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close this bookEmergency Management (United Nations Children's Fund, 390 p.)
close this folderWorkshop Session
View the documentSession 0: Opening Session
View the documentSession 1: Course Introduction*
View the documentSession 2: Perceptions of Emergencies
View the documentSession 3: Simulation*
View the documentSession 4: Principles of Emergency Management
View the documentSession 5: Early Warning & Pre-Disaster Planning
View the documentSession 6: Assessment
View the documentSession 7: Programme Planning
View the documentSession 8: Water & Sanitation
View the documentSession 9: Health
View the documentSession 10: Food and Nutrition
View the documentSession 11: Media Relations
View the documentSession 12: Supply and Logistics
View the documentSession 13: Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances
View the documentSession 14: International Relief System
View the documentSession 15: Funding
View the documentSession 16: Key Operating Procedures
View the documentSession 17: Applications of Emergency Manual and Handbook
View the documentSession 18: Training of Trainers

Session 14: International Relief System

Interagency Alliance

Learning Objectives

- To be aware of the established international relief system and interagency relationships

- Identify guidelines and mechanisms which have lead to successful interagency co-operation in emergency situations in the past (lessons learned)

- To be familiar with the role and functioning of key agencies in relation to emergencies

- To clarify UNICEF role and functions in the relief system and what it can do in the absence of co-ordination/consensus among agencies

- To be cognizant of the differences between the pattern of workings and interrelationships of organizations in normal and emergency situations

Learning Points

1. What constitutes the "international relief system":

- Government
- Intergovernmental organizations (e.g. U.N., Red Cross)
- Non-governmental organizations

2. Donors and intervenors in the relief system

3. The "international relief system" can be divided into three levels:

- International level
- Regional or country level
- Project level

Into these levels are fitted a complex network of organizations, each of which has a specific role or resources to offer following a disaster.

4. Key actors in the relief system: who are they and what makes them play a "key" role (resources they command, contributions of money, goods or technology, influence, etc.)

5. Role of intergovernmental organizations which are often key participants in the "international relief system".

6. Role of host government in co-ordinating all of the above.

7. Problems common to the relief system and the agencies and organizations within it: decision making and authority, donor constraints, lack of accountability to the victims, lack of co-ordination.

8. Examples where the "international relief system" failed and where it succeeded.

Learning Methods

1. Presentation

- Using transparency on "Emergency Systems" define what is meant by the term "international relief system" and its "structure"

2. Case study

- Review a case study of a relief operation in your region (e.g. Kampuchea in Asia, and Ethiopia in Africa) and analyse the role key "actors" - especially U.N. agencies - played in the relief system comparing them with their "mandated" function. Draw lessons from above..

3. Group Exercise

- Divide participants into three groups and ask each to make a checklist of suggestions for the improvement of interagency co-operation in the "international relief system" at their country level.

- Review and comment on group reports in a plenary session and highlight points of consensus.

Required Reading

- UNICEF, Field Manual - Book E, Section 1.3 pp. 1-7
- Fred Cuny, Disasters and Development, PP 107-123

Supplementary Reading

- UNICEF, Field Manual - Book E, R 2
- UNDRO, Case Study on Disaster Management in Western Samoa, 1982

Speakers' Preparation Aids

- UNDRO News, "We Can Improve Relief Efforts - If We Try", 1983 (1)

- Transparency: Emergency Systems (2)

- "International Organizations and Management Arrangements for Emergency Responses". Ron Ockwell (3)


Required Reading

TITLE: "The Relief System, Disasters and Development, Chapter 7
AUTHOR: Fredrick Cuny




Defining the System

Much has been written recently about the foreign aid organizations and their role in international development in the Third World (Eugene Linden The Alms Race 1976; Denis Goulet The Uncertain Promise 1977; John G. Sommer Beyond Charity 1977.) White the workings of these organizations and their interrelationships in normal circumstances are similar to the patterns that occur after disasters, there are enough differences to warrant closer examination.

The relief system consists of donors and intervenors. At the upper levels of the system, those who collect and channel resources to those active in the field are collectively known as the donors. Intervenors are the organizations that carry out the activities in the affected countries. In the middle levels of the system, some organizations are both donors and intervenors (for example, AID). An organization that is a donor in one disaster may be an intervenor in another. Generally, however, roles are firmly established.

What is generally referred to as the "international relief system" can be divided into five tiers: the first three represent the international level, the fourth the regional or country level, and the fifth the project level. Into these tiers are fitted a complex network of organizations, each of which has a specific role or resources to offer following a disaster. If the system is viewed theoretically as a multi-tiered funnel for collecting resources and channeling them into a disaster-affected community, it is possible to visualize the workings and interrelationships at each level.

The Five Tiers

Starting at the top are the individuals and companies that contribute funds or material; these are the primary donors. It is impossible for donors to deliver directly to the victims; therefore, they must donate to an organization that either works in the community or can in turn pass on their gift to an organization that is on the scene. The organizations that receive the gifts, including churches, governments, and foundations, form the second tier.

The second-tier organizations have a number of options in distributing the donations. They can pass them on to the groups in the next level, composed of the international relief and development organizations (known collectively as voluntary organizations or volags), or to international intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations or the Organization of American States (OAS), or they can bypass this level and give directly to the fourth tier, the local government and nongovernmental organizations. In practice, most funds are passed directly from second-tier to third-tier groups.

Page 109 shows the tiers, the patterns of donations, and the interrelationships of the various organizations. For example, churches normally give to volags in the third tier rather than to lower levels in the system. Governments donate to all levels, depending on the disaster and the political implications of the aid. Foundations contribute to volags, international organizations, and sometimes directly to local nongovernmental organizations, but almost never to the local government. At the third tier, volags and international organizations often support each other. For example, many volags give money directly to specialized UN organizations such as UNICEF, while many of the UN organizations (such as the UNHCR) contract the volags to carry out their programs. Similarly, volags often donate to regional organizations and vice versa, and even laterally to other volags.

The volags serve as a conduit for funds to three of the groups in the fourth tier. First, they support their own field offices and the projects that their staff develops . They also fund other international volags or the local nongovernmental organizations in the affected country. Often, too, they provide funds to missionaries through organizations in the third tier or directly to those in the fourth tier. Volags often also fund each other in the third tier and the UN or regional intergovernmental organizations. In fact, volags have a record of funding just about every type of organization in both the third and fourth tiers, except local governments. Thus, in effect, volags often become not only operating agencies but also de facto foundations. OXFAM U.K. and OXFAM America acted as a foundation following the 1976 Guatemalan earthquake by funding another volag, World Neighbors, which was in turn supporting a variety of projects in the earthquake zone.

The fourth tier represents the first group of organizations in the affected country. It comprises the host government, local nongovernmental organizations, and the offices or field representatives of the foreign volags and missionaries. Their interrelationships are not as complex as at the international level, for here there is a competition for funds. Here too the decisions are made on how the funds will be spent Inside the country, and such decisions are critical for the outcome of the overall relief and reconstruction program.

The final level the resources must go through before reaching the victims is the project level. This fifth tier represents the operational level at which the funds are dispersed and the point at which the victims' needs are resolved.

Most of the organizations in tiers 2 through 4 are both recipients and donors. In terms of the relief system, all organizations in these tiers, and many in the fourth tier, are collectively known as donors.


Who are the donors and what motivates them? The individuals and families in the first tier make their donations either spontaneously or in response to a request from an organization in one of the lower tiers. Donations are voluntary and humanitarian concerns are the prime motivation.

Corporations and business organizations are also in the first Her and make donations to second- and third-level organizations, but their motivations are more varied. Humanitarian interests, of course, are a factor, but there are also issues of self-interest that come into play. A corporation with operations in the disaster-affected country cannot ignore a disaster and must demonstrate its concern and goodwill to the victims and host government. It can do this indirectly, but funding the voluntary organizations or the local nongovernmental organizations providing disaster relief or a foundation that will make the choice for the company. Or it can do it directly by setting up small-scale projects that benefit the company's workers or their communities. For example, many corporations have offered low-interest loans to their workers for housing reconstruction.

