A Year of Political Change
2011 saw dramatic shifts in the political landscape of many countries in Africa and the Middle East, with significant humanitarian consequences. Contested elections in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010 plunged that country into a protracted period of armed violence. To coordinate the humanitarian response, OCHA reopened its office and rapidly increased the number of staff. At the peak of the crisis, more than 1 million people had fled their homes to locations within Côte d’Ivoire and in neighbouring countries. As the year ended and security returned, many still needed help to return home and rebuild their lives
In Libya, civil unrest in February evolved into a civil war that lasted until October. It cost tens of thousands of lives and forced more than 700,000 third-party nationals to flee. At the height of the conflict, many social services broke down, leading to widespread deprivation. A relief effort was established to help those who left and to assist those who remained. In a complex and uncertain environment, OCHA coordinated the response, first from Cairo and Tunisia and later from Benghazi and Tripoli. It provided essential information and secured access to conflict-affected areas through coordination with the Government, opposition forces and NATO.
Political unrest and conflict in Yemen, a country already suffering from many long-running crises, led to displacement and rising malnutrition. One UN agency warned that half a million Yemeni children were at risk of dying during 2012. Despite insecurity, highlighted by the kidnapping of six staff in January 2012, OCHA developed a joint response plan to tackle the humanitarian crisis. It also led efforts to negotiate access and raise the profile of the crisis, leading to a significant increase in NGOs establishing programmes, even as international attention remained focused on political transition in the country.
OCHA also spearheaded efforts to improve humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas in Syria, working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. It spoke out on the challenges surrounding calls for a humanitarian corridor and establishing safe zones, and advised on international humanitarian law concerning the protection of civilians. The ERC made a high-profile visit to Syria in March 2012 to draw attention to the worsening humanitarian situation, and to negotiate access for humanitarian organizations.
She also visited the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) to highlight the displacement affecting its 4 million people.
In Sudan and South Sudan, OCHA led one of the world’s largest humanitarian operations against the backdrop of historic political change. It successfully organized interagency contingency planning ahead of the independence referendum for South Sudan. This ensured the humanitarian community was fully prepared and could respond rapidly to post-independence fighting in Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. OCHA also helped coordinate the safe return of more than 200,000 Southern Sudanese, and led the response to violent clashes in Jonglei at the end of the year.
During the second half of the year, OCHA worked hard to persuade the Sudanese Government to grant humanitarian organizations greater access to areas of conflict, including Blue Nile, South Kordofan and Darfur, but with mixed success. Securing unhindered access to people in need in Sudan remains one of the most pressing challenges on the humanitarian agenda in 2012.
By contrast, OCHA negotiations achieved significant success in Myanmar, securing humanitarian access for the first time to conflict-affected areas in Kachin state, where more than 50,000 people had been displaced by violence.
OCHA also raised awareness of a severe food crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) through the ERC’s historic five-day visit to Pyonyang, and to the province of South Hamgyong and Kangwon in October. Her trip bolstered efforts to improve access and find longer-term solutions to chronic food insecurity in the country.
Droughts, earthquakes and floods—a year of natural disasters
A series of devastating natural disasters took place in 2011. Some were in situations of chronic poverty and conflict (Somalia), and others in countries with highly evolved national response systems (Japan, Thailand and New Zealand). OCHA tailored its response to each crisis, depending on the context and scale of the needs.
The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March was the year’s deadliest disaster, with more than 20,000 lives lost. In the hours following the disaster, OCHA was asked to establish a coordination cell to provide coordinated information about the crisis. It also advised the Government on how best to manage international offers of humanitarian assistance. Japan received more than $722 million in aid, which accounted for a large percentage of all international humanitarian disaster funding in 2011.
“The development of the regional Sahel strategy initiated as early as October 2011, following the first indications of a potential crisis, demonstrated the relevance of [OCHA-led mechanisms] and their positive impact on well-coordinated and timely response to humanitarian needs.”
