With humanitarian crises increasing in number and intensity, OCHA built on the experience of responding to the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods in 2010 to get its basic coordination functions right. Lines of accountability between field operations and headquarters were streamlined and strengthened, and rapid response capacity was enhanced and deployed. Reducing the field vacancy rate was prioritized, and all field operations focused on delivering high-quality results in OCHA’s three core areas: operational coordination, information management and humanitarian financing.
Pursuing a flexible, responsive and accountable approach to field operations
At the beginning of 2011, OCHA was present in 47 countries, including 22 country offices, five regional offices, three sub-regional offices, three liaison units and 14 humanitarian support units. Throughout the year, OCHA adjusted its presence in response to the evolving global humanitarian situation. It re-opened an office in Côte d’Ivoire; opened a new office in Libya; created sub-offices in areas most affected by crises, including the Horn of Africa, Myanmar and the Philippines; and established small presences in countries with increasing humanitarian challenges, such as Nigeria and Syria.
At the same time, OCHA gradually downsized its operations in countries where the humanitarian situation was improving, including Haiti, Iraq and Uganda. OCHA’s teams in Nairobi, servicing Kenya and the region, were merged and co-located with IRIN, sharing administrative services.
At the end of 2011, OCHA’s largest humanitarian operations continued to be in countries with long-standing and highly complex humanitarian crises, including Afghanistan, DRC, Pakistan, oPt, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. OCHA also maintained offices in countries with “forgotten” humanitarian crises, such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Colombia, Myanmar and the Philippines, where serious humanitarian challenges are compounded by poor funding.
Throughout the year, OCHA carried out 264 surge deployments to support an increase in humanitarian operations in 37 countries experiencing new or escalating emergencies (see deployment graphics to the right). During the corporate emergency in the Horn of Africa, OCHA implemented a sustained and phased surge plan, deploying experienced and knowledgeable staff from its Regional Office for Southern Africa, the OCHA Eastern Africa Office and from headquarters. Other surge recipients included emergency operations in Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Sudan and South Sudan.
OCHA also enhanced the accountability of its field operations by creating a direct reporting line between all OCHA heads of country offices and regional offices and the Coordination and Response Division at headquarters. This increased coherence across OCHA’s field operations and facilitated the sharing of best practices.
Leading the response and investing in field staff
One lesson that emerged from the Haiti response was the need for more effective leadership of major emergency situations. The Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) Pool, managed by OCHA on behalf of the IASC, has been expanded to include 39 members from 14 UN agencies and NGOs. In addition, IASC Principals have established a roster of senior personnel who can be deployed on short notice to manage the overall response in a major emergency. To better support the work in the field, a new mentoring programme has been designed to provide tailored assistance to incoming HCs.
OCHA recognizes that recruiting and retaining the right highly qualified and capable staff are crucial to its success. Therefore, in 2011 it prioritized stabilizing its field staffing, particularly in non-family duty stations. By the end of the year, OCHA had reduced its field vacancy rate (which had reached highs of more than 30 per cent in 2009) to an average of 15 per cent. Ten per cent of this vacancy rate was generated by posts established to respond to new or escalating emergencies. OCHA’s workforce has grown by 40 per cent over the past five years, creating a larger and more mobile staffing base for its operations. New strategies have been developed to encourage and manage internal mobility, particularly for staff serving in non-family and hardship duty stations.
Diversifying partnerships to strengthen operational response
In 2011, OCHA strengthened its strategic engagement and operational coordination with national authorities, regional organizations and local NGOs. This enabled more effective humanitarian action with a broad support base. For example, in Japan, a joint OCHA/UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team was deployed to support the Government’s response to the earthquake and tsunami. In Indonesia, OCHA supported national authorities to incorporate international best practice on coordinated assessments into their domestic law. In Sudan, OCHA worked with the League of Arab States and the AU on negotiations for access to South Kordofan and Blue Nile. During the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, OCHA facilitated coordination among actors across the humanitarian spectrum, including the OIC and the multitude of Islamic NGOs operating under its umbrella.
Enhancing impact and efficiency through operational coordination
Throughout the year, the importance of OCHA’s core work in operational coordination remained clear. Following South Sudan’s independence, the cluster approach was implemented in all 10 states, with support from OCHA. Through the clusters, humanitarian partners—including 21 UN agencies, more than 150 INGOs and many local NGOs—responded efficiently to the immense humanitarian challenges facing the world’s newest country.