Corporations may contribute funds to support the national objectives of their own government, especially if these are thought to lead to gains for the corporations in the future. Thus, if a disaster is seen as creating a potential for political instability, governments and corporations alike may offer substantial aid to a wide range of institutions in the affected area.

This combination of self-interest and humanitarian concern on the part of corporations need not be considered negative. As an example of indirect aid, Program Kuchuba'l received an early boost with a donation of $10,000 from the Philip Morris Company, which enabled it to produce a large number of training aids that were used throughout the program. If a corporation becomes directly involved in relief efforts, the results are usually mixed. Even the best-intentioned corporate relief programs often fall short of their objectives, usually because the corporations are not attuned to all the issues involved. A corporation in Guatemala that produced building materials spent approximately half a minion dollars for a housing program that benefited only 100 families. Within several months, most of the low-income families who had moved into the project had sold the houses and left, claiming that the cost of maintaining and running the houses was beyond their means.

The objectives of the churches, governments, and foundations that make up the second tier are more complex. For the churches, humanitarian concerns dominate, but concern about the impact of the disaster on missionary works and a measure of opportunism also prevail. What better chance than a disaster to demonstrate the goodwill and humanitarian efforts of an organization and to establish or expand a presence in a community where previously the denomination had little influence. Churches donate primarily to the relief and development organizations of their own denomination, to affiliated ecumenical groups, or their own missionaries. Occasionally, church donations will be channeled to the voluntary organizations. In some cases, churches will also donate to the United Nations, especially UNICEF and the World Food Program and to other intergovernmental organizations that have a specific program for the disaster-affected area.

Foundations play a limited role among the second-tier organizations and serve primarily as a conduit for corporate and private funds to other organizations. Usually the foundation has a specific interest in a particular country or a particular activity such as agriculture or housing. Foundations are among the organizations most responsive to their donors, especially the large corporations that provide funds (and often direction). The foundations are normally motivated by the wish to achieve a certain set of goals outlined by the founders and donors; these cover a wide range. Generally they can be described as humanitarian or are related to economic development or certain political objectives.

Of all the organizations in the second tier, governments are usually the most influential and powerful. And at the same time, their actions are often the most difficult to define. They are motivated by myriad factors including humanitarian, geopolitical, and economic objectives, by treaties or other prior contracts, and, regrettably, by military objectives. Unfortunately, many of the military objectives are obscured by the true humanitarian objectives and vice versa. In some cases the political and economic objectives can be linked to humanitarian goals. If aid is provided quickly to the government of a country affected by a disaster, continuity and stability can often be ensured, and a timely donation of economic aid can keep an economy from being affected too adversely. Principal businesses and industries can be restored quickly, which benefits not only the recipient but also the donor government. Usually, however, the primary political objective is to maintain or attain influence.

In order to carry out their post-disaster objectives, governments donate to almost every type of organization on the next two tiers. It is the local government with which the donor government has its primary relationship and to which it directs the primary flow of aid. This arrangement can be both a constraint and an opportunity, depending on the capabilities of the host government.

The second pattern of government funding is for the donor to give to the voluntary organizations in its own country that have contracts or programs in the affected area. These donations have drawn much criticism in recent years. Many organizations are so heavily funded by their governments that they become, in effect, an arm of the government's foreign policy. The ready availability of cash and material has "hooked" many organizations, and they are almost totally dependent upon their foreign aid ministries? for support. There has been growing concern that this alliance undermines the credibility of the volags and reduces their ability to be innovative and to operate independently. The implications of this connection cannot be overemphasized. If the national government of the volag does not want it to conduct a relief program in the affected area, it can bring a tremendous amount of pressure on the volag to stay clear. And if it wants a volag to become involved, it can, similarly, make things very easy for the agency. While a few agencies have been able to remain independent of their governments and provide true humanitarian aid without regard to political consequences, the number is unfortunately rather small and dwindling. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that, because governments make extensive resources available to volags, a much wider range of services can be offered. The question facing the volags, then, is where to draw the line and how to accept the government's aid without becoming a pawn in a political game where the true agendas are often hidden.

Governments also contribute to the relief programs of international organizations. Specialized agencies of the United Nations command a large portion of these funds. They are a handy conduit for governments and allow a government without an extensive foreign aid program to make a contribution without actually having to decide the details of how the money is to be spent in the field. Such transfers of funds are effective in that they assure that special problems will receive at least some attention and countries that would not otherwise receive attention will get at least some. For the more influential countries (such as the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.), contributions to these organizations are done more pro forma than anything else.

On the third tier are the volags and the intergovernmental agencies that act as service agencies, and it is here that overall policy and planning for the international relief effort of the nongovernmental organization occurs. Actions at this level are shaped by a variety of factors. Humanitarian concerns are, of course, the prime motivator. When a disaster strikes, most agencies feel compelled to do something, especially if they have programs in the disaster-affected area. The raison d’e of many organizations is to respond to disasters, or at least to respond to human needs in times of crisis. Therefore, they must become involved.

For others, disasters appear to provide an opportunity not only to serve other people but also to expand the range of services and the influence of the organization. Often this is coupled with an opportunity for growth, especially if the disaster is on a large-scale, commanding much public attention. The greater the tragedy and the more extensive the media coverage, the greater the opportunity for a successful appeal. Therefore many organizations, for reasons of self-preservation, start up disaster relief programs.

Some volags enter a disaster to support the political objectives of their own government. During the Vietnam War, several volags began programs to aid refugees and to help war victims in direct support of the American (and indirectly of the South Vietnamese) government.

There is a special factor motivating development organizations in disasters. This is called "development through disaster opportunity." Several organizations perceive disasters as a radical event that will speed up the development process. They reason that disasters create an atmosphere for change and that, with a massive influx of money and material, opportunities exist to have a significant impact on the society. Organizations often choose this moment to begin their development programs, entering first with a relief program, then moving to a reconstruction and later a development program. (Such was the case with the Save the Children Alliance following the Guatemalan earthquake).

The intergovernmental organizations that make up the second group on the third tier, like the volags, have the dual role of being both operational agencies and providing funds. Their primary task is to support the relief and reconstruction operations of their member governments. Thus the primary involvement is with the governments of the disaster-stricken areas. In some cases they do provide funds to volags.

The actions of international organizations are guided by the concerns of their member governments - not only the recipients of aid, but also the most influential donors. Thus their objectives are often more political and economic than humanitarian, and occasionally the objectives have military overtones.

The final members of the third tier are church and missionary organizations. If the organization is denominational, the objectives are usually quite clear and reflect the policies and alms of the membership of that particular religious group. If the organization is ecumenical, however, it may operate under a confusing set of instructions. It must deal with a variety of internal contradictions and myriad philosophies. The ecumenical movement in relief and development is probably too young to be evaluated conclusively; yet at present it is apparent that these organizations often spend more time trying to determine what is acceptable to each of the member religious groups than what is appropriate for the victims. Ecumenical organizations also become entangled in many of the same snares as the nondenominational voluntary agencies. They too are often heavily funded by their national governments. It is always difficult for these organizations to draw the fine line between humanitarian service and political complicity. There can be no doubt that the ecumenical movement offers one advantage, however, namely the ability to generate extensive resources and to provide a single entity for their distribution.

The fourth tier is made up of the local government, the local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the field offices or representatives of the international voluntary agencies, and the missionaries working in a particular country. This tier is classified as both the second level of the relief system and the lowest level of the donor community and can also be considered either as intervenors or as coping mechanisms. Nonetheless they are donors, crucial because they actually have face-to-face contact with the ultimate recipients of the donations: the disaster victims. As with the organizations of the upper tiers, the organizations of the fourth tier have rather clearly defined funding patterns. The government usually gives funds to its own agencies for projects and to the nongovernmental organizations of its own country. Local NGOs generally support their own projects and no one else's. Missionaries similarly fund their own projects or people with whom they have had contact.

Only the volags have a diverse funding pattern and may fund the activities of any of the other three groups (although, if they have their own projects, the bulk of their funding will go to these).

