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5 ways flexible funding was pivotal to OCHA’s ability to respond to massive humanitarian needs in 2017

02 Nov 2018
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OCHA used flexible funding to maintain uninterrupted delivery of services for humanitarian partners operating in Yemen. Credit: OCHA/M. Minasi

In 2017, OCHA received 46 per cent of its income in unearmarked contributions, which was critical to OCHA’s ability to help bring life-saving relief to millions of people at a time of record humanitarian need due to protracted complex crises, escalation of conflict in several countries, climate change-induced vulnerability and a series of natural disasters.

“This would not have been possible without timely, predictable and, especially, unrestricted contributions from our donors”, said UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock presenting “OCHA’s use of flexible funding 2017”, a report that explains how OCHA used US$106 million in unearmarked contributions and $24 million in softly earmarked contributions to its programme budget to coordinate the global humanitarian response last year, and deliver aid for millions of people facing the consequences of natural disasters and conflict.

Here are five examples of how critical flexible funding was to OCHA’s operations in 2017.

1. Flexible funding allowed OCHA to be more agile, and it gave us the freedom to steer resources to the most critical parts of our operations to deliver our humanitarian mandate where it was needed the most.


At the global level, OCHA mobilized resources and advocated on behalf of people facing crises, regardless of their location, and it deployed 217 coordination experts and specialized personnel–including 11 UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams – to bolster emergency responses in 43 countries. OCHA also ensured the most effective, life-saving use of more than $1.3 billion in funding channeled through the OCHA-managed humanitarian pooled funds and it helped to coordinate $24 billion in humanitarian programming from 828 UN and NGO partners to ensure responses were prioritized and based on a thorough needs evaluation. None of this would have been possible without access to flexible funding.

2. Flexible funding was critical in the step-up humanitarian response in DRC at a critical time for the country.

Credit: OCHA/Eve Sabbagh

With 4.1 million internally displaced people, 620,000 people fleeing to neighboring countries and a striking 7.7 million food insecure, in October, thanks to flexible funding, OCHA could activate an L3 response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Almost half of OCHA’s cost plan in that country had to be covered with flexible funding. Following the L3 activation, OCHA coordinated the scaleup of the humanitarian response to assist 4.2 million people throughout the country, including about 1 million people in the L3-designated areas.

3. Thanks to flexible funding, OCHA was able to kick-start the response to the Rohingya crisis.

Credit: OCHA/Anthony Burke

In August 2017, extreme violence and discrimination drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees across the border into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. OCHA immediately declared a corporate emergency to support the response. By September, 12 staff from OCHA’s Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific had deployed to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar to deliver inter-agency coordination, information management services and civil-military coordination. They also facilitated a $24 million allocation from CERF and prepared a Humanitarian Response Plan calling for $434 million to fund humanitarian action through to February 2018. The cost of these deployments, including travel and staff salaries, were fully covered by unearmarked contributions.

4. Flexible funding enabled OCHA to scale up operations to fight famine.

Credit: OCHA/Matteo Minasi

In early 2017, escalating food insecurity in north-east Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen caused the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to launch a call to action to help 20 million people who faced the risk of famine. Thanks to unearmarked funding received early in the year, OCHA quickly scaled up in-country operations to provide immediate support to the rapidly expanding responses in the four countries. By the end of the year, all offices except for South Sudan had received significant levels of earmarked funding.

5. OCHA-managed pooled funds – CERF and CBPFs - are excellent ways to support humanitarian action with flexible funding.

Credit: OCHA/Yasmina Guerda

Pooled funds allow Governments and private donors to pool their contributions into common, unearmarked funds to deliver life-saving assistance to people who need it most. In 2017, OCHA raised $513 million through CERF and $833 million through 18 CBPFs. It worked with hundreds of humanitarian partners in 42 countries to ensure that allocations contributed to principled, timely and coordinated humanitarian assistance for the most urgent humanitarian action. OCHA leveraged the funds’ comparative advantages (such as CERF’s disbursement speed and CBPFs’ direct funding for local NGOs), and its strategic use of these funds helped partners deliver a stronger collective response, covering critical gaps and ensuring maximum impact of limited resources.

We thank our donors for their commitment to humanitarian action and their continued trust in OCHA.