Thematic Areas: Humanitarian Development Nexus

From shock-driven to a more predictable response system

With the confluence of many global challenges, such as climate change, financial and food price crises, population growth and urbanization, increasingly humanitarian, peacebuilding and development actors are joining efforts to find sustainable solutions that address the underlying causes as well as carrying out their specific mandates.

Water scarcity in Yemen and energy insecurity in Central Asia demonstrate how interconnected global challenges can drive humanitarian vulnerabilities in different parts of the world. The global food crisis, climate change adaptation, and the response to the financial crisis have all demonstrated that there is no sequencing between humanitarian and development action; in fact, both responses need to be planned simultaneously, the only difference being that some measures require immediate action, while others may take more time.

Today’s humanitarian response system however, is primarily triggered by discernible, “shock-driven” events, for example armed conflicts or sudden-onset natural disasters. In the context of such events, the acute vulnerabilities and needs of populations surface quickly. Far less developed at this point are the mechanisms to respond to such populations’ humanitarian needs in slow-onset disasters, lower profile or ‘forgotten’ climate-related crises, including droughts and floods; or more structural crises emanating from global challenges – including the food and financial crises, population growth, and migration.

Nevertheless, the 2010 Secretary-General’s Report on Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations highlights a gradual paradigm shift. To meet humanitarian needs more equitably and predictably, the humanitarian system is increasingly, albeit not yet consistently, responding to underlying vulnerabilities rather than merely shock-driven stresses. This may include humanitarian needs that arise in situations which have not been declared a ‘humanitarian emergency’ and even in so-called ‘development contexts’.

OCHA is working at the policy level to examine how humanitarian processes and tools can be adjusted to identify vulnerabilities of humanitarian concern earlier and provide a more anticipatory response. In many countries, OCHA and the humanitarian system are already responding to underlying vulnerabilities in various ways.

For example, following the response to the post-election violence in Kenya in 2009, OCHA and partners have been working to map and assess vulnerability in Nairobi’s slums in order to inform a response that both addresses urgent needs and underlying, structural challenges. Efforts are now underway to make these kinds of approaches more systematic.


General Assembly, Economic and Social Council - Report of the Secretary-General on Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Humanitarian Assistance of the United Nations, A/65/82- E/2010/88 
Humanitarian concerns in the post-2015 development agenda - Position paper and key messages, Feb 2013 - prepared in collaboration with FAO, PBSO, UNDP, UNHCR, UNICEF and WFP
OCHA and slow on-set emergencies, Policy Briefing Series, April 2011 - OCHA
Global Challenges and their Impact on International Humanitarian Action, Policy Briefing Series No. 1, Jan 2010 - OCHA
Energy Security and Humanitarian Action: Key Emerging Trends and Challenges, Policy Briefing Series No. 3, Sept 2010 - OCHA
Water Scarcity and Humanitarian Action: Key Emerging Trends and Challenges, Policy Briefing Series No. 4, Sept 2010 - OCHA