At this level, where face-to-face contact with the victims occurs, aid would seem to be offered for the best of motives. Yet even here, politics and economic objectives often intrude. Governments have been known to show favoritism in the distribution of relief supplies. Local NGOs often support community groups for political as well as humanitarian reasons. And even missionaries have been found using aid as a means of furthering their own religious objectives.


While the entire relief system, especially at the donor level, is composed of hundreds of different organizations, only a relative handful can be considered key actors. What makes these organizations "key" is a combination of the resources they command, the contributions of money, goods, or technology that they can make, or the influence they wield as "pacesetters" relative to the state of the art.


No other country responds more fully to disasters than the U.S. It responds to some extent at all phases of a disaster and is extensively involved in pre-disaster planning, mitigation, and preparedness. The U.S. is one of the largest sources of funds for disaster relief and operates throughout the Third World.

In the initial stages of a disaster, assistance is coordinated by an office in the State Department. The Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) sends representatives to the affected area to help the American Embassy officials on site determine what the requirements are and how the U.S. Government can best respond. If the country has an AID Mission, it will be responsible for coordinating the American Government's actions on site. The Mission may decide simply to provide funds for material or a combination of both. If it has an existing program, such as one in housing or agriculture, it may redirect the personnel from that program to the disaster area. Normally, however, the AID Missions prefer to fund the American voluntary agencies active in the country or to provide the funding directly to the host of government.

Because the United States is a major power, there are, of course, many political ramifications to the aid that it provides. Critics have often pointed out that the American aid programs in general tend to support the status quo in the developing countries. In addition, they often criticize the programs for being a mechanism for distributing American goods and thereby providing an indirect subsidy for American agriculture and manufacturing interests. The food programs of the U.S. Government, in particular PL-480 Title II, have drawn the bulk of this criticism in recent years.

The response of the U.S. in any one disaster is normally dependent upon its relationship with the affected country. If the country is considered "friendly" or strategically Important, the aid provided following a disaster can be massive. Typical responses include the sending of Disaster Assessment Teams (DAST) and the immediate provision of a small cash grant to the host government. Within the next few days, several plane loads of relief supplies will be forwarded, including water tanks, family-sized tents, and an initial donation of PL-480 food stuffs.

The U.S. Embassy can arrange for private donors to ship relief supplies at government expense to the affected area and can make available a wide variety of resources to the American and often other agencies working in rehabilitation and reconstruction. If the disaster is particularly severe, OFDA will approach Congress for a large appropriation to help in reconstruction and will notify the host government and the American voluntary agencies that will entertain proposals for the use of these funds.

If substantial clearance and road repair activities are required, teams of military engineers, complete with supporting equipment, may be offered to help restore roads, repair bridges, and reestablish communications.

If extensive search and rescue is required, and there are adequate American military resources nearby, helicopters and small aircraft can be put at the immediate disposal of the host country. Following the 1970 earthquake in Peru, an American helicopter carrier was diverted to the Peruvian coast, where the entire complement of helicopters was assigned for several weeks to assist in the relief and rescue operations (a highly visible, if not cost-effective response).

While these vast resources may seem impressive, especially to the local people, their effectiveness and cost-benefit ratio must seriously be questioned. Could not the money be better spent to stimulate local response using more appropriate technology and emphasizing participation of the victims?

Government Aid Outside U.S.

The second group of key actors among governments includes the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Sweden. All have large and extensive aid programs in their own right, and each has extensive contracts among the disaster-prone countries in the developing world. The U.K. and France are often tied to their former colonial territories by a combination of sentiment and economic interests and thus can be counted on to respond in these areas quickly and on a large scale. Canada and Sweden, on the other hand, are a bit more selective with their aid programs as they do not have the same resources to offer, but can be counted on in a wide variety of situations. Sweden and Canada both are newcomers to the aid game, not having been colonial powers, and therefore often find that their aid is more acceptable in political terms than that of the U.K. or France, which are often constrained by the same limitations as the U.S.

Following a disaster, all of these countries respond in much the same way as the U.S., offering a combination of direct and indirect assistance, cash and material aid, and military personnel and equipment to help in the immediate emergency relief.

The U.K. and France each have a considerable number of private organizations that are normally involved in development or relief activities and can work through these groups. Canada and Sweden, on the other hand, do not have a large number of nongovernmental organizations operating overseas and therefore their aid tends to be more direct.

Smaller Government Aid Programs

The third key group includes West Germany, Holland, Japan, and Saudi Arabia. Each of these has relatively small aid programs, and the programs of Japan and Saudi Arabia are highly regionalized. The Dutch are one of the up-and-coming supporters of international development and relief activities and are generally unique in that they often fund private organizations from other countries.

These governments normally provide financial assistance only and rarely become operational in a disaster. Occasionally they provide material and in a few cases have provided military equipment, such as aircraft or engineering equipment, if it has been requested by the host government. As more private groups develop in these countries, the support they receive will most likely follow the patterns shown for other European governments and the U.S. The continued growth and development of the European Economic Community, with its associated international development and aid programs, will provide another arm of assistance for each of the European countries. Whether the overall effort will be to expand or reduce each country's individual response remains to be seen.

There are, of course, many other governments that provide assistance following disaster and indeed, virtually every government close to the affected area or with religious or economic ties makes some form of contribution.

Communist Bloc Aid

The USSR, China, and Cuba as well as many of the Eastern European nations, also provide disaster relief, through aid from these countries varies greatly in quantity and quality. Normally they provide cash, though on occasion they have donated food or agricultural equipment and have replaced industrial equipment lost in the disaster. Probably their best-known relief operation outside of their normal client states was in Peru following the 1970 earthquake. The Russians organized a massive airlift of food and medical supplies and were involved in the reconstruction of housing around the town of Huaraz.

Cuba's disaster aid program is typical. When its neighbors in the Caribbean are struck by earthquakes or hurricanes, Cuba usually offers a rather small amount of aid, in Nicaragua following the 1972 earthquake, Cuba donated several planeloads of relief supplies including water purification equipment and medicines. It also offered a team of public health workers and a medical field hospital, which proved to be very effective. Political considerations, however, did not allow the Cubans to remain on site for longer than several weeks, and their aid program soon ended.

In recent years the Chinese have become more active in post-disaster assistance; previously they have been involved only with their immediate neighbors and a few countries that were client states in Africa. Chinese relief aid is generally limited to the provision of technical assistance and funds. Since China's own experience with severe earthquakes in 1976, it has shown much interest in sharing information with countries with similar earthquake problems. It is expected that China wilt become a major participant in international relief and reconstruction efforts.

It is difficult to assess the aid provided by Communist countries. The political rhetoric surrounding the aid often obscures the true impact of the assistance, and because it is given in a highly political environment. It is not likely that effective evaluations will be carried out.

Intergovernmental Organizations

The intergovernmental organizations are often key participants in the international relief system. The UN, of course, is the largest, and in various types of disasters, its specialized agencies have major assignments in the overall relief effort. For example, in droughts, the World Food Programme is often designated as the lead agency; in refugee situations, the UNHCR is normally assigned the coordinating role. Within the UN system, almost half its agencies have some responsibility in disasters. There are even special UN agencies created to handle long-term aspects of disasters. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, was created to handle the Palestinian situation. If an operation lasts for more than a year, a UN special operation will normally be created, with one of the UN agencies designated as the lead agency, as was in the case in the Sahel during the drought of the 1970s.

The UN Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO) was established in the 1970s to coordinate the various relief and reconstruction efforts of the UN system and to stimulate prevention and preparedness measures. In the immediate post-disaster period, the UNDRO office in Geneva serves mainly as a coordinator for information on donations and, in the field, as govenor??? of coordination efforts among foreign donors. In recent years UNDRO has placed increased emphasis on its preparedness activities.

UNDRO has had difficulty in defining its role and implementing an effective program. An evaluation of the office in 1980 by the Joint inspection Unit of the UN found "implementation...has been hampered by [the] Imprecise nature of [UNDRO's mandate] and [its] inability to establish a leadership role; by problems in determining UNDRO's functions in 'other' disasters; [by] the proper mix of relief co-ordination, preparedness and prevention work; [by] the extent of an 'operational' role; and [by] the appropriate initiation and termination of its relief efforts" (Alien et al. 1980).

