OCHA in 2007
Activities and Extra-Budgetary Funding Requirements

OCHA at work


Humanitarian Reform

This quote opens the Report of the 'High-Level Panel on UN system-wide Coherence,' presented to out-going Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan in late 2006. The distinguished panel, which included Prime Ministers from Pakistan, Mozambique and Norway, looked into the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment, and put forward a set of recommendations for a 'repositioned UN' believing that the organisation 'delivering as one' would be 'much more than the sum of its parts.'

The inspiring, and much anticpated report, boldly states the need to eliminate fragmentation and calls for the UN system to work toward one set of goals within the framework of one strategy. Applied in this case across the UN's key areas of service, this same concept was introduced more than two years ago when the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, commissioned a review of the humanitarian response system. The recommendations from the review formed the foundation of Humanitarian Reform outlined by OCHA in 2006. The review served as a backdrop to the Indian Ocean tsunami, where the sudden ferocity of nature claimed the attention of the world and comparable amounts of relief poured in. The response of the humanitarian community was impressive, with all working together toward one goal. However, was there a single strategy?

In recent years we have seen a sharp increase in the number and severity of natural hazards that provoke disasters, including increased flooding, with more communities heading towards famine and political instability as they fail to adapt quickly enough to changing environments. More people are on the move, internally and across borders, seeking employment away from already over-taxed areas. The context within which we work constantly evolves and becomes more challenging.

The humanitarian reform initiative is a response to the lack of a coordinated, timely and effective response - as seen in Darfur, Sudan in 2004 - and seeks to provide predictable funding to combat 'forgotten emergencies.' Additionally, it seeks to strengthen country level coordination for the effective use of scarce resources, and also to strengthen partnerships with NGOs, civil society, the private sector and the military which contribute to the assorted fabric of the humanitarian community.

Today, more than one year since it was first articulated that we need to 'raise the standard of how we do business' developments and progress are still to be made. As the enormity of the reform task became clearer, the Emergency Relief Coordinator established a 'time-bound' Humanitarian Reform Support Unit (HRSU) within OCHA. The HRSU became fully operational in the second quarter of 2006, and worked to build policy consensus, communicate the reform agenda to all stakeholders, and assist with field implementation.

I. Strengthening of the Humanitarian Coordinator System

The role of the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) is pivotal to the success of a humanitarian operation. The recent HC strengthening action plan aims to ensure that the humanitarian community collectively identifies, trains, appoints and holds accountable individuals that can deliver the most effective leadership in humanitarian emergencies. The HC must have the required knowledge and experience for the assigned task. OCHA has spear-headed the reform of the HC system within the IASC and is closely collaborating with UNDGO to ensure that the reform is consistent with the recommendations of the 2005 World Summit concerning unified UN leadership at the field level.

In April 2006 the IASC Principles approved a long-term Action Plan to strengthen the Humanitarian Coordinator system, developed by the IASC, with a smaller IASC group designated to facilitate the progress. This group also works on policy related issues, such as circumstances that might lead to the separation of the Resident Coordinator (RC) and HC functions, as well as the role of the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator (DHC).

To date, a pool of 22 Humanitarian Coordinators has been established. Its most significant feature is the presence of seven non-UN members who come from the NGO community. This is a radical step for the UN humanitarian system as it begins to implement a plan where an individual with an NGO background might eventually be posted to represent the UN community with national authorities. This highlights a shift in mindset: the focus is now on the skills and understanding required to 'pull-together' the humanitarian community in crises, rather than the acquisition of a UN profile. Nominations for the pool were re-opened in the latter part of 2006 to get better geographical and gender balance, demonstrating the very real commitment to identifying the best possible range of candidates for this important job. The process saw the addition of two women to the group.

Developing relevant skills and creating a sound understanding of the functioning of the UN system will take time, and effort has been made to develop an extensive Training Programme. This will focus on identifying each individual's required area of development and will involve a period of 'shadowing' to allow for 'on-site' learning. It is a four-phase briefing and learning system that spans a one-year period. OCHA realized the importance of this task at the outset, and advocated directly with donors for the establishment of an independently funded project at the beginning of 2007.

While resources were being mobilized and recruitment was underway, OCHA facilitated, with the support of HRSU, the first Induction event. This brought together current and potential HCs, UN and non-UN, under the same roof for the first time. Some HCs had worked in a natural disaster environment before and were well versed in the implementation of the reform and related issues, and some came from non-governmental backgrounds with a 'fresh' perspective on how to utilize the tools of the UN system. The occasion highlighted the different levels of knowledge and experience and, importantly, the work that will be required in the coming year to 'operationalize' those on the roster. In addition, a consultative process has been initiated for overall development and implementation of induction and senior level coordination training with a practical context approach.