OCHA focused on enhancing inter-cluster and cross-border coordination in 2011. During Haiti’s cholera epidemic, OCHA gathered all relevant actors, including the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Health clusters and national authorities, to respond rapidly and comprehensively. In the aftermath of the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire, OCHA convened joint meetings of the Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire HCTs to support information flow and operational coordination, particularly regarding returns. OCHA also supported a regional response to the two-year cholera epidemic in West and Central Africa, bringing together humanitarian partners and national authorities from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
Building resilience and enhancing preparedness
Based on lessons learned during the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011, OCHA and partners moved from the traditional progression of assistance, in which humanitarian response, early recovery and development are seen as distinct phases. With the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other development partners, OCHA started to promote a more comprehensive approach, in which long-term development and the underlying causes of a crisis are tackled alongside immediate life-saving needs. In 2012, OCHA field offices will ensure that building the resilience of people and communities is at the forefront of humanitarian response.
OCHA field offices made significant progress in planning and preparing for crises. At the country level, OCHA worked with HCTs and governments to bolster contingency planning and early warning systems. In southern Africa, OCHA facilitated planning consultations between Southern Africa Development Community disaster managers and their international cooperating partners in preparing for the flood-and-cyclone season. These investments have already shown significant dividends. In Mozambique and Madagascar, early action resulted in less damage following heavy storms and floods in early 2012. In Indonesia, the Government now recognizes disaster management as one of 11 national priority areas. It has improved legal and institutional structures to give local authorities greater roles and responsibilities in preparing for and responding to disasters.
Mapping and communicating the humanitarian response
OCHA’s operational and resource partners rely on the organization’s information products for practical and consolidated information on humanitarian crises. Throughout 2011, OCHA improved the scope and quality of its products, enabling people and partners worldwide to receive comprehensive and up-to-date information. At the height of the Libyan crisis, OCHA produced daily updates that were widely read. In the Horn of Africa, OCHA’s situation reports and humanitarian snapshots provided an authoritative source of information and analysis.
OCHA also streamlined the way it collects and collates information. In Afghanistan, an HCT Information Cell was established, and the humanitarian community’s online web platform (afg.humanitarianresponse.info) provides comprehensive information on the humanitarian response. OCHA also supported clusters to collect data on key indicators at national and district levels, enabling humanitarian actors to better target their activities. In 2012, similar inter-agency humanitarian response websites will be set up for the largest humanitarian emergencies to help HCTs better manage complex cluster information.
Increasing transparency and efficiency in field-level financing
Humanitarian financing mechanisms managed by OCHA in the field provide a key source of funding for partners. In 2011, 15 OCHA-managed ERFs disbursed $100 million to humanitarian partners. In countries such as DRC, Somalia and Sudan, CHFs enabled a flexible and timely response to sudden or emerging needs, while also providing a core funding source for activities identified in CAPs. Diversifying funding recipients to ensure that those on the frontline (primarily NGOs) receive sufficient resources was a top priority in 2011.
Throughout the year, OCHA increased the transparency and efficiency of the pooled funds managed by its offices. Country offices took immediate action, including increasing the number of site visits to cover 10 per cent of CHF-funded projects. Work also began on developing a Global Pooled Fund Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, which will provide guidance to OCHA offices on how to track and report on the use of pooled funds.
Paving the way for improved humanitarian action in 2012
In line with the IASC Transformative Agenda, OCHA’s field operations in 2012 will focus on enhancing humanitarian leadership, coordination and accountability. OCHA offices will strengthen and streamline the cluster system, including through the first annual review of the activation and deactivation of clusters; redouble support to operational coordination, ensuring that it is inclusive and strategic; enhance information management and coordinated assessment efforts to develop common and agreed-upon reliable data; and make humanitarian financing more effective and accountable, including by supporting HCTs to develop CAPs that contain clear and achievable priorities.
- Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
- Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean
- Regional Office for the Middle East and North Africa
- Regional Office for Southern Africa
- Regional Office for West and Central Africa
- Regional Office for the Pacific
- Regional Office for the Caucasus and Central Asia
- OCHA Eastern Africa
- Central African Republic
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- South Sudan
Middle East and Central Asia
Asia and the Pacific
Latin America and the Caribbean