OCHA in 2009 Cover


As we look forward to a new year, I am both daunted by the convergence of challenges facing the global humanitarian system, and heartened by the opportunity to build on our major achievements by working in new ways to strengthen coordination and effective assistance on the ground.

In 2010, OCHA will continue to be forcefully engaged in improving coordination in the field, strengthening the international humanitarian response system, and advocating for people in need. But we also need to adapt to the way in which the humanitarian environment is increasingly marked by new global challenges.

First, climate change is already increasing the frequency and intensity of extreme natural hazard events – particularly floods, storms and droughts. The combination with other mega-trends such as the food crisis threatens to increase needs in dramatic ways. OCHA will work with governments and development agencies to ensure that the international emergency response system can respond to these greater needs, but also focus more on disaster risk reduction and preparedness, and increasing national disaster management capacity.

Second, we need to improve access for humanitarian action and tackle increasing security threats. The attacks on UN staff in Pakistan and Afghanistan in recent months were only the latest, if particularly prominent, examples of increasing violence against humanitarians. In the first three quarters of 2009, UN agencies and NGOs in Afghanistan were involved in 114 security incidents, leading to the killing of 18 NGO staff. The UN had 59 security incidents in the first half of 2009 alone. Beyond Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, deaths, kidnappings and attacks are also rising in Sudan, Chad and and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The resulting security measures are not only costly, but more importantly hamper access to deliver humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, humanitarian actors can no longer count on the protection of their flags and their principles to keep them safe. OCHA has a key role working with partners to address this challenge.

Third, the protection of civilians in conflict is of rising concern, together with ensuring better distinction between humanitarian and military actors. A recent OCHA and Department of Peacekeeping study on the implementation of protection mandates by peacekeeping missions made clear that much more needs to be done to ensure these missions are better designed to deliver protection on the ground. Military forces are sometimes assigned humanitarian assistance missions, often without adequate training, policies or doctrine to integrate into the international response system. As a result, the lines between humanitarian and military action become blurred, humanitarian space is restricted and the lives of humanitarian workers are endangered. We need to keep protection of civilians at the forefront of our efforts, and work with the military more effectively to try to ensure good cooperation but also the necessary separation of roles and responsibilities. OCHA has a vital role in addressing these challenges.

The good news is that the humanitarian community is already working together in a more coordinated, coherent, and efficient manner. Member States, regional organizations, UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, peacekeeping missions, international financial institutions, and many other relevant actors recognize the need not only for better coordination but also to strengthen partnerships. OCHA has been at the forefront of putting in place the humanitarian architecture to help us cope: stronger Humanitarian Coordinators, more representative Humanitarian Country Teams, effective cluster coordination, and quicker and more predictable funding tools. Now we need to make them work better.

For OCHA, 2010 will be the first year of implementation of its new Strategic Framework (2010-2013). Formulated through a collaborative process, it reflects the ideas of internal and external partners, and builds on the successes and lessons of the last three years. In particular, the new framework is designed to help us mobilize more effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors. OCHA will engage with a larger and more diverse group of stakeholders to address the humanitarian impact of global trends and the increasingly complex operating environment. We will aim to embed relationship-building in all aspects of our work, and to overcome remaining obstacles to translating recent humanitarian reform into fully effective humanitarian action on the ground. By gaining a wider acceptance of humanitarian principles, OCHA also aims to enable more principled, timely and efficient humanitarian action.

Our capacity to deliver obviously relies also on strong internal support structures. 2010 will see reinforced efforts to create a strengthened management and administration system, including for the quick mobilization and deployment of resources and assets.

OCHA staff in the field and at headquarters are working to ensure that the global humanitarian response is not a collection of disjointed efforts, but rather an integrated and effective strategic response. This is our ultimate accountability towards beneficiaries. OCHA acts as a multiplier for every humanitarian aid dollar spent, ensuring it gets to the right place in a timely way, with reduced gaps and duplications. Yet OCHA only costs around two percent of global humanitarian spending.

To achieve its aims, OCHA in 2010 is asking for a similar amount of funding in real terms as in 2009, even though mandated responsibilities plus tasks assigned to it by the Secretary General, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee and Member States have grown year on year. The combined value of response programmes coordinated by OCHA through the Common Humanitarian Action Plans and Consolidated and Flash Appeals has for example quadrupled since 2000 and will probably reach US$10 billion in 2010.

I therefore urge donors to provide timely and generous support.

John Holmes
December 2009