I write at a worrying time for OCHA and the humanitarian community as a whole. Not only do the scale and depth of humanitarian needs already seem greater than ever, but we also face the quasi-certainty that the effects of the global financial crisis will in the end fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable, and increase needs still further. Add to this the increasing effects of climate change, the continuing impact of the food security crisis, and the sad reality that some of our most difficult complex emergencies are deteriorating, and the prospects are indeed discouraging.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan in December 2008 was a useful opportunity to reflect on how climate change will impact our work. In the run-up to the vital Copenhagen Conference next year, OCHA is looking systematically at where it should concentrate its efforts, together with its partners, and has recently launched a public campaign to draw attention to the humanitarian consequences of climate change. I expect to see more serious sudden-onset climate change-related disasters, such as in Myanmar and Haiti in 2008, which will strain the resources of governments and humanitarian agencies alike. More difficult still, in some ways, are the crises that develop over time because of climate change related effects, such as prolonged drought in the Horn of Africa. OCHA must not only strengthen its ability to respond in these areas, and work with partners in emergency preparedness in priority countries, but also contribute to developing the policy response in areas such as “climate refugees”.
Many of the major conflicts in which we are heavily engaged are as bad or worse than ever. I am particularly worried about the situation in Somalia, and our ability to respond where required. On the one hand, millions need our help. On the other, the dangers of operating in South Central Somalia, the bombing in Hargeisa and continuing targeted threats to humanitarian workers have already severely constrained our operations and our capacity on the ground. I fear the situation could become even worse in the coming year. In eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, we are grappling with the after-effects of renewed fighting on a civilian population already in great difficulty. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo has only been able to do so much to protect civilians, and the underlying need is to fix once and for all the underlying political problems related to the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda and the rebellion led by General Nkunda. The recent violence has displaced or re-displaced hundreds of thousands of people who were already in worse condition than any others I at least have seen, and undoubtedly led to the loss of many lives.
Meanwhile Afghanistan is looming much larger for OCHA, given the humanitarian impact of the conflict, the protection issues, and deep-rooted poverty and food insecurity. We will work closely with humanitarian partners, the Government and United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan in defending humanitarian principles and scaling up the response to this growing crisis. Sudan continues to be a major focus for OCHA, particularly Darfur, although I regret to say that the description of the humanitarian situation is much the same as it was last year, only rather worse. I constantly remind myself that over 4.5 million people receiving humanitarian assistance is not “normal” – it is critical that we press even harder for a solution to the conflict before any return to genuine normality becomes impossible.
I do not wish to list every crisis, but I cannot avoid mentioning Zimbabwe, which has the dubious distinction of being today’s fastest growing humanitarian emergency. As I write, a cholera epidemic has claimed hundreds of lives, and we face the prospect of a massive increase to 5.5 million of the number of those needing food aid, in a country which used to be a bread basket for Africa. I fear we will need to do much more to support the Zimbabwean people in the coming months, while again pressing for an immediate end to the political impase.
My own work and that of OCHA on the food crisis as system coordinators has now ended, and I wish David Nabarro and his team all the best as they take on this challenging role. However, food issues will continue to be important for OCHA, as the basic dynamics have not changed, even if some prices have fallen, and emergency relief will remain an important part of the response. Lack of access to food and of sufficient investment in developing country agriculture are still major problems, requiring a coordinated and systematic approach from all concerned.
Overall, OCHA will continue to work closely with its partners in 2009 in continuing to strengthen the humanitarian system, not only in relation to response but also prevention and preparedness, which are more than ever important in today’s world. Our strategic plan outlines major focus areas for the strengthening of OCHA’s operations. In particular, we will concentrate on improving our deployments to the field, especially in terms of speed and quality of response. We will continue to strengthen our support for information management and inter-cluster coordination – two major areas of added value to our partners. Leadership issues in the field will be a particular concern. We must do more to reconcile the different parts of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator (and sometimes Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General) role, provide better training and support on the humanitarian side, have more transparent and effective assessments, and make the job more attractive to the best senior managers in the humanitarian world. This is no small task, and will require close cooperation with partners.
We will continue to work to improve our contribution to humanitarian financing, through our management of the Central Emergency Response Fund and pooled funds in the field. We will intensify our advocacy for key humanitarian principles, and respect for the safety of humanitarian workers on the ground, seeking to balance a responsible approach to security with the need to alleviate suffering. We will accelerate our efforts to bring greater coherence and credibility to needs assessments and impact evaluation. We will continue to give top priority to the protection of civilians and will be campaigning in particular in the areas of sexual violence and better treatment and more durable solutions IDPs.
This OCHA in 2009 document brings out the breadth and scale of our work, compared to even a few years ago. OCHA’s resources have also grown over time but I fear we now face a growing mismatch between our tasks and our capacity, and between demands on us and our almost total dependence on voluntary funding from a relatively small group of donors.
It is all the more vital, therefore, that OCHA and its donors have a regular strategic dialogue over priorities and resourcing. I am committed to running OCHA in a sensible and transparent way, and making sure that tasks, capacity and resources are as well aligned as possible. I hope that donors in turn will continue to look favorably on our funding requirements in these very difficult times. The growing needs of the millions of people affected by disaster and conflict mean that we have to do all we can together to meet them.