    Looking Forward

    The HC Action Plan for 2007 will be revised and updated to include more substantive issues. It will involve a more consultative process with IASC members and will incorporate the outcome of the Global Humanitarian Platform, aimed at strengthening strategic dialogue among humanitarian organizations, facilitated by HRSU.

Mutual learning and mutual respect built partnerships that will form the foundation of a team ready to lead the UN community with a single strategy towards a single goal.

    On 25 July 2006, the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations launched the Afghanistan Drought Joint Appeal. The appeal for US$ 76 million covers activities such as the distribution of food, emergency employment, water provision, communicable disease control and nutritional interventions, and aims to provide such humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations in mostly rain-fed agro-ecological zones affected by drought.

    The CERF granted US$ 12.7 million, an essential component of the response to the drought in Afghanistan. Because of the possibility that households would sell their assets and consume their stock seed to cope with the drought, increasing malnutrition and susceptibility to disease, particularly among children, the CERF funds allowed agencies to begin immediate time-critical life-saving activities. US$ 700,000 was used to provide water to 30,000 families in the provinces of Samangan and Saripul by drilling three strategic bore wells, and therapeutic feeding to 2,000 severely malnourished children in the provinces of Samangan, Saripul and Ghor. CERF funds purchased 81,500 MT of mixed food commodities.

II. Adequate, Flexible and Predictable Humanitarian Financing

One of the most important tools available to humanitarian agencies is the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) which provides flexible and predictable financing for humanitarian response.

The General Assembly called for the CERF to reach a level of US$ 500 million by 2008. The CERF was launched in March 2006, and in its first six months recorded pledges of more than US$ 298 million from 52 states, one local government and one private organization.

Following the outbreak of fighting in Timor-Leste in April and May 2006, when more than 135,000 people became homeless overnight, US$ 4 million from the CERF helped WFP ensure the minimum levels of food and provide supplementary rations to children and pregnant/breastfeeding women. In the initial stages of the response to the crisis in Lebanon, CERF support of US$ 2.5 million to common logistics services helped the United Nations country team expedite the transportation of humanitarian commodities from Syria into Lebanon, mobilize a significant trucking fleet from Beirut to transport food and supplies to conflict-affected communities, charter an aircraft for the delivery of vehicles and ensure an appropriate security structure to support all logistics operations.

For under-funded emergencies, CERF provided immediate cash to humanitarian emergency situations that had not attracted sufficient donor attention. The initial tranche of US$ 32 million was provided to 11 countries in May-July and the second tranche of US$ 43 million is currently being disbursed to 12 countries. The largest allocation was made to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where underfunded life-saving projects received US$ 38 million in CERF grants. CERF funds already disbursed have helped accelerate the implementation of life-saving programmes including malaria control, cholera response, mine action activities and protection of IDPs.

The work of the CERF is complemented by the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative, which evaluated country level pooled funding initiatives in DRC and the Sudan, promoting a methodology to improve needs-based allocation of funding by:

  • improving the evidence base for humanitarian action;
  • sharing lessons on severity indices;
  • improving donor coordination on funding intentions, developing evidence on the linkages between reduced earmarking, flexible funding mechanisms and needs-based resource allocation;
  • working with agencies to improve visibility for donors who are making unearmarked contributions; and
  • undertaking advocacy with donors to promote impartial allocations.
III. Building Partnerships

The number of natural disasters that provoke serious emergencies has rapidly increased in the last years. At the same time there are fewer 'new wars' but rather we see the festering of longstanding and 'forgotten crises'. Global wealth has increased, yet people die every day from hunger, poverty, and disasters. The media has turned a critical eye towards humanitarian response, bringing it daily under public scrutiny. The emergence of new humanitarian actors, such as the military and private companies, and the proliferation of NGOs, means that the humanitarian field has grown exponentially. Collaboration has become more and more challenging, and now there is an urgent need to develop better ways of working together.

In July 2006, 40 leaders of UN humanitarian organisations, NGOs, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, the IOM and the World Bank gathered in Geneva for the first meeting to explore ways of enhancing the effectiveness of humanitarian response

The meeting constituted one of the most representative meetings yet of equal humanitarian partners, the United Nations, the NGO community and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and inter-governmental organizations, and agreed to establish Humanitarian Community Partnership teams at the country level. These teams will be separate from the UN humanitarian country teams already established, and will instead seek to compliment the work of these teams, drawing equally on representation from international and national NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, UN humanitarian organisations and IOM. The Humanitarian Community Partnership Teams will seek ways to strengthen collaborative work at the field level, including joint training, and to strengthen NGO consortia.