The UN specialized agencies can provide a wide variety of resources ranging from technical assistance to food. UNICEF and the World Food Programme often have their own staffs within a country who are capable of formulating and conducting a relief program . UNDRO normally works through the resident representatives of the Un Development Programme, or may send a member of its staff to the affected country to help carry out the disaster assessment and coordination role.

The European Economic Community (EEC) is rapidly expanding its disaster assistance, serving primarily as a conduit for funds and material to Third World countries that do not have large bilateral assistance agreements with EE member countries. In the future, this role is likely to expand.

Oil-producing nations have become major aid givers since the 1973 oil price increases. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries (OPEC) now supplies more than 25 percent of all aid to the Third World, but as yet little of this aid is for disaster assistance. OPEC members have set up two multilateral development banks that are likely to become major resources for reconstruction financing (New Internationalist 1979).

Another key agency among international organizations is the World Bank. The Bank is unique in that it is a lending institution and works only with governments. It can provide funds by offering credit or soft loans, often supporting them with a wide range of technical assistance. The World Bank grew out of the American aid program to Europe following World War II, and much of its program is still structured in the same manner. The World Bank normally becomes involved only in reconstruction. If it has an ongoing program in the disaster-affected area, the World Bank may increase its level of support during the emergency or transition phase; however, this is rare. The World Bank normally spends its funds on projects that will make a contribution to longer-term development. Favored projects are in the agricultural 9 small business, and housing sectors.

Regional Organizations

The importance of regional organizations in any specific situation depends on the organizations involved and on the location of the disaster. For example, the Caribbean Development Bank could be considered a key organization by governments in that region, though in the overall picture, bilateral aid from the major powers would generally prove to be much more important. Regional organizations rarely have extensive post-disaster aid programs and can generally offer only loans, financial assistance, and occasionally technical assistance.


Even though the voluntary agencies do not make a large contribution in terms of the amount of resources, they are often "key" simply because they are more flexible and can experiment in terms of both the style and content of their programs.

The volag system has two levels. The first provides coordination at the international level. The League of Red Cross Societies (LORCS), the World Council of Churches, Caritas Internationals, the international Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and the international Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), to name a few, serve their member groups by collecting and disseminating information and relief materials, and by providing technical assistance to them. These organizations handle the majority of the appeals and serve as "traffic directors" for much of the material aid that goes from the industrialized countries to the developing countries. The World Council of Churches serves the ecumenical movement made up of the mainline Christian organizations in the West. Caritas serves as coordinator for the Catholic relief organizations, while the League coordinates the relief efforts of the various national Red Cross Societies. The League monitors relief operations and sends delegates to work with the various national societies to help carry out relief operations.

In Geneva, coordination is done through a committee called the LORCS-Volag Steering Committee (Brown 1979). Composed of the League, CRS, Lutheran World Federation, OXFAM, and the World Council of Churches, the committee provides a forum for exchanging information about disasters and for coordinating appeals. The committee has undertaken several joint disaster preparedness activities and has published several disaster preparedness guides and manuals.

In addition to the steering committee, a regular monthly meeting of the League and the other relief agencies, including both governmental and private agencies, is held at the LORCS Secretariate to exchange information and reduce overlap during current disasters.

Each of the coordinating bodies has its own reserve of funds and, sometimes, material, which it can commit immediately when the disaster occurs. It launches an appeal to other member organizations and affiliates as soon as a local organization requests assistance. It may provide aid to assess the needs, but its primary role will be to record and coordinate the assistance dispatched.

There are many problems associated with the rule of coordinator. The staffs represent many different countries and, therefore, the coordinator must be sensitive to many nationalistic concerns-a sensitivity that tends to constrain many organizations. They are also in the difficult spot of being the focal point for appeals and must pass them on to the donors, inadvertently endorsing the appeals, whether they are appropriate or not. While organizations can attempt to investigate requests, normally they cannot pass judgment on them and are therefore often unjustly criticized when inappropriate aid arrives. It has been pointed out that an effective role for these organizations is disaster preparedness; namely, working with affiliates in the disaster-prone countries to identify effective responses and the appropriate assistance.

Worldwide, there are more than one thousand different organizations that might respond to a disaster. Of these, only a few are considered key, because at least one can be counted on to respond in any disaster. Among these are CARE, Catholic Relief Services of the United States, Church World Service (also of the U.S. and a World Council of Churches affiliate), OXFAM, the various national organizations of Save the Children and Terre des Hommes, and World Vision. Of these, the first three are the largest relief organizations in the world, and the resources they command give them an influential role in any operation in which they participate. Each is involved in both relief and development works, and one or the other is generally involved in almost every country in the Third World. CARE has its own programs administered by a professional staff, supplemented in disasters by volunteers. CRS and CWS usually operate through local counterpart organizations, though in a few cases they do have their own programs. Their interests are not restricted to any one sector, and they have entered housing, agriculture, small business, and many other fields, both in normal and in post-disaster times. The programs of the "Big Three" have often been criticized as being too closely linked to U.S. policy2 and, indeed, in many post-disaster situations the U.S. State Department has relied on these agencies heavily. In some cases, they are designated as the official U.S. relief agency for a particular disaster, especially if the U.S. has no AID Mission in the country. The quality of the performance of these agencies is mixed and often depends on whether or not they had a program in the affected area prior to the disaster and therefore a good base upon which to build. Criticism of these programs has centered on the fact that they often tend to be more responsive to the needs and requirements of the U.S. Government than to those of the disaster victims. For example, following a cyclone in Asia, one agency received AID funding to provide emergency housing. The program began within a few days of the disaster, even before many of the victims had returned to the area and before the bodies had been removed. In order to expedite construction, the agency purchased materials in a neighboring state and brought in laborers from outside the affected area to build the houses. When it was pointed out to the agency that the shelters were being built on land whose ownership was not clear and that the victims who desperately needed jobs were not being included in the program, the agency requested that the program be extended in order to revise it. The revisions were rejected, however, because AID had to expend its funds within a ninety-day period.

2. For a discussion of the U.S. Government contribution to agencies, see John G. Sommer, Beyond Charity (1977), especially his table 4 in the appendix.

Other key organizations driver their influence more from experience than from resources. OXFAM plays a dual role in disasters as it is both an operational agency and a funding agency, depending on the country and its prior commitments. OXFAM was founded as a famine relief organization and has evolved into a development organization over the years. It has long been noted as one of the best disaster response organizations, and its programs have been regarded as innovative and relatively successful. Like any organization, it is only as good as its people on the scene, but the field directors have been granted a good measure of autonomy and as a result programs tailored to the needs of people, with extensive participation by the victims, have usually resulted. OXFAM has also been a leader in research in disaster-related technology. In the field of sanitation it is well known for the OXFAM sanitation unit, an innovative, though controversial, system for collecting and storing excreta in refugee camp situations, which was a major innovation for its time. While not all of its investments have proven sound (for example, the OXFAM polyurethane emergency shelters), it has taken the lead in disaster-related research.

Save the Children is an amalgamation of the various Save the Children organizations in Europe and the United States. Each organization has its own field staff, but following disasters in certain areas it is supplemented by staff or volunteers sent by other members of the alliance. Following the earthquake in Guatemala, for example, the alliance sent an American and British team to conduct a disaster assessment and to determine an area for a project. This team was then supplemented by Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and other American and British team members.

The SCF Alliance, is best known for its work with children and for its medical and feeding teams, though it is not restricted to these sectors.

Terre des Hommes is a European organization with affiliates in Holland, Austria, Germany, and Belgium. It normally provides aid in the fields of medicine, public health, and services to mothers and children. A key organization not so much from performance as resources, it nonetheless has a growing program and a significant impact wherever 1t operates.

