In 2012, the Middle East and North Africa region continued to see dramatic political and social changes. The most significant was the escalation of conflict in Syria, with major humanitarian consequences inside Syria and in neighbouring countries. By the end of the year, an estimated 4 million people needed assistance in Syria, and there were over 470,000 registered Syrian refugees in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. Syria was declared an OCHA corporate emergency in September 2012.
Conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out in Gaza in November, exacerbating people’s existing vulnerabilities. There were positive developments in Libya, where political transition saw enough progress to allow OCHA to phase out its operations in the country. However, other political transitions in the region remain fragile. Outbreaks of violence occurred, notably in Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq, signalling the need to focus on emergency preparedness if situations rapidly deteriorate.
During the year, ROMENA dedicated 42 per cent of staff time to response work, 33 per cent to preparedness and 25 per cent to building partnerships.
The focus on response mainly stems from the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria. ROMENA had to prioritize its surge capacity, deploying staff to Syria and Jordan. To provide dedicated support, OCHA established a presence in the capital, Damascus, and provided back-office support for Syria in Amman, Jordan. ROMENA supported the transition from Humanitarian Support Unit to a full OCHA Syria team. In October and November, ROMENA facilitated the transformation of the back office into a sub-regional hub tasked with managing OCHA's work in Syria's neighbouring countries. During December, ROMENA’s Head of Office was deployed to supervise the Damascus office.
ROMENA also improved its public information services by merging its monthly bulletin and regional funding update into a bimonthly Regional Humanitarian Bulletin, which disseminates information on humanitarian crises in the region. ROMENA also published situation reports and rolled out country fact sheets for Jordan, Lebanon and Iran. To inform the public about the severity of the humanitarian situation in the region, press conferences were organized in Cairo for Yemen and Syria, and the Regional Office established itself as a hub for Arabic translation.
ROMENA’s information management team provided support to Lebanon, Turkey and Syria by updating Common Operational Datasets. A support mission to Lebanon in July developed a Humanitarian Response web portal and trained the Resident Coordinator’s Office in its effective use and management. At the global level, support was provided to develop OCHA’s Humanitarian Response Platform.
In 2012 ROMENA implemented OCHA’s Minimum Preparedness Package (MPP). This involved support for contingency planning for Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt/Gaza and Tunisia. Organizing and facilitating trainings was a central part of ROMENA’s preparedness work. In April, ROMENA and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies organized a training of trainers on contingency planning and emergency simulation. This was in partnership with the Inter-Agency Coordination Network on Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA Group). Over 30 staff from 15 humanitarian organizations attended the course to create a cadre of experts that can support contingency planning and simulations where needed. ROMENA also supported trainings in Egypt on the Multi-Cluster/Sector Initial Rapid Assessment, the Central Emergency Response Fund and civil-military coordination. A coordinated needs-assessment training and simulation was conducted in Tehran in October with Government authorities, IASC partners and national NGOs.
At the request of the MENA Group, ROMENA carried out a mapping exercise to assess the implementation of the MPP in the region. The analysis will identify gaps and priority countries, and develop work plans with regional partners for 2013.
To strengthen partnerships, ROMENA focused on regional IASC partners (through the MENA Group and Regional Directors Group), the League of Arab States (LAS), Member States, and regional NGOs and Red Cross/Crescent Societies. This involved organizing and facilitating MENA Group meetings in June and November and quarterly donor briefings to inform Member States of current humanitarian priorities in the region, and to advocate funding.
LAS was a priority partner in 2012. In February a UN-LAS sectoral meeting on humanitarian assistance was organized in Cairo with other regional UN partners to establish a common understanding of sectoral priorities and focal points for collaboration. As a follow on, training was organized for LAS staff in July on the International Humanitarian System.
ROMENA also supported NGOs in the region. In April, in collaboration with Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, an NGO workshop was organized in Istanbul to raise awareness of the humanitarian multilateral response system. In collaboration with PDSB and The Humanitarian Forum, ROMENA also organized a Regional Middle East and North Africa Workshop for Humanitarian Actors in December. It focused on identifying priority trends and issues, and promoting operational collaboration and trust-building between regional humanitarian actors and the international system.