    Support to IDPs in Somalia has been disjointed and ad hoc. In an effort to strengthen the collaborative approach to better assist and protect IDPs, the IASC Country Team began implementing the cluster approach to improve accountability and response of humanitarian actors. As a result, the protection cluster has carried out an IDP profiling exercise, establishing a protection monitoring network and tracking of population movements. The approach also saw the increase of basic services such as water and sanitation, health and education, to IDP settlements. This took place through NGOs, given that capacity within the UN was minimal.
    In Bossasso, Puntland, discussions between the international community and local and regional authorities resulted in a 'road map' with concrete proposals to operaitonalize a joint strategy. The ultimate goal is to provide basic services to 4,500 families. To date three plots have been allocated for resettlement and130 IDP households and 30 urban poor households are being relocated.

The new Global Humanitarian Platform will hold its first meeting mid 2007, and aims to meet annually for the next three years in order to provide a forum for strategic dialogue on urgent humanitarian issues. To support the Global Humanitarian Platform, a Steering Committee and a Working Level Group has been established, co-Chaired by the UN and non-UN organizations. The Global Humanitarian Platform will:

  • Articulate principles of authentic or strategic partnership;
  • Test the impact of Humanitarian Community Partnership Teams;
  • Provide a forum for focused discussion of particular strategic issues, such as accountability, capacity- building, security, or transitions; and
  • Adopt a statement on issues of common concern to serve as a collective advocacy effort by the humanitarian community.

    In Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, the successful delivery of water and sanitation to affected populations clearly stemmed from the partnership forged between UNICEF and Oxfam. While UNICEF chaired the larger general meetings, Oxfam emerged to lead the technical standards sub-group and in many ways to become the unofficial deputy lead. The spirit of shared responsibility facilitated trouble shooting.

    As the emergency phase passed, the IASC Country Team, led by the Humanitarian Coordinator identified Oxfam as the IASC representative to the Government's Transition Relief Cell, replacing OCHA following its exit in June 2006. Oxfam raised all relief related operational and policy concerns on behalf of all UN Agencies and NGOs with the government. The shared responsibility in relief coordination and advocacy further strengthened the spirit of partnership evident in the operation. Moreover the office of the UN Resident Coordinator was invited as an 'observer' in the close NGO Pakistan Humanitarian Forum.

Furthermore, the Global Humanitarian Platform seeks to increase exposure and strengthen participation of national NGOs in regions currently under-represented in the global humanitarian response system as well as ensuring suitable representation in the 2007 Global Platform meeting.

HRSU is working with humanitarian partners, donors and OCHA field offices on finding ways to support this initiative through linking existing but separate partnership strengthening initiatives under the umbrella of the Global Humanitarian Platform.

However, as the global level seeks to develop ways to improve humanitarian response, the field is faced with emergencies.

IV. Strengthened Coordination and predictable Leadership

During the IASC Working Group in July 2006, OCHA was requested to "lead a process to evaluate the cluster approach in the 'pilot countries'." In light of the timeframe for implementation the IASC felt an interim self-assessment would be more appropriate than an evaluation. And so the Interim Self-Assessment is a progress report, highlighting main themes and lessons from the field. OCHA established a smaller IASC group, known as the 'Core Learning group' to develop the methodology which comprised a desk review of existing evaluations and workshops in each of the four roll out countries. The Assessment focused on the field, aiming to provide a voice for those who strive to implement the cluster approach in policy discussions at the global level. Although with the time constraints and restrictive methodology the Assessment was not a perfect product, there was a remarkable amount of consistency in the issues raised.

Overall, the cluster approach demonstrates the potential to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response, and improves predictability through the designation of leads, fostering an atmosphere where partnership between UN and non-UN humanitarian organizations is increasingly the expected norm. We see this clearly in response to the Lebanon emergency, where actors knew at the outset who was responsible for the different areas of work. This is progress when we consider previous emergencies such as Darfur. In the DRC there has been a clear expansion in the capacity of water and sanitation and protection has finally been addressed in Somalia.

The added value is clear. It is against this backdrop that the IASC Working group endorsed the revised "Guidance Note on using the Cluster approach to strengthen Humanitarian Response". The Note, a collaborative endeavour whose final version includes inputs from the field, provides clarity on the way ahead, calling for the approach to be eventually implemented in all countries with Humanitarian Coordinators.

Yet, learning from the Interim Self Assessment, this process will be field driven, with the pace of implementation established by the Humanitarian Coordinators and their country teams. This is an ambitious vision for 2007, stemming from the common realisation that the time for debate is over, now is the time for action.

2007 is a year of challenge and a year of hope. All areas of the reform are interlinked, and for there to be success in one, it requires progress in another. Above all, is the need for a change of 'mindset' - the need to detach from previous methods of working and to focus on the single purpose of this collective effort, improving the lives of those who are suffering.