I. Core Areas
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is mandated to mobilize and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate for the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.
In December 1991, General Assembly Resolution 46/182 strengthened the UN’s response to both complex emergencies and natural disasters and created the high level position of Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC),1 the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP)2 and the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF)3 as key coordination mechanisms and tools of the ERC. OCHA carries out its coordination function primarily through the IASC, which is chaired by the ERC. The IASC ensures inter-agency decision making in response to complex emergencies. These responses include needs assessments, consolidated appeals, field coordination arrangements and the development of humanitarian policies.
The functions of the ERC are focused in three core areas: (i) policy development in support of the Secretary-General, ensuring that all humanitarian issues, including those which fall between gaps in existing mandates of agencies, such as protection and assistance for internally displaced persons (IDPs), are addressed; (ii) advocacy of humanitarian issues with political organs, notably the Security Council; and (iii) coordination of humanitarian emergency response, by ensuring that an appropriate response mechanism is established, through IASC consultations, on the ground. Mr. John Holmes took up the post as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator in January 2007. Headquartered in Geneva, OCHA employs 1.585 staff members worldwide and had an annual budget of US$163 million in 2007.
II. Engagement with External Actors
OCHA engages primarily with international NGOs and civil society networks that focus on humanitarian issues. Many of these networks have local chapters or strong ties to locally-based NGOs that serve as important sources of information and expertise to OCHA’s work. NGOs work together with OCHA in the three core areas of OCHA activities: policy development, advocacy and coordination. In recent years, partnerships in mobilizing and delivering humanitarian assistance between NGOs and OCHA have grown considerably throughout the world.
Regular meetings in New York and Geneva provide a unique forum for the UN and NGOs to consult around all aspects of inter-agency work and discuss operational and policy issues on current emergencies as well as rehabilitation and recovery projects. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee comprises all major humanitarian actors, including three international NGO consortia: InterAction, the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), and the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR). Other NGOs are invited to participate in IASC meetings on an ad hoc basis to share information on their activities. Weekly IASC meetings takes place in Geneva and New York, open to colleagues from participating UN agencies and NGOs, The agendas in both locations are developed by the IASC members and strengthen dialogue among the NGO community and the United Nations on core humanitarian operational, policy and advocacy issues.
Although the IASC includes NGO consortia, it remains largely UN-centric, Therefore, the 2003 External Review of the IASC recommended the creation of an outreach mechanism for enhanced dialogue with NGOs. After a first dialogue meeting among various humanitarian stakeholders in 2006, it was decided to create a Global Humanitarian Platform to further stimulate strategic dialogue on urgent humanitarian issues among NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and the UN and related international organisations. At the country level, the meeting agreed to establish Humanitarian Partnership Teams to strengthen collaboration at field level.
The Global Humanitarian Platform is held once a year for a period of three years. The first was held in 2007, during which Principles of Partnership (PoP), based on equality, transparency, result orientation, responsibility and complementarity among the various partners, were endorsed.
OCHA has involved NGOs in advocacy work at all stages of disaster reduction including preparedness, prevention and impact mitigation. An example of this type of collaboration is the Sphere Project,4 where NGOs have developed a humanitarian charter and have articulated minimum standards and best practices in humanitarian action. Similarly, NGOs have been involved in advocacy campaigns on internally displaced persons,5 and participated in inter-agency missions organized by OCHA to identify problems faced by IDPs and ways to strengthen the international response to internal displacement.
In addition to coordination efforts through the IASC, NGOs contribute to emergency response planning through the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG). The Group invites all countries or organizations with international Urban Search and Rescue Response capacity as well as countries that are prone to earthquakes. To become a member of the INSARAG network, organizations can address a request to the INSARAG Secretariat through their respective governments. OCHA has also entered into a standby partnership with many NGOs to provide the Office with staff for up to six months to cater for unexpected gaps in OCHA field offices. The partnership works on a cost sharing basis in which the providing organization pays salary and travel-to-country costs and OCHA pays all in-country costs.
