As I approach the one-year mark as Emergency Relief Coordinator, I am increasingly struck by a sense of change
and dynamism in the humanitarian world. I see more people than ever before needing help, and a response
that is increasingly sophisticated and better targeted to help meet (rightly) rising expectations. At the same time,
the working environment for national and international humanitarian actors is often not what it should be. This
has a direct impact on the lives of desperately vulnerable people, who do not always get the help they need because
aid workers cannot reach them. It also sometimes has fatal consequences for those working with great courage in
highly insecure environments. Despite these problems, I am committed to strengthening further our ability to respond,
in partnership with Member States, beneficiaries and all humanitarian organizations.
There are two main reasons why more people need help than before. First, there appears to be a greater frequency
and impact of natural hazards on a crowded planet, particularly those associated with climate change. In the
last year, OCHA has coordinated the response to a large number of medium-impact crises, with 15 flash appeals
launched at the time of writing – five more than ever before in any one year. This has in some ways had a more profound
impact on OCHA than even the 2004 tsunami. It has not been easy to work in so many countries (often without
an established OCHA presence) simultaneously, and with United Nations teams on the ground primarily focused on
development. In some situations, however, greater OCHA emergency response capacity and better partnerships
and practices in disaster risk reduction and response preparedness have already paid off. Bangladesh is a prime
example of a country in which the Government–United Nations partnership on disaster preparedness saved many
lives during the November cyclone and floods.
Secondly, war – in most cases civil conflict – continues to ravage the lives of millions of people across the globe. As
the year closes, I am disheartened to find no end in sight to the suffering of so many in large-scale emergencies such
as Darfur, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Millions more are increasingly affected by conflict
and insecurity in Afghanistan, Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory and elsewhere. Humanitarian actors cannot solve
these problems; we can only mitigate their consequences. We depend on the international community living up to its responsibility to step up its conflict prevention and resolution efforts.
While millions of people receive humanitarian assistance every year, the ability of humanitarian actors to reach
those in need is too often jeopardized. Even those who have the primary responsibility to help and protect their
own civilians sometimes seem to see the presence of aid agencies as an object of suspicion. In countries like Sudan
and Somalia, aid workers struggle to find a safe operating environment and to overcome bureaucratic obstacles. OCHA
has a mandate to help overcome these problems, as well as drawing attention to abuses of humanitarian principles
wherever they occur. At the same time, these efforts must be balanced by the need to work with governments
to provide assistance to the population directly, and to facilitate the work of humanitarians on the ground.
OCHA also grapples with basic questions about security in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Our current
security framework restricts our ability to work in parts of countries like these; not least where humanitarian
agencies have been warned by those engaged in violence that they are at risk of kidnapping, or worse. United
Nations Agencies and NGOs attempt to continue their work, for example, through the courageous efforts of
national staff, but they also often find it difficult to work in such dangerous conditions. We must continue to try
to widen the acceptance and support for humanitarian action, and access, everywhere that it is needed. The tragic
events in Algeria in December illustrate the growing risks if perceptions of the United Nations as an impartial and
benevolent actor are somehow weakened.
In the meantime, efforts to strengthen OCHA and the wider humanitarian system continue. The process of
humanitarian reform underway among United Nations Agencies, the Red Cross Movement, the International
Organization for Migration and NGOs is beginning to show results, in terms of greater capacity, better coordination and
targeting to the needs, and more rapidly available resources.
In OCHA, this is no longer referred to as ‘reform’ as such, but simply as the way that we do business. In 2008, we
will work to strengthen further each of the four pillars of humanitarian reform.
The cluster coordination model is producing real benefits in many emergencies, but there is still a lot of work to do in
building capacity among cluster leads and mainstreaming its use in all emergencies. OCHA will focus on building
support for this approach with governments in countries with humanitarian programmes, and activating it in new
countries. Linked to this is the need to build government capacity to coordinate in crises. OCHA is increasing the
capacity of its Humanitarian Coordination Strengthening Project, and hopes to see the benefits of scaling up its
training programmes. Partnerships remain crucial, not least between United Nations and non-United Nations
organizations. OCHA will be working hard in the coming year to apply the principles developed in the Global
Humanitarian Platform. Lastly, the CERF, as it approaches its two-year anniversary, is now maturing as a vital tool
in humanitarian response. It has already disbursed over US$ 600 million, and I hope you will help reach the objective
of raising the CERF grant resources to US$ 450 million in 2008. Further developments in humanitarian financing
are also underway, with OCHA working with its partners to strengthen the CERF monitoring and accountability
framework, and to improve the way in which NGOs can receive CERF funds. We will also aim for an agreement on
how the use of locally pooled Common Humanitarian Funds should be replicated in countries that need them. This
will have a significant impact on OCHA and humanitarian coordination in general, and will require careful consensus
building, including support from donors. All these efforts are intended to result in a faster, more flexible set of tools for
Resident and Humanitarian Coordinators, leading to a better response on the ground.
