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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder3. Emergency Management
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe Key Emergency Management Functions
View the documentStages in Refugee Emergency Operations
View the documentKey References

Stages in Refugee Emergency Operations

23. The table below depicts one model of activities as they may occur in refugee emergencies. It is important to understand that the stages and activities of a refugee emergency operation could overlap, or occur simultaneously.

24. A final phase of an emergency operation is the transition from emergency response to longer-term support (care and maintenance) and durable solutions (voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement). The time spent providing emergency relief should be kept to a minimum, and planning and implementation should always take account of the longer term. The importance of the balance between short term and long term is seen in a number of the vital sectors.


Typical Activities


· Prevention;


· Early warning;

· Contingency planning;

· Development of emergency response systems;

· Generation of support among potential host and donor governments;

· Provision of stand-by resources;

· Pre-positioning of supplies;


Emergency response

· Problem, needs and resources assessments;

· Resource mobilization;

· Handling donor relations and media interest;

· Operations planning;

· Implementation and coordination;

· Monitoring and evaluation;

· Transition to the post emergency operation.

25. Assisting governments in seeking durable solutions for the problem of refugees is a mandated function of UNHCR. Durable solutions must always be kept in mind, starting at the contingency planning stage. It is in this period that choices are made concerning how, how much, and for how long, aid will be delivered. These choices often have repercussions on the prospects for durable solutions that last long after the emergency has ended.

Emergency Preparedness

26. The best way to ensure an effective emergency response is by being prepared. Emergency preparedness can be defined as:

planning and taking act/on to ensure that the necessary resources will be available, in time, to meet the foreseen emergency needs and that the capacity to use the resources will be in place.

27. The scope of emergency preparedness is broad and the activities at that stage can be undertaken at the global, regional and country levels.

The preparedness measures should enable an organization to respond rapidly and effectively to an emergency.

28. At the global level, UNHCR maintains centrally a range of stand-by emergency response resources. These resources have been developed on the basis of past experience in emergencies. They include staff support, human and financial resources, operational support items and services, and a centrally managed emergency stockpile. The resources are available for deployment at short notice to any area where the need arises. They ensure a minimum and predictable level of global preparedness for emergencies. Moreover, there are also training activities available which can be used for capacity building.

29. For details of these resources, see the Catalogue of Emergency Response Resources, Appendix 1.

30. Contingency planning reduces the lead time necessary to mount an effective response and is a crucial tool to enhance the capacity to respond.

At the country and regional levels, early warning and contingency planning are the key preparedness measures;

31. The contingency planning process (see chapter 4) will allow the identification, in advance, of gaps in resources. A realistic plan may encourage donors and others to provide the missing resources.

32. Contingency planning helps predict the characteristics of the impending emergency - it increases the institutional analytical capacity which can be drawn upon should an emergency occur. It also helps identify the additional preparedness activities which may be required. These may include development or restructuring of the UNHCR organization in the country, emergency staffing, stockpiling, pre-positioning supplies and training. Priority should be given to activities requiring longer lead times.

Emergency Indicators

33. An emergency may start with a sudden large influx of refugees, with several thousand persons crossing a border, causing a highly visible life threatening situation. More often however, the onset of an emergency is not so dramatic or obvious, and a situation requiring an extraordinary response and exceptional measures may develop over a period of time. It is therefore essential to be able to recognize if a situation exists (or is imminent) which requires an emergency response, and what are the likely key characteristics (see table 1).

34. The following indicators are measurable and are therefore commonly used as thresholds above (or below) which an emergency situation clearly exists, or to signal whether a situation is under control and whether there is a need for urgent remedial action. The most important of these indicators is the mortality (or death) rate (see chapter 14 on health for information on how to calculate the mortality rate. More details of the other indicators are given in the respective chapters and in Appendix 2 Toolbox).

Table 1 - Emergency Indicators


Emergency Levels


> 2 per 10,000 per day


> 10% with less than 80%

Status of children

weight for height


< 2,100 calories/person/day

Water Quantity

< 10 litres per person per day

Water Quality

> 25% of people with diarrhoea

Site Space

< 30 sq. meters per person (this figure does not include any garden space)

Shelter space

< 3,5 sq. meters per person

35. Other indicators may not be so easily quantifiable but may be just as critical, for example, the presence of a physical threat to the refugees or to the standards of human rights which they enjoy. In particular, threats of refoulement should be considered as an indicator of a need for an emergency response.

Emergency Response

36. Emergency response can be defined as:

immediate and appropriate action to save lives, ensure protection, and restore the well-being of refugees.

37. Once safe asylum is assured, the priority of emergency management will be life saving activities. Timely and rapid problem, needs and resources assessments will help confirm or identify areas where gaps still exist from the contingency planning stage, both in terms of expertise and resources required.

38. Identification of problems requiring-specialist expertise is essential. Most refugee emergencies will require, in addition to protection specialists, one or more technical experts to coordinate the crucial technical sectors, such as health, food, nutrition, sanitation, water, shelter and infrastructure.