Objective 1.1 – Member States and Regional Organizations

Extraordinary demands were made on the humanitarian community in 2010 as it responded to two large-scale disasters: the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan. These emergencies demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of humanitarian assistance and coordination, and highlighted the importance of OCHA’s strong engagement with Member States and regional organizations in support of humanitarian action.

During the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Humanitarian Affairs Segment in July 2010, OCHA raised Member States’ awareness of some of the major challenges the humanitarian system faces. In-depth discussions were held on humanitarian assistance operations in highly hazardous or insecure and unsafe environments, and on strengthening preparedness for humanitarian response to vulnerable populations.

Looking ahead, humanitarian coordination will face further challenges as the humanitarian caseload is expected to increase. The financial, fuel and food crises are increasing the number of vulnerable populations. This is in addition to the already high level of needs caused by sustained and protracted complex emergencies, and the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, due in part to climate change.

In financial terms, the cost of operations may also increase. As of October 2010, the combined value of response programmes coordinated by OCHA and presented in consoli­dated appeals reached a record $11.5 billion, up from $9.7 billion in 2009 and $7 billion in 2008. This represents a 39 per cent increase over three years. Stronger partnerships with Member States and regional organizations will be essential to meet these increasing needs and ensure smarter use of funds. OCHA will also utilize its outreach efforts to Member States for pooled funding mechanisms, such as the CERF and country-based emergency response funds, not only to increase funding but also as a means to expand awareness of humanitarian issues.

2011 marks the twentieth anniversary of General Assembly (GA) resolution 46/182 on strengthening the United Nations coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance. OCHA will use the anniversary as an opportunity to deepen Member States’ engagement on key issues, such as preparedness, response to major disasters and accountability. OCHA will also make effective use of planned Member States’ events in 2011, such as the ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment in July, the Global Consolidated Appeal launch in November and the High-Level Meeting of the Central Emergency Response Fund in December, to stimulate debate on issues faced by the humanitarian community, and foster support to make humanitarian aid more effective and timely.

In advance of these meetings, OCHA will complete a white paper which will lay out the key issues the humanitarian community will likely face in the next several years, based on a review of the changes in the humanitarian context since GA resolution 46/182. OCHA will strengthen its engagement with traditional donor countries and other Member States on policy issues to ensure that a balance of issues and perspectives are addressed.

OCHA will also use the occasion of four planned regional partnership meetings to seek greater engagement with Member States on humanitarian issues in their region. Agendas will be tailored to each region and are likely to include using regional capacity to respond to large-scale crises, strengthening prepared­ness, and increasing national ownership and participation. OCHA will prioritize its engagement with the regional
organizations that have been most helpful in supporting humanitarian action in operations, policy or finance.

As the scale and frequency of disasters grows, it is increasingly important to encourage disaster-prone countries to participate in inter-governmental response mechanisms such as the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). Becoming an INSARAG member enables more earthquake-prone countries to request, prioritize and integrate international urban search-and-rescue assistance (see related case study). Joining UNDAC helps disaster-prone countries to understand how to request and receive international assistance when coordinating the response to sudden-onset disasters.

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When Partnerships Save Lives

The swift, careful and coordinated efforts of search-and-rescue workers following the Haiti earthquake led to record-breaking achievements. Some 60 international Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams rescued 132 people trapped under collapsed buildings (see graphic). They also provided life-saving medical treatment to hundreds of people before medical organizations and field hospitals arrived.

As the world was absorbing the breaking news of the devastating quake, the Icelandic USAR team was the first to reach Haiti. It landed within 24 hours of the disaster and established the first on-site coordination mechanism.

Amid the chaos and destruction, USAR teams worked tirelessly. They partnered with local Haitian search-and-rescue teams that had low capacity but vital local knowledge. Team work saved 25-year-old Natalie, who was trapped in the rubble of a supermarket for seven days. In an exhausting 12-hour effort, Haitian, French, American and Turkish USAR teams worked together to save her.

As the search-and-rescue requests diminished, the search-and-rescue teams continued saving and improving lives. They provided urgently needed medical assistance and ambulance services, distributed relief goods, built temporary shelters and removed dead bodies.

Alerting USAR teams to a disaster and managing them on the ground takes a huge behind-the-scenes effort. Part of that effort is the work of a 20-year partnership between OCHA and the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).

INSARAG is a global network of USAR teams that establishes guidelines for coordination in disaster response. These guidelines ensure that when INSARAG teams from different countries arrive at a disaster site, they speak the same technical language and understand the correct procedures to follow.

INSARAG was created following the chaotic response to the Armenia earthquake in 1988. USAR teams responding to this disaster worked haphazardly because there was no system to direct teams to search areas that matched their expertise.

To rectify this problem, an international search-and-rescue workshop was convened by the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs (now OCHA). The INSARAG inaugural meeting took place in 1991 and the INSARAG mandate was established. Over the years, guidelines were developed and adopted as a General Assembly resolution in 2002. A classification system with verifiable humanitarian operational standards was implemented, making INSARAG a leader in the humanitarian community in this respect. More than 20 international USAR teams have now been certified through the INSARAG classification system. This is being used as a model for the ongoing discussions of establishing a certification process of humani­tarian organizations.

Today, when a disaster strikes that may cause structural collapse, the OCHA-INSARAG partnership comes into effect. The INSARAG Secretariat is operated by the OCHA Field Coordination Support Section (FCSS) in Geneva, which also manages the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) system and OCHA technical partnerships. FCSS staff member Jesper Holmer Lund was the UNDAC Team Leader in Haiti, coordinating USAR efforts.

“This was the biggest and most complex USAR operation that we’ve ever had,” explained Jesper. “But it was also a great example of how well the INSARAG methodology works on-site and how the INSARAG-classified teams make a difference. INSARAG was there before any other international humanitarian organization. It started the on-site coordination mechanism, worked in line with the guidelines, saved many lives, provided humanitarian assistance beyond the rubble, completed its mission and returned home.”

2011 promises to be a productive year for INSARAG. Its annual meeting in Costa Rica will focus on improvements to the system and security for possible emergencies in increased-risk environments, such as an earthquake in Kabul.