Readers will see from OCHA in 2008 that increased resources are to be allocated to projects that partners have identified
as priorities. In 2008, we will help to develop tools for needs assessment and prioritization of action, which is a vital area
of work to which donors and others have rightly demanded greater attention be paid for some time. We are stepping
up our impact evaluation efforts, in particular through investment in more real-time evaluations. We are also in the
middle of a major exercise to strengthen OCHA’s support to its partners in information management. These priorities
are clearly reflected in our financial requirements this year. Geographically, OCHA will scale up its operations in areas
of increasing need like Iraq and Somalia, while reviewing its efforts in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda and
Timor-Leste which may be on the cusp of transition and recovery, and therefore in less need of OCHA support if the
transition can be successfully achieved. Regional offices are being strengthened where required, having proven
their value in the last two years. Lastly, we are increasing our capacity to work with our peacekeeping colleagues in
OCHA in 2008 has also undergone some changes. I hope that readers will find the document clearer and easier
to navigate. The link between our spending plans and strategic planning framework should be clearer, and a list
of indicators informs performance evaluation. Readers may also notice that there are elements of OCHA’s work which
have, in some cases, existed for many years but appear in this document for the first time. This is to maximize
the transparency of our work, and to present an accurate picture of our overall work – even in those areas for which
we are not requesting extrabudgetary financial support. This has the effect of making our 2008 spending plans
appear somewhat higher than last year, but much of this is misleading. We have made painstaking efforts to keep our
costs down, and to direct extra spending to priorities. In 2008 OCHA is requesting US$ 181 million in support of its
As donors in recent years have provided around half of their funding unearmarked or only loosely earmarked, financial planning, cash flow management and equitable allocation of funds have been made easier. I hope that on the basis of the financial information provided in OCHA in 2008, donors will be encouraged to decide early in the year on their financial contributions and to make these as flexible as possible. OCHA will, however, also have to continue to meet ad hoc, or time-specific needs in response to new challenges or changing situations, which will be presented as specific projects and therefore may be subject to earmarked funding. In recognition of this, and of some donors’ internal
restrictions in the provision of unearmarked funding, OCHA is always ready for discussion to determine common
priorities for funding.
Let me take this opportunity to recognize the enormous contribution of Margareta Wahlstrom, who is leaving her
post as Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator/Assistant Secretary-General. I know I speak for all of OCHA in
thanking her for her extraordinary commitment, wisdom and expertise over the last almost four years and for the
contribution she made to the United Nations more widely. From my personal point of view, Margareta’s counsel and
8 OCHA in 2008 support were invaluable in my first months as Emergency Relief Coordinator. I wish her well in wherever her talents take her next.
I also welcome the appointment of her successor, Catherine Bragg, who comes to us from the Canadian International Development Agency with strong recent humanitarian experience, including from the OCHA Donor Support Group and the CERF Advisory Group, and a wealth of wider background from her years in the Canadian public service.
Finally, I would like to thank all OCHA staff for their hard work, donors for their support, humanitarian partners
on the ground for their dedication and skill in providing humanitarian assistance, and host governments for their cooperation. I started this Foreword on a somewhat pessimistic note, as a way of setting out the challenges in
front of us. Against this, let me repeat that I believe the humanitarian system is stronger and more effective than
ever before. We have shown what we can do when we work together, for example in facing massive challenges in Darfur,
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 South Asian earthquake. We need to keep moving
forward despite the difficulties, in the knowledge that even the worst problems can be tackled through the partnership
and commitment that OCHA and the humanitarian community have to offer.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs/Emergency Relief Coordinator