World Vision Relief Organization is the relief arm of World Vision international, a U.S.-based, worldwide Christian organization that provides humanitarian assistance in support of the evangelical movement. The organization and its affiliates are one of the largest relief organizations and can marshal vast resources. In the past, the organization has been criticized for allowing its evangelical activities to cross over into its relief work, more so than many of the other church-related organizations. In the early 1980's, World Vision appointed regional disaster officers and began comprehensive disaster preparedness planning for both natural and man-made disasters.


There is a final key group: the disaster research institutions and disaster specialists who provide much of the research and technical assistance that guides the others. Among the research organizations are the Disaster Research Center at Ohio State University, the Natural Hazards Research and Applications information Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels. Ohio State has pioneered sociological and behavioral investigations into disasters, the Natural Hazards Workshop has led the field in research on the relationship of natural hazards to the human environment, and the Catholic University of Louvain group, headed by Dr. Michel Lechat, has been the forerunner in the disaster epidemiology.

The international Disaster Institute (IDI) is an organization formed by the merger of the defunct Disaster Research Unit at Bradford University (U.K.) and the London Technical Group, a small nonprofit organization specializing in the medical and health aspects of the disasters. The IDI is striving to become the professional voice of the disaster profession. It publishes Disasters: The International Journal of Disaster Studies and Practice, the major publication dealing with disasters, and provides a forum for the few people who are interested in disasters on a full-time basis.

Mention should also be made of the private consulting firms that specialize in research and technical assistance to governments, and voluntary organizations operational in disasters. They have had a significant impact on disasters by mediating between the research institutions and the operational organizations. Most prominent are the engineering firms that have developed new approaches to building earthquake- and cyclone-resistant structures and organizations such as INTERTECT that provide on-site management and planning assistance.


Perhaps the most important factor in an agency's response to disaster is the quality and level of training of the field staff. An organization's percentage of career and professional staff often depends on its size and its programs in the Third World. Normally, however, the career staff are not the people who actually conduct the relief operation. The career staff are the managers, the specialists at moving aid through diplomatic channels, at planning the overall operation and managing the budgets. The people who actually do the work are rarely full-time members of the organization and almost never professional disaster specialists.

When disaster occurs, a responding organization will normally staff-up in one of two ways. First, the organization already has a development program or a skeleton disaster staff, it will recruit additional persons or seek volunteers to carry out the program. If the organization has no prior experience in the area, it must send a representative there, not only to determine the program, but also to recruit the staff. Generally, fewer than 5 percent of the people involved in disaster relief have ever been involved in such work previously. Even at the managerial level, few program directors or key staff personnel have had prior disaster experience.

In the initial stages, a large portion of the work is carried out by the victims themselves with assistance from volunteers. As a program becomes established, the relief agency will contract a number of persons on a short-term basis to implement the long-term aspects of the program. As each program comes to a close, these volunteers and part-time staff are laid off, and it is highly unlikely that any will ever again be involved in a disaster. As we shall see later, this means that the organization loses its collective memory, which, in turn, affects its ability to learn the lessons of the disaster and incorporate these lessons into its response to the next disaster.

Who, then, are the so-called disaster experts? Generally, they are the upper-managerial level officials and representatives of agencies who go to the disaster scene and initiate a program. However, few of these people started off as volunteers to come up "through the ranks," learning about the operational constraints on a disaster relief program.

Among the few major agencies that do have a professional development program, promotion tends to take them away from the field. Once people do well in the field, they are rewarded by being promoted to a headquarters Job. As people are promoted, they move farther and farther from responsibilities in the field. If the relief and development profession is to improve, we need to reverse this trend.


There are a number of major problems common to the relief system and the agencies and organizations within it. As with the influences on the relief system, many are unique and many are a result of the system itself.

Decision Making and Authority

The rules and procedures that govern the fieldwork of relief agencies often hinder or complicate response to disasters.

Decision making at the headquarters level. When agencies respond to disasters in the developing countries, the distances, communications, and transportation difficulties, as well as cultural obstacles, often inhibit effective humanitarian assistance. To be effective in this environment, choices must be made at the field level, and the people making these choices need a supportive, not restrictive, framework of rules, procedures, and policies to assist in this process.

Unfortunately, most organizations attempt to keep a good deal of the decision making at the headquarters level. The first move is usually to try to improve headquarters-field communications. Direct telex links are established; better telephone systems, even radio communications are installed. Next, procedures are revised to try to speed decisions through the headquarters. Stockpiling of supplies, maintaining of computer lists of experts on standby, and many other methods have been (and are being) tried. Yet the results still fall short of the desired response. The basic problem is that revising procedures and improving technology at headquarters does not necessarily improve the field response.

Several organizations working in disasters are seeking alternative approaches. The concepts being explored fall into three categories. The first is called a limited authority approach. The headquarters and local representatives review previous responses and draw up a list of activities that can be handled without consultation with headquarters or that require immediate, on-the-spot decisions that cannot wait for consultation with headquarters. In the first case, the authority to deal with such activities is delegated outright; in the second, policies are developed to provide a framework to guide representatives in making their choices. (This approach is in use today by organizations such as OXFAM and CARE.)

The second approach is called dispatched authority. When an emergency occurs, instead of the representative sending information to the headquarters for action, the headquarters sends a team of specialists to the field with authority to make (most) decisions on the spot. In some cases the team operates under special rules or emergency procedures, but it has been found that with this system few substantial rule changes are required. The ability to make decisions in the field is improved, and response is facilitated. (This approach is used largely by the disaster agencies of governments and by several large volags.)

The third concept is called devolution. Of all the approaches it is the most difficult to put into practice as it requires a fundamental rethinking of the structures necessary to provide relevant management in a Third World environment. Yet this appears to be the most effective structure, and many humanitarian organizations are moving toward this approach. Devolution is the structuring of an organization so that most of the decision making takes place in the affected country. This is accomplished in two ways. First, the headquarters' role is changed from that of decision making to policy making and coordination; and second, the organization is structured so that senior personnel with authority to act, within policy framework and according to the rules of the organization, are placed in offices near the areas where response is required. Among those agencies where this approach has been used (for example, CWS), few changes in the rules were necessary.

This is the background against which decision making should be examined. While procedures can be changed to simplify and speed emergency response within headquarters, overall performance in the field will not be significantly altered as a result.

Donor constraints on gifts. The conflict of authority between donor and agency can be shown in this example: a major donor gives a relief agency funds to conduct a post-disaster medical program. The relief agency asks a medical university to provide volunteers for the assignment. The university agrees, provided that the staff will not be absent for more than sixty days. At the same time, an intergovernmental agency offers to provide additional support and material if the team will work with the staff of one of its existing programs in the affected area. Thus by the time the medical team arrives in the country, virtually all decisions relating to its mission have already been made, and there is little for a field director to do other than to design a program around those decisions. In practice, it is very difficult to reverse these decisions once they have been made, as relief agencies are extremely reluctant to return to donors and ask them to change or modify the conditions placed on their contributions. The problem, however, can be dealt with. Several agencies have realized that the time to influence donors' decisions is prior to the outbreak of a disaster. An agency prepares a guide for donors, outlining the qualifications and policies under which gifts will be received. Donor education is one of the most important aspects to be addressed in improving the performance of the relief system and eliminating the problem of prior constraints.


Speaker’s Aid (1)

TITLE: "We Can Improve Relief Efforts - If We Try"
AUTHOR: Melissa Wells, UNDRO News, Jan/Feb 1983




MELISSA WELLS examines the relief operation in Karamoja, AS AN EXAMPLE OF AN "Exceptional or Complex Disaster."


Let me begin by drawing attention to the words: "complex disasters," exceptional emergencies." These words come straight from paragraphs 9 and 10 of Resolution 36/225,* which was passed during the 1981 General Assembly. These paragraphs also clearly give UNDRO a broadened role in this type of disaster, that is, involving the "complex" or the "exceptional." I personally feel that the passage of this resolution is a very significant achievement in terms of the international community's understanding of disasters as well as the potential for response. There are two very important aspects to this resolution. Allow me to describe them for you.

* See UNDRO News, January 1982.

