Year in Review

A transit camp near the Tunisia-Libya border. © David Ohana/OCHA

In 2011, the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) led an ambitious process to strengthen and restructure the international humanitarian system in an era of larger-scale and more-complex global emergencies.

A wave of natural disasters and political upheaval in 2011 threatened tens of millions of lives, not only in developing countries but also in some of the richest and most prepared societies. This included a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and disasters in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Globally, natural disasters killed almost 26,000 people. The cumulative economic cost was US$380 billion, making 2011 the most expensive year in history.[1]

Record droughts and flooding in Latin America, Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia appeared to confirm the trend of more frequent and extreme weather events. This underlined the need to boost national preparedness mechanisms and the resilience of crisis-affected


OCHA Somalia’s contribution during the famine was vital in bringing all NGO and UN actors together and sharing information on humanitarian needs in Somalia. Thanks to OCHA we were able to mobilize resources to quickly deliver aid to the population in need.

- Hassan Khaire, Regional Director, Horn of Africa and Yemen, Norwegian Refugee Council 


USG Valerie Amos on the IASC Transformative Agenda


Tight financial constraints and increasing donor scrutiny put growing pressure on aid organizations to demonstrate the positive impact of their work and value for money, not only in their response to sudden-onset disasters, but in addressing the underlying causes of chronic emergencies.

OCHA successfully brought together the efforts of a wide range of partners to bring the food-and-nutrition crisis in the Horn of Africa to global attention. It coordinated the activities of a diverse group of organizations in the deeply insecure environment of Somalia, where the UN declared a famine for the first time in over 20 years. The lessons learned from this response prompted a quick increase in advocacy and planning after warnings of a new food crisis in the Sahel region of Western Africa.

Issues of humanitarian access and the protection of civilians also came to the fore in 2011. The crises in Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen highlighted the ongoing challenge of working in environments where crises have political, human rights, conflict and humanitarian dimensions.

OCHA continued to work to make the international humanitarian system more inclusive, strengthening coordination among existing partners, deepening relationships with national and regional authorities and collaborating with a wider set of actors. This culminated in the adoption of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Transformative Agenda in December, designed to improve the quality of response across the humanitarian system through stronger leadership, greater accountability, better preparedness and improved advocacy.

Throughout 2011, humanitarian partners focused on providing greater international support for regional, national and local action. A new understanding was reached among international aid agencies to respond faster, to work together more cohesively and to measure the collective impact of their work.

To support that agenda, OCHA worked to strengthen humanitarian leadership and staffing, created better information tools to guide decision makers, and promoted more collaboration through pooled funds and common strategic plans in its countries of operation. It also increased its awareness-raising activities across a range of online and offline platforms.

[1] The Year That Shook the Rich: A review of natural disasters in 2011. The Brookings Institution – London School of Economics Project on Internal Displacement, March 2012.