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close this bookDrought and Famine - 1st edition (DHA/UNDRO - UNDP, 1992, 52 p.)
close this folderPART 3: Institutional issues
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View the documentNational government roles
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View the documentDonor and NGO roles
View the documentRehabilitation

United Nations roles

Several UN agencies are involved in responding to transitory food insecurity and famines. The greater part of resources channelled through the UN in response to such situations are via WFP (food aid), UNHCR (all forms of assistance for refugees) and UNICEF (non-food relief, but especially health and water supply with a focus on women and children as priority groups). (See Box 11 for a simplified outline of the roles of key UN agencies).

Most of the coordination between agencies takes place at the country level. The UN Disaster Management Team, chaired by the UNDP Resident Representative/Resident Coordinator has an important role to play in coordinating the UN's response, but its role may be different than during sudden-onset disasters. The slowly intensifying nature of famines means that existing donor coordination arrangements may be utilized, at least up to the point where the situation is recognized to require an exceptional response. In extreme cases, the UN Secretary General may choose to provide a stronger coordination mechanism.

In light of the issues created by compound and complex emergencies which often include population displacement, famine, civil conflict and intense political considerations, the United Nations has determined to strengthen and make more effective the collective efforts of the international community, in particular the UN system, in providing humanitarian assistance. This determination is reflected in the implementation of General Assembly resolution 46/182, passed in December of 1991.

This resolution affirms that humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. Accordingly the UN has a central and unique role to play in providing leadership and coordinating the efforts of the international community to support the affected populations.

The implementation of Resolution 46/182 includes the creation of a contingency funding arrangement, that is, a central emergency revolving fund of US $50 million as a cash-flow mechanism to ensure the rapid and coordinated response of the organizations of the system. The UN will also establish a central register of specialized personnel and teams of technical specialists, supplies and other resources that can be called upon at short notice by the UN.

The leadership of this UN initiative will be provided by a high level official, the emergency relief coordinator, designated by the Secretary-General, to work with the entities of the UN system dealing with humanitarian assistance. This position combines the functions previously carried out in the coordination of UN response by representatives of the Secretary-General for major and complex emergencies, as well as by the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator.

This emergency relief coordinator, among other duties, is charged with facilitating the access by the operational organizations to emergency areas for the rapid provision of emergency assistance. In cases of complex emergencies this may require negotiation with all parties concerned to obtain their consent and, where needed, the establishment of temporary relief corridors, days and zones of tranquility and other forms.

Box 11

ROLES OF THE KEY UN AGENCIES IN MITIGATING TRANSITORY FOOD INSECURITY


Vulnerability Reduction

Preparedness

Early Warning

Relief Provision

Relief/Recovery Coordination

Rehabilitation

Conflict Resolution & Protection





Food

Non-food




UNDP

*

*

-

-

x

*

*

x

WFP

x

*

*

*

x

x

x

-

FAO

*

*

*

-

x

x

*

-

UNHCR

-

x

x

x

*

x

*

*

DHA-UNDRO

*

*

-

*

*

*

x

*

UNICEF

*

x

x

x

*

x

x

x

WHO

*

x

-

-

x

x

x

-

ILO

*

-

-

-

-

-

x

-

WORLD BANK

*

x

-

-

-

x

*

-

Note: The mandated roles of the agencies may vary according to local circumstances

Key:

- = no role or involvement
x = some role involvement
* = important role or involvement

UN Secretariat

Location of the Unit for Special Emergency Programmes and the Office for Emergency Operations in Africa (1984-86). The UN Secretary General occasionally appoints Special Representatives at country level to coordinate large scale relief operations.

UNDP

Involved in vulnerability reduction, preparedness and rehabilitation through its various development activities. As the in-country representative of the UN system, the UNDP Resident Representative plays a key role in coordination.

WFP

Provider of substantial proportion of emergency food aid to Africa and coordinator of contributions and shipments by bilateral donors. Involvement frequently includes in-country logistics involving bulk movements to regional or district distribution points.

FAO

Involved in vulnerability reduction and rehabilitation through its agricultural development activities. Involved in drought preparedness activities (preparedness planning, manuals development, training, etc.) in several African countries. The FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System is the main global early warning system for drought-related disasters and FAO provides assistance to national early' warning systems. The FAO Office for Special Relief Operations (OSRO) occasionally leads multi-donor assessment missions to countries requesting substantial food aid assistance. Seed provision as part of drought recovery is FAO's responsibility. FAO provides food security planning at national, regional, village and household levels, assists in building and managing food security stocks, and works with response and assessment missions in case of food emergencies as well as agricultural rehabilitation.

UNHCR

Responsible for coordinating the provision of all forms of assistance to refugees. Some attempt is made by UNHCR to gain early warning on large scale refugee movements. WFP has increasingly taken over responsibility for provision of food aid to camp level. UNHCR is supported by NGO's, UNICEF, and national government agencies in providing/distributing non-food assistance to camp populations. UNHCR has primary responsibility for organization of repatriation programmes, once this becomes feasible.

UNDRO

Mandated responsibility for coordination of international relief and assisting countries with disaster prevention and preparedness. In many instances its coordination activities extend little beyond the collation, analysis, and dissemination of information on relief requirements.

UNICEF

Involved in vulnerability reduction and rehabilitation through development activities, etc. focusing on children and women. Frequently plays an important role in the provision of health care (basic medicines support for primary health care system) and water provision (drilling rigs, borehole rehabilitation and handpumps) during relief operations. The one UN agency which is not bound by its charter to provide assistance to organizations approved of by the national government. Consequently, UNICEF has played a lead role in the provision of relief assistance to rebel-held areas of South Sudan.

WHO

Provides technical assistance and advice on medical requirements during emergencies.

There are many operational considerations in complex emergencies. One of the most crucial is that of the safety of relief teams in conflict zones. As coordinators of assistance for the displaced, the UN staff bears a special responsibility for ensuring that all personnel operating in or adjacent to conflict zones work in conditions of minimum risk and maximum security. Guidelines and procedures for personnel should be established in conjunction with the host government and, where possible, with insurgent groups. The UN is often charged with the responsibility of notifying relief workers and other organizations about the risks they may face from military operations in or near their relief activities. In this regard, the UN is often able to obtain clearances for special flights into contested areas on airplanes bearing United Nations markings, to arrange for safe transport through the front lines in specially-marked UN vehicles, and to establish special relief corridors whereby food and relief supplies can be delivered under flags of truce or through designated corridors, without undue restraint. It is important for the UN to carefully assess the risks before encouraging relief organizations to commit personnel and resources to operations in non-secure areas. A UN assurance that an area or means of transport is safe carries mud weight - and responsibility.

Two of the most important aspects of working in remote and insecure areas are communications and stand-by evacuation support. To the greatest extent possible, UN coordinators should ensure that relief personnel have immediate and 24-hour access to telecommunications facilities and that suitable means are immediately available to evacuate personnel in case of an emergency. This may entail the assignment of light aircraft to be available or short notice to evacuate staff.

Q. How does Resolution 46/182 affect UN roles in meeting famine needs?




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ANSWER

Resolution 46/182 increases the capacity of the UN system by providing an emergency funding mechanism, mandates creation of a roster of individuals and resources to respond to famine situations and affirms that humanitarian assistance is a foremost goal of the United Nations which may require exceptional negotiation with various parties to a conflict.