Before my experience in Uganda I shared the misconception that many people have who have not lived through a disaster situation, namely that these emergencies come along in what you might call "assignable lots." In other words, depending on the nature of the emergency - be it an epidemic, a drought or a population displacement - action can be taken under the mandate of the appropriate UN agency. Well, in many instances it is not that straightforward. In the case of an epidemic, WHO will take action. In the case of movements of peoples across international boundaries, the UNHCR has the clear mandate. But what about displaced people within a country? Say a government has requested assistance for movements of people within the country. There is no recognized point within the UN system to which action can be ascribed for such cases.

Take the Karamoja disaster. The disaster was called a famine. Much of the reporting on Karamoja attributed the famine to climatic conditions. Yet there are many who know Uganda well who will point out that the Karamajong, who as semi-nomads live primarily off their cattle, have survived periodic droughts in the past rather well. When the crops were insufficient during difficult climatic conditions, the Karamajong simply sold some of their cattle in local towns and bought food to tide them over. But in 1979 this was not possible as Uganda's economy had totally collapsed and a marketing and distribution network did no longer exist.

The greatest misery, however, resulted from a unique factor: the looting of the armory in Moroto by the local population when Amin's soldiers tied. It is estimated that 12,000 sub-machine guns and two million round of ammunition simply dispersed among the tribes who had a tradition of raiding each other for cattle...but with spears, arrows and some home-made guns. The escalation of violence with the acquisition of the new weapons was horrendous. As if this were not enough, early in 1980 we had a major outbreak of cholera in the area.

Was the Karamoja disaster a drought? An .epidemic? A war zone? An economic disaster? Was it man-made? Or nature-made? We certainly had large displacements of people but not many of them crossed borders. I hope I have made my point.

So now let me take you back to the recently-passed resolution of the General Assembly, Resolution 36/225. The beauty of this resolution is that it recognizes the complex nature of many disasters and secondly, places the responsibility for mobilizing a UN-system response to this type of situation on UNDRO. Any previous ambiguities in this area have now been clarified by the General Assembly. I consider this an important step forward.

Now let us move on from what we might call "mandates", or assignments of responsibility, to a new topic: "logistics".

I venture that most disasters or emergency situations are first and foremost logistics crisis. In Uganda I had the privilege of working with many people who had participated in some of the major disaster relief operations over the last ten or fifteen years. One of the recurring themes we used to talk about was that time and again the same problem comes up in almost every disaster situation: logistics. The same mistakes are repeated over and over again. And yet their does not seem to be any point within the UN system where an effort is being made to address this question. By logistics, as I use the term here, I refer to communications, transport and distribution.

We are talking essentially about two elements: One is personnel, the other is equipment. Let's talk about personnel first.

In Uganda we ran two distinct relief operations. There was the Karamoja relief operation and one started up subsequently when, in February of 1981., at the request of the Uganda Government, another relief operation was mounted for the West Nile Province. For the relief operation in West Nile we were very fortunate to have a team from the special Swedish unit for disaster relief, following the request of the Government to the Swedish Government. They were there from the start of relief activities for West Nile and stayed for six months. The team included medical and engineering skills, but in particular, a unit that came to manage the logistics of the entire operation.

This unit immediately installed a radio communication network. They managed the fleet of trucks we used on the operation. They maintained the trucks in running order, kept records on fuel used, and on mileage. The unit kept record on all supplies-where they were located, where they were stored, when, where, to whom they were delivered. I may add that they managed the transport and distribution of all supplies for the relief operation, not Just those channel via the UN, but those of the government and of private agencies as well.

The smoothness, the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of that operation were simply remarkable. I am afraid I cannot say the same for the other relief operation in Karamoja. There were several phases of logistics management on the Karamoja operation and it was fraught with problems which only were overcome towards the end of the crisis. In saying this I am not criticizing anyone. If there is any blame. It lies in the fact that we had no-one to turn to give us what we needed in terms of logistics management. As I said, the Swedish unit was committed somewhere else at that time. But within the UN system there was no one who could respond to that need. So we did the best we could. Many of us feel that the lesson to be learned from our Uganda experience is that in a relief operation it is absolutely vital to have one unit with direct operation responsibility for the management of logistics.

The existence of a unit with such a responsibility is first and foremost in the best interests of those who need the help and are suffering, because it makes for more efficient delivery. But such a unit is also in the best interest of the government of the country experiencing the disaster. For example, a complaint frequently heard is that during a relief operation too many makes of vehicles are ordered. Quite often, it doesn't matter which manufacturer you choose, but what you want to avoid is too many varieties of vehicles, because this introduces problems of maintenance, spare parts and so forth. Again, with a professional, integrated approach form the beginning, one is in a better position to say to donors, "we need 'X' number of tires of such-and-such size, and we need the following spare parts..." in order to get existing in-country transport mobilized quickly while waiting for new vehicles to appear. But all this is possible only with a professional assessment on the spot at the beginning of the operation.

I have referred to the Swedish unit that came and worked with us. I am also aware that a number of other countries have already instituted, or else are considering the institution of similar units that can operate in disaster situations. So this indicates that some thinking is going on along these lines. But I also would like to raise the question as to whether a solution should not be found within the UN system. For each agency that works in emergency situations to develop its own logistics unit would create duplication. It would not be, I think, in the best interest of maximizing all our resources. Yet with some imagination and innovation a solution might be devised to the logistics problem. Let me describe an idea that some of us talked about in Uganda.

We had in mind the creation of what you might call a "strike force" of reservists based within the UN system, among the various agencies. You would have volunteers who would agree to serve in a disaster situation at very short notice. These volunteers or reservists would have experience in certain skills: telecommunications, transport management, supply - the various skills required for a logistics management operation.

These volunteers, as I call them, are already functioning in the system. In other words they have been recruited, and are performing functions in their various agencies. But here they would be on a roster, having volunteered to take up duty in a disaster area where they would perform their particular expertise in logistics management. If an effort were made to set up such a system, we would find that a number of agencies not usually associated with emergency operations might be making contributions. Clearly, for radio communications skills, the obvious place to look for this talent (although not exclusively) would be ITU. For such skills as transport management, warehouse control, motor maintenance, access to experienced personnel might come through ILO. I cite ITU and ILO because in Uganda we made very good use of the project personnel of these two agencies. With the agreement of the Government, these people were diverted form their original projects to work on the emergency situation as required. Their areas of expertise encompassed radio communications, driver training, railway management and automotive maintenance.

As an alternative solution to the logistics needs, I think a valid case can be made for an emergency logistics unit to be set up within the World Food Program. Certainly of all the UN agencies, it is the WFP that is most intensively involved in transport problems. Food requirements of varying magnitudes are needed almost in all disaster situations. The WFP is recognized as the co-ordinating agency responsible for moving multilateral food, it is also frequently used by bi-lateral donors to co-ordinate their particular relief shipments to a disaster area. Moving all this food around to reach emergency areas is not a simple task. It is the responsibility of the WFP to deliver the food to the border of the recipient country. In the case of land-locked countries the food is delivered to the border and not simply to the nearest port. But in any event, the transport of the food to the border of the recipient country is at the expense of WFP. In certain exceptional cases, WFO is permitted to pay 50 per cent of the cost of internal distribution of that food.

In the case of Uganda, we qualified for that 50 per cent. But the difficulty was that immediately after the war, and the looting that had taken place (which was when we were faced with the Karamoja famine), the Government was not in a position to come up with its share of 50 per cent. So we had to organize the transport ourselves and find the money to pay for it. It is precisely in circumstances such as these that a valid argument can be made for WFP responding quickly, on its own by instituting its own logistical support unit. In have offered two suggestions on the problem of logistics personnel; but I am sure there must be other possible solutions to this problem. What is Important, however, is that the question be addressed as soon as possible -and on an urgent basis.

