Thematic Areas: Humanitarian Engagement

United Nations Integrated Presences

Humanitarian engagement refers to humanitarian actors’ ability to deliver on their primary mandate – the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance – in accordance with the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. OCHA takes these issues forward through the IASC Core Group on Humanitarian Space, co-chaired by OCHA and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

Integration is rooted in the belief that coherent UN engagement buttresses the building of a stable peace in countries emerging from conflict. It refers to the principle that political and/or multidimensional peacekeeping missions (PKO) should closely coordinate with humanitarian and development organizations on the ground to maximize their collective and individual components’ impact. Examples of integrated UN presences include UNMIS in South Sudan or UNMIT in Timor Leste.
While integration arrangements can benefit operations, humanitarian actors have struggled to strike a balance between:

  • Establishing strategic partnership with political and security actors that could be supportive of their overall objective, and
  • The need to safeguard humanitarian principles (humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence), in order to be accepted across combat, religious or political fault lines, and be able to deliver assistance to people in need.

In 2008, the Secretary-General, reaffirming the guiding principle through a Policy Committee decision, noted that the focus should be on strategic and coherent coordination, rather than structural integration.
For 2011, OCHA, DPKO and DPA have jointly commissioned a study on Integration and Humanitarian Space. The study was mandated by the Integration Steering Group (ISG), which encompasses a range of stakeholders from UN and non-UN organizations.

Operating in Complex Security Environments

Over the past decade, attacks against humanitarian personnel have tripled, reaching 100 deaths per year in particularly insecure countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan (Darfur) according to the Aid Worker Security Database and the Report of the Secretary-General, Safety and security of United Nations and associated personnel. National staff, constituting over 90% of field staff, have overall borne the brunt of security risks. By contrast, violence against aid workers in other humanitarian contexts has subsided in the past five years, not least due to organizations’ improvements in security risk assessment and management.
As a result, humanitarian actors – particularly UN organizations – struggle to maintain presence and safe access to affected people in areas where conflict has surged, which are often the ones where vulnerability is greatest. At the same time, they resist the “bunkerization” of their operations, i.e. dependence on armed escorts, reinforced components, security sector providers or alternatively, a self-denial of movements. For example, the humanitarian response to the Haiti earthquake illustrated to which extent severe security rules, such as standard armed escort, can hamper relief efforts.
Yet, to comply with the humanitarian imperative and take action solely on the basis of need, humanitarians have found ways to continue delivering life-saving services to affected people. This coincides with a recent shift in the UN security management system, where the question is not anymore about “when to leave” but about “how to stay.” Humanitarian stakeholders, in particular, recognize that leaving a complex security environment often erodes acceptance built over time with local communities and leaders, and thereby the ability to negotiate humanitarian access with all parties.
A recent OCHA-commissioned study identified good operational practices which have enabled humanitarian actors to remain in areas characterized by high risk and deliver assistance to people relying on humanitarian aid.

The study also includes the results of an unprecedented survey on the risks and security management perceptions of national humanitarian personnel in complex security environments, which received over one thousand responses.

Safety and Security for National Humanitarian Workers, Jan 2012 - OCHA Fact Sheet
UN Integration and Humanitarian Space - an Independent Study commissioned by UN Integration Steering Group, Dec 2011
Safety and Security for National Humanitarian Workers, 2011 - OCHA
To Stay and Deliver: Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments, 2011 - OCHA  [English - Arabic - French - Spanish]
Fact Sheet: To Stay and Deliver - Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments
Integration: Structural Arrangements, OCHA on Message, April 2010 [Click here to see Arabic, French and Spanish versions] 
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
Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD)
Civil-Military Guidelines and Reference, October 2008 - UN-IASC [English - Chinese - Spanish]