- Claude Jibidar, Deputy Director of the World Food Programme in West Africa
The world’s largest humanitarian crisis of 2011 took place in the Horn of Africa. A combination of severe drought, chronic poverty and persistent conflict left more than 13 million people across five countries in need of help. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis were forced to seek refuge in neighbouring countries, adding to the hardship faced by people in those countries.
OCHA warned of the impending emergency in 2010 and continued drawing attention to this in early 2011. The OCHA-managed Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) disbursed $35 million to help combat drought in the Horn of Africa in the first half of the year. By the end of 2011, CERF had provided more than $107 million to kick-start critical and underfunded relief programmes. But the overall response was slow, and world attention was only fully galvanized by the declaration of famine in parts of Somalia in July. This underlined the particular challenge of highlighting slow-onset and highly complex crises in places that are difficult to access.
OCHA declared a corporate emergency, requiring significant human resources from OCHA offices around the world to support the response. It established a regional leadership structure in Nairobi, deployed surge staff, and enhanced the quality and frequency of its information products, ensuring it had the coordination capacity in place to lead the required large-scale regional response. A large advocacy effort from July onwards had considerable success, with Somalia moving from one of the worst-funded to one of the best-funded crises of the year.
OCHA also worked to improve collaboration between Western and Islamic aid organizations. This was part of OCHA’s longer-term goal to build a more inclusive humanitarian community. It helped achieve the more immediate goal of improving access to areas in Somalia where Western actors were banned. OCHA built relationships with the African Union (AU), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This led to a massive increase in assistance in the second half of 2011 and contributed to an eventual end to the famine, although the situation remained severe for many millions of people.
Towards the end of 2011, warnings began about a potentially serious food crisis in the Sahel, including Niger, Chad and Mali. Learning from the Horn of Africa experience, aid agencies pursued a high-profile campaign to raise awareness and secure funds for early international action in line with established national response plans. By the beginning of 2012, the Sahel situation was firmly on the international and regional agenda. With chronic poverty and lack of development at the heart of this recurrent crisis, humanitarian and development organizations worked together from the start to find long-term strategies aimed at strengthening the resilience of people at risk.
Massive flooding posed severe challenges to many countries in 2011. In Asia and the Pacific, the world’s most disaster-prone region, OCHA supported national-led efforts to tackle storms and flooding in the Philippines, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Viet Nam.
In Latin America, OCHA supported national efforts in Colombia, including the development of innovative information management products such as a new crisis mapping platform to monitor floods. In November, the Deputy ERC visited flood-affected countries in Central America to attract more international attention to the situation.
The people of Pakistan suffered their second flood emergency in as many years. While the crisis in 2011 was not on the same scale as the historic flooding of 2010, it had a devastating impact on people who had not fully recovered from the previous year. OCHA helped ensure the Government response targeted the most vulnerable people and worked with partners to prioritize the available resources for the communities most in need.
The advance of cholera
Even as world attention was drawn to countries with large natural catastrophes and political upheaval, the spread of cholera in several countries underlined the serious humanitarian consequences of disease outbreaks and the need for rapid intervention.
One year after an earthquake destroyed much of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and surrounding areas, millions of Haitians continued to face a daily struggle for survival. OCHA’s fundraising and awareness-raising efforts helped keep the spotlight on the situation facing hundreds of thousands of people still in camps, and in particular on the resurgence of cholera in a poor island nation that had not seen an outbreak for more than a century.
Cholera also spread across West and Central Africa. This included the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which, while garnering less global attention than in previous years, still constitutes one of the world’s largest humanitarian emergencies. The response to the DRC crisis was made more difficult by persistent insecurity in the east of the country, and uncertainty around the outcome of the presidential election in late November. Localized cholera outbreaks continued in 2011 in Zimbabwe, where the humanitarian situation remained fragile despite signs of growing stability.