Let me say a few words about the other aspect of logistics: equipment. This gets difficult because we are talking about very large sums of money. It is one thing to pre-position medical supplies - this is already being done. The pro-positioning of food has been tried but is more complicated. As far as pre-positioning of vehicles and equipment for logistics support is concerned, I don't think anyone will be able to Implement this. It is just too expensive, too cumbersome. Let me, however, single out one category of equipment which I believe should be an exception, and that is radios. I think it is feasible to set up a stockpile, a readily accessible supply of radios that could be available for Immediate dispatch to a disaster area. I think a logical repository for these radios would be UNDRO. Radios could be made available for a limited period of time for the emergency. They would then be returned and could be re-used. They obviously don't take the kind of beating that vehicles and other equipment take. Radios are a re-usable type of equipment.

As for acquisition of the remaining items used for logistical support -vehicles, tries, spare parts, fuel, tarpaulins, or whatever - this should be determined by that logistics team that I mentioned earlier. Notice that I have not said a word about what we call joint assessment missions. These are missions in which several agencies take part and which then go to the emergency area in order to assess the requirements for food, medical supplies, shelter or other needs. I have not referred to these missions because this aspect of a system response is really rather well-organized within the UN.

What is not organized, and what needs to be addressed, is that when a joint assessment mission goes and lists the requirements, at the same time (in fact as part of that mission, ideally) there should be people who can make a professional assessment of the type of terrain on which the relief operation will be carried out and who can assess what is required in terms of logistical support. When part of that assessment mission goes back and start mobilizing relief supplies, there should be a team left behind to begin working with the government on how to distribute the supplies most efficiently. In certain cases, such a logistical support team may not be required. But the experiences in other disaster areas that colleagues in Uganda shared with me indicates that our difficulties were not unique.

Funding for the logistical support equipment can be dealt with in a number of ways. The Government may have its own resources; a special appeal can be launched; bilateral donors may wish to assist; or one may have to divert resources form development projects. In fact that is what we had to do in Uganda - vehicles in our case. With the permission of the Government, I "hijacked" five trucks form the Ugandan PT & T. They never saw them. As soon as the trucks reached Kampala from Monbasa, I sent them to Karamoja. These trucks were subsequently replaced in a development project.

It is worth saying a few words about emergency procedures. I think it fair to say that over the past few years a good deal of money has been made available to the various UN agencies for emergency use. These funds have been made available by the various governing bodies of the agencies. But the delegation of spending authority must be increased - it must go right down to the field level.

Now this obviously presents problems of accountability and control. But I think that if agencies looked into their emergency procedures, systems could be devised whereby delegation to disburse at the field level could be implemented swiftly as required and we could enhance our relief efforts. Of course, the financial regulations and rules imposed on the system have a long chain of responsibility including auditors and budgetary committees right back to member governments. So the problem of greater spending flexibility in an emergency is not simply one for the agencies.

In one instance, during our relief work in Uganda, a UN agency received a donation of a very substantial investment in transport equipment: approximately three quarters of a million dollars, specifically targeted for the relief operations in Karamoja. As part of the contribution, a consultant was sent to Uganda to assess our transport requirements. Then the donor made available consultants to be there with us when the equipment arrived, in order to get it running. I regret to say that much valuable time was lost - quite literally months, when it should have been weeks - because we were required to follow certain agency purchasing procedures. I am sure these procedures exist for very sound, valid reasons. But we found them totally inadequate for our emergency situation. It is essential that procedures such as these be looked at and reviewed, in order to establish how we can reconcile accountability and other important safeguards with quick purchase and delivery, which are absolutely essential in an emergency.

Any review of administrative procedures in cases of emergency should not be confined solely to procurement. There is also a great need for more flexibility in hiring. Were it not for the fact that staff from several of the voluntary agencies working in Uganda were assigned to our office on a full-time basis, I doubt whether we could have coped. Procedures for hiring locally-qualified people were extremely cumbersome. The recruitment process is headquarters was not producing results. And there you are - you are simply strapped for personnel. This is of course the glory of the voluntary agencies, the NGO's - their flexibility, their ability to move quickly, they don't seem to get tied up in bureaucratic procedures. They are quite truly the first line of action in an emergency operation. I doubt very much that agencies in the. UN system could equal the type of operation flexibility that the NGO's have. The nature of the UN agencies is different. But I think we should introduce greater flexibility into our emergency procedures in order to interact better with the voluntary agencies. This difference in administrative procedure between UN agencies and NGO's is a continuing source of frustration at the field level where you are working in very difficult circumstances.

One way of introducing more flexibility into the hiring process during emergencies is to institutionalize what became an excellent 'ad hoc' arrangement that we worked out with the voluntary agencies in Uganda. I am not suggesting that the UN count on voluntary agencies assigning personnel regularly to UN field offices. Rather, we would permit the voluntary agencies to recruit for us. In other words, if they found qualified people, and we agreed that they were qualified, we could then hire them on a short-term basis. It is important that something be worked out in this area.

Now for a totally new subject: information. A relief operation usually involves several UN agencies and it is important, should there be press interest in the emergency, to give a complete picture of relief activities. I felt the need in Uganda very urgently for the UN to speak with one voice on relief activities - not just to the outside world, the press, but probably even more importantly, to the inside team.

As far as informing the outside World is concerned, I observed tensions that resulted from the fact that some agencies are more gifted, I think that is the best word to use, than others in presenting their case to the public. This issue is a sensitive one within the UN system. But I submit that there are other concerns over-riding agency sensitivity. Quite apart from external information there is a vital need to keep all components of the team working on the disaster adequately informed. Not just the UN agencies involved, but all the voluntary agencies.

You may ask, "Informed of what?" The information to be passed on (in a regular flow) to the whole team, is how this disaster is going to get cleared up, in other words, what is the resource picture? How are supplies to get from A to B? What are the missing resources? This information is available to a limited number of people directly involved in the coordinating aspect of the operation. But they simply don't have the time to keep everybody else informed and get on with their work.

You may ask whether it is important to keep "all the troops" informed. And I would say it is. The most important thing you have going in an emergency situation is morale to do the impossible. This information belt is an essential aspect not only of teamwork but of morale-building when working in difficult circumstances. Nothing short of a professional information officer should be considered for such a post to deal with both the "external" and "internal" information flows.

Let me touch briefly now on the all-important subject of co-ordination. This is addressed explicitly in the General Assembly resolution I mentioned earlier, Resolution 36/225. I am delighted that this is the case because previously there were unclear areas. There were assumptions that so-and-so would act. But it was never clearly spelled out. Now we have a clear plan of action for co-ordination, which is very important. Let me share with you something I witnessed in Uganda.

Relief operations, once they get going, carry a momentum of their own which can greatly benefit the development of that area. When I visited Karamoja in the late spring of 1981, I saw an area that quite literally had been a living hell. This area was now functioning. The seeds had been planted, the early rains at that time had been good, the crops were coming up, the violence had largely subsided, people had been fed, and there were medical facilities around - few and far between, but they were there. Then I was struck by the misfortune of some of the people living further away, around Kampala, desperately poor, who had not known the impact of international emergency assistance. The point is, a relief operation generates a momentum that must not be lost, but carried on into development.

It is essential, therefore, that co-ordination take place within the total development picture of the country. A relief operation does not lead a life of its own. It has its impact on the country; 1t has repercussions far beyond the area in which it is directly working.

Finally, there is the real need for an effort to be made to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles - a more polite term would be technical obstacles. All those who have worked in emergency situations are familiar with the bureaucratic "road blocks" encountered when it comes to border clearances, visas, or trans-shipment of supplies. There is a whole tangled web of administrative procedure that needs to be eased if a relief operation is to take place effectively.

A very interesting study has recently come out, produced by UNITAR, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. It is called Model Rules for Disaster Relief Operations. What this study proposes is the rules - and international code or convention - set up which would cover disaster situations. We know that there are rules covering the protection and assistance given to victims of armed conflict, but nothing similar exists for disaster situations. The draft "model rules" in the study are very comprehensive: they cover communications facilities, packing, documentation requirements, in short, a whole range of administrative obstacles which are hardly controversial but which stand in the way of international humanitarian relief operations. It would be a great help to all future people stricken by disaster, as well as to the many generous men and women who go to their assistance, if an international convention could be drawn up and agreed to.

This is an edited version of a lecture given as part of the 1982 series of UNDRO Lectures.

