OCHA’s Regional Office for West and Central Africa (ROWCA) covers 25 countries, 17 of which are classified as Least Developed Countries. In 2011, already vulnerable populations were hit by chronic food insecurity, malnutrition and epidemics, while often losing access to basic social services. Humanitarian needs were often most extreme in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, where internal conflict led to mass displacement. Growing terrorist threats and a proliferation of weapons (mainly from Libya), particularly in West Africa, limited the space for humanitarian action in some areas.
The post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire began in November 2010 and rapidly deteriorated. It resulted in numerous deaths, human rights violations and the departure of 200,000 people to neighbouring countries, mainly Liberia but also to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Togo. About 800,000 Ivorians became internally displaced.
Due to OCHA’s limited presence in Côte d’Ivoire and in its neighbouring countries, ROWCA maximized its efforts to support and coordinate humanitarian partners. It provided 217 surge days to Côte d’Ivoire and 175 surge days to Liberia. Its efforts focused on leading an UNDAC team in assessing humanitarian needs, particularly in newly affected areas, and coordination priorities for relief efforts, supporting HCTs in both countries.
A fully operating OCHA Country Office was reopened in Côte d’Ivoire, while a Humanitarian Support Unit (HSU) was set up in Liberia.
ROWCA took the lead in compiling emergency appeals, notably the
Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan (EHAP) for Côte d’Ivoire + 4 (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea and Mali). As of 31 December, 38 per cent of the requested total (just over $293 million) had been secured, along with 59 per cent of the $167 million requested for the EHAP Liberia.
Faced with a looming food security and nutrition crisis in the Sahel, and with no regional CAP for West Africa in 2012, ROWCA and partners developed a preparedness-and-response strategy for the Sahel in September 2011. This was launched in Dakar in December 2011, with support from the UNCT, donors, NGOs and representatives of Member States. The target countries are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Senegal, northern Cameroon and northern Nigeria. The prompt development of this strategy allowed humanitarian partners to raise awareness and coordinate response preparedness activities before the crisis began to have an effect.
ROWCA’s closer partnerships with ECOWAS and ECCAS have helped both to develop important new planning mechanisms. ECOWAS now has a Humanitarian Response Mechanism and Humanitarian Policy and Action Plan. The first Regional Consultation of National Disaster Management/Civil Protection Agencies helped ECCAS towards its first Action Plan to Strengthen Emergency Preparedness and Response to Disaster. This is expected to be endorsed by Member States during the first quarter of 2012.
ROWCA’s work on disaster preparedness and risk reduction has included delivering minimum preparedness packages to HCTs and governments and getting tighter planning in place. This means updating national and inter-agency contingency plans, running simulation exercises and setting up reinforced humanitarian coordination structures around the region, for example in Benin, Burkina Faso, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.
The Strategic Partnership for Preparedness (SPP) was piloted in Ghana in 2010. It was then taken up in Mali and The Gambia in 2011, with ROWCA collaborating with CADRI and other regional partners. The SPP aims to assess the national capacity for emergency response and provide support to ensure greater all-round effectiveness.
In 2011, ROWCA provided 425 mission days to support disaster preparedness and risk reduction activities.
In 2012, ROWCA will retain a strong focus on preparedness and response, addressing ongoing emergencies and monitoring potential crises across the region. Priorities will include the Sahel, where a critical food security and nutrition situation will require a tightly coordinated humanitarian response, particularly in countries with no permanent OCHA presence (Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania) where ROWCA staff will be deployed.
For other situations, the monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian concerns in collaboration with HCTs, RCs and other partners will be a key part of OCHA’s brief. Areas being watched closely include Nigeria, where the likely humanitarian consequences of increasing violence in different regions will need to be monitored; Liberia, where OCHA will support the HCT in monitoring cross-border humanitarian developments; and a number of countries where elections or other internal developments could lead to social unrest and require humanitarian action. Such countries include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal and Sierra Leone.