Two other areas of OCHA’s work also involve NGO participation: the NGO community is represented in the Inter-Agency Advisory Panel to the Civil-Military Coordination Section (CMCS),6 as well as of the Consultative Group on the Use of Military and Civil Defense Assets (MCDA). MCDU serves as the UN focal point for governments, international organizations and military and civil defense establishments for the employment of military assets in humanitarian situations and coordinates their mobilization when needed. An increasing number of NGOs participate in the MCDU-run UN Civil Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord) training programme and work with both international and local NGOs during exercises.
OCHA also involves local and international NGOs in the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), which is not only a planning and programming tool for aid organizations, but also a coordination mechanism that fosters closer collaboration between host governments, donors, aid agencies, NGOs, the Redd Cross Movement, UN agencies and the IOM. Together they produce the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP), which is a strategic plan for humanitarian response and the basis of a Consolidated Appeal.
Partnerships are another means through which OCHA engages with NGOs and civil society groups. The United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS)7 finances projects carried out by UN entities, and when appropriate, in partnership with non-UN entities to advance the operational impact of the human security concept. The UNTFHS places priority on promoting multi-sectoral integration, with priority given to countries and regions where the insecurities of people are most critical and pervasive, such as the least developed countries (LDCs) and countries in conflict.
For field operations, OCHA has regularly provided support for NGOs in their relief efforts, including: customs clearances and exemption from import taxes on goods; logistical support for relief delivery; security of NGO humanitarian workers; and access to disaster zones. OCHA has also worked to channel funds provided by donors to local NGOs to implement community assistance and capacity-building projects. Information sharing is another area through which OCHA has generated partnerships with NGOs. Websites and databases have been created to help monitor relief activities of stakeholders, security concerns, or socio-economic trends in countries affected by humanitarian catastrophes. OCHA has also commissioned NGOs to carry out studies on current challenges faced by humanitarian agencies.
OCHA’s engagement with the private sector is multifaceted. OCHA facilitates partnerships between operational agencies and private companies who wish to bring additional resources to complement and integrate existing mechanisms and disaster response tools. To this end, OCHA has developed a website providing orientation to businesses on how to contribute to United Nations emergency relief efforts. OCHA is also active with the Disaster Resource Network,8 an initiative of the World Economic Forum, aimed at assisting humanitarian organizations in bringing in expertise and equipment.
Extent of Collaboration OCHA cooperates with companies such as Ericsson “first on the ground partnership” which has been operational since mid 2001. Ericsson provides rapid deployment of communications solutions and skills to support them. OCHA has a partnership with PricewaterhouseCoopers, which offers pro bono professional services to assist the UN with its efforts to enhance accountability and transparency with respect to the use of contributions made under the UN Tsunami Appeal. OCHA also receives private contributions for disaster relief coordination.
OCHA takes full advantage of the opportunity provided by Members of Parliaments (MPs) interested in humanitarian action to enhance its outreach towards governments, parliamentarian assemblies, and regional and international institutions. Several activities contribute to establishing a strong and fruitful partnership between OCHA and MPs, such as the organization of dedicated briefings and “fact-finding” missions to major crisis zones, including forgotten emergencies. MPs who have shared the plight of victims, upon return to their constituencies, become witnesses and advocates of UN humanitarian action. OCHA also lobbies parliamentarians to ensure better funding for neglected crises. In 2004 and 2005, OCHA strengthened its working relations with MPs through regular briefings to the European Parliament, the European Parliamentary Assembly (Council of Europe), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), among others. Hearings and briefings have focused on humanitarian crises in Africa and the response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami.
III. Organizational Resources
Name: Ms. Nancee Oku Bright
Title: Civil Society Contact, Chief Advocacy
Address: One UN Plaza, Room DC1-1392, New York, NY 10017, United States
Name: Ms. Madeleine Moulin-Acevedo
Title: Advocacy and External Relations Officer
Address: Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Name: Ms. Christelle Loupforest
Title: Humanitarian Affairs Officer
Address: United Nations, Room S-3627G, New York, NY 10017, United States
Name: Ms. Madeleine Moulin-Acevedo
(see details above)
Name: Ms. Christelle Loupforest
(see details above)
Name: Mr. Niels Scott
Title: Chief, Advocacy & External Relations Section
IV. Information Resources
* For more information on OCHA