia Earthquake, and will be enhanced by the establishment of a cluster lead for disaster evacuees. The application of this approach to existing emergencies will be based on an assessment of capacity in those countries where it is felt that there is a need to strengthen the effectiveness of humanitarian response. The countries that are initially proposed for this assessment will include, but not be limited to Liberia, DRC and Uganda. The assessment of capacity should not be understood as limited to any particular sector or group of sectors, but rather should be undertaken by all the clusters.

There will undoubtedly be cost implications resulting from our efforts to strengthen humanitarian response capacity. These will be addressed as part of a consolidated approach that OCHA will make to donors on behalf of the cluster leads and will be primarily based on the results of an assessment exercise. For the immediate time being the costs of cluster leadership will not be included in the CAP.

OCHA’s field role should be seen as facilitating the working of these clusters and identifying and responding to the common inter–cluster issues that arise. OCHA is hopeful that this approach to cluster leadership will broaden the base of coordination as well as ensuring that those with the appropriate technical expertise take charge of managing their clusters.

Finally, strengthening the support that is given to both Resident Coordinators and RC/HCs will be a critical third element of these humanitarian reforms. OCHA is currently working with IASC members to review the selection and identification of RC/HCs to ensure that they are equipped with the right skills and experience for the humanitarian coordination challenges that they face. The Humanitarian Coordination system will be strengthened by establishing a broad and flexible selection pool, bringing humanitarian experience to countries where there are clear humanitarian issues and ensuring that RCs are better prepared to respond to humanitarian crises, including natural disasters.

If the objectives of Humanitarian Reform are realized, the result will be a humanitarian system that is better equipped to handle long recognized gaps in capacity and introduces new levels of accountability and responsibility throughout the system.


  1. Nutrition (UNICEF),Water/Sanitation (UNICEF), Health (WHO), Shelter (Conflict IDPs) (UNHCR), Camp Coordination in Conflict for IDPs, (UNHCR), Protection in conflict for IDPs, (UNHCR) Logistics (WFP), Telecoms (OCHA/UNICEF/WFP), Early Recovery (UNDP), Education (UNICEF).