Melissa Wells was the UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda from September 1979 during the Karamoja disaster - an extremely difficult time for the country, the relief agencies, and the UN system alike. Since March 1982 has worked as adviser to the Assistant Administrator of the UNDP European Office at Geneva.

She joined UNDP after a long career with United States Government, representing her country in a variety of political and economic posts. In the mid-seventies she was Representative (with rank of Ambassador) to the UN's ECOSOC and the UNDP Governing Council.


Speaker’s Aid (2)

TITLE: Emergency Systems
AUTHOR: Everett Ressler







Community Level






































Speaker’s Aid (Reading) (3)


"International Organization and Management Arrangements for Emergency Responses,"

Some Observations and Comments Concerning UNICEF's Participation in Response to Emergencies, Extract


AUTHOR: Ron Ockwell


Internal organization and management arrangements for emergency responses

22. It is generally agreed that maximum responsibility for decisions concerning both the scale and nature of any UNICEF response to a particular situation should rest in the field, and that any limits and/or repartition of responsibility with HQs (or a regional office) must be very clearly defined at the outset. It has been suggested that even for major, complex emergencies responsibility for operational decisions should be located as close as possible to the theatre of operations and executive staff at HQs take care to avoid becoming involved in operational matters but concentrate on determining policy.

23. It is agreed that responsibility should normally rest with the representative appointed in/to the country concerned, but it has also been noted that abilities and leadership which may be satisfactory for regular program operations may not always be adequate for the demands of major emergency situations and the responses thereto. It must be the responsibility of Regional Directors and senior HQs staff to assess whether this situation prevails and to be prepared to rapidly provide the necessary additional staff capability in support of or, where "necessary, in (temporary) replacement of an incumbent representative or project officer.

24. Even in respect of relatively minor disasters which occur in countries in which UNICEF has only a liaison office, specialist project staff or otherwise weak representation, it is felt that care needs to be taken to immediately define responsibilities and lines of communications between the field offices concerned and HQs, with the efficiency of response and operations as the main criterion rather than what may be normal administrative reporting structures. If it appears that a significant response may be required from UNICEF beyond the capabilities of any resident liaison/project staff in cooperation with other UN agency personnel in-country, appropriate staff should be quickly dispatched/seconded with the necessary ability - and authority - to assess, plan and manage any intervention. Area and Regional Offices should resist the temptation to try to run operations by remote control from a distance, especially to direct actual field operations in circumvention of a local office. Their effort should rather be to support staff in the country concerned whether normally resident or temporarily assigned for the emergency.

25. In situations where UNICEF has no local representation it is noted that UNICEF is dependent, in the first instance at least, on the in-country UNDP resident representative. Depending on the circumstances, it may be sufficient to accept the resident representative's recommendations and also to entrust him with any local implementation; otherwise appropriate UNICEF staff - with authority to take any necessary decision - may need to be dispatched with the minimum possible delay. In some situations - e.g. remote islands - it can also be appropriate for staff from a field office other than the one normally responsible for the territory concerned (but possibly situated closer and/or with better communications) to visit and take responsibility to close coordination with the relevant country/area office.

26. In general it is felt that reports and communications concerning emergency situations and responses should go directly between the UNICEF staff directly responsible in the field and HQs (both NY and OE) with copies to the regional office. In the field this should normally be the country representative or the staff member/team leader specifically assigned for the emergency in the country concerned although, where reliance is placed on the local UNDP office, it might be the responsible UNICEF representative elsewhere.

27. It has been noted that special care needs to be exercised in monitoring (at all levels) the development/deterioration of situations which evolve gradually over time - e.g. those caused by droughts and/or civil strife - and ensuring that decisions on any necessary actions/responses are taken in good time, avoiding series of indecisive missions. Especially in "long-running" situations, care must also be taken to ensure the adequate manning of the relevant field office at all times, including seconding staff to the office from elsewhere to cover periods when key staff members may be absent on leave or for other reasons.

28. It has also been emphasized that, at all levels - the field and HQs - decisions and instructions should be given concerning the priority which is to be accorded to work in respect of the emergency. Locally this must also include defining responsibilities within the office for ongoing regular programme work (which can and should be continued in areas not affected by the emergency) and the designation of a focal point for all operational matters concerning the emergency with special attention to the coordination/organization of logistics and reporting as well as the programming of assistance. This focal point function may be undertaken either by the representative, another resident staff member or, where necessary, by one specifically seconded from elsewhere either individually or as a team leader for the emergency operation. AT HQs' level this must include insuring that the situation receives appropriate priority not only in actions within HQs itself but also in the provision of such (temporary) additional personnel as may be needed: it is stressed that if a situation is deemed to warrant a significant emergency response from UNICEF it also deserves and must receive the services of the best staff available for such work (who may not necessarily hold very senior posts/grades in normal assignments).

29. In respect of "major" emergency operations it is suggested that there is a need for HQs' emergency unit staff to be personally involved and familiar with the situation and any UNICEF operation in the field, and for there to be a focal point within HQs having the necessary experience and status to coordinate and direct actions within HQs in support of field operations - but not to take operational responsibility which must rest in the field. Such a focal point should, however, take care of any political aspects relating to the operation (especially man-made emergencies) and inter-agency coordination at the international level. While recognizing the value and need for HQs' staff to be familiar with the situation, it is also noted that care needs to be taken to restrict the number of visitors to emergency operations, ensuring that all visits do have a valid purpose and interrupt operations as little as possible.

30. It is stressed that the organization must have the mechanisms to move appropriately qualified and experienced personnel quickly into emergency field situations from other locations - HQs, regional or other field offices. It is, however, emphasized that personnel should be selected and assigned for specific, functional assignments and care be taken to ensure that a balanced team of staff (both temporary and normally resident) is created with the necessary mix of abilities required for the particular situation/operation: this should normally include appropriate programming and planning capabilities as well as "operators" and administration/finance support. It has also been noted that the efficiency of operations in the crucial early stages can be considerably enhanced if the members of the "team" are personally familiar with each other. In this connection it is suggested that the "team leader" (whatever his/her title) once designated - by the Executive Director for major operations - should be responsible for choosing the other members to the team (in consultation with other concerned senior staff).

31. Another aspect emphasized - which is greatly dependent on staffing - is the need to establish adequate systems for monitoring, recording and reporting operations from the beginning and to thereby avoid the tendency for ad hoc arrangements to be made and changed as short-term staff rotate.

32. Some feel that the only way to ensure the prompt availability of qualified and experienced staff to move to emergency situations as and when required is to have a number of suitable personnel on permanent stand-by as an emergency team based in HQs. It is suggested that such personnel could be usefully occupied between emergencies in assisting in the organization of preparedness programmes, the evaluation of operations and the training of other staff. Refinement of this concept proposes the need for two distinct teams-one being proficient in English and French, the other in English and Spanish. Others suggest that such specially designated emergency personnel should be assigned to the various regional offices and be available, between emergencies, to assist in regular regional functions as well as emergency-related ones, but not undertaking any functions/commitments which would prevent them moving at very short notice to an emergency situation when required.

33. Other staff express serious reservations about the concept of special "emergency teams" distinct/divorced from normal operations believing, in varying degrees that it is not necessary; that good staff should not and would not be prepared to wait around "fining in time" between emergencies; and, perhaps more importantly, emphasizing the responsibility of staff already assigned in the areas concerned, the need-in assessing situations and planning responses - for combining planning/programming skills together with practical, operational abilities, and the importance of detailed knowledge and understanding of the local social, economic and cultural milieu. Those who hold such views emphasize the need for mechanisms to enable additional staff to be specifically selected and drafted in quickly when necessary for particular situations-through the operation of a roster of suitable and willing staff members in regular assignments, but not the establishment of stand-by "teams" ready to parachute in and take over in all situations.

34. More detailed comments concerning the types of staff which may be required for emergency operations, and arrangements for a roster etc. are reviewed in the section on "personnel".

35. It seems clear that their can be no set formula for all situations but that arrangements are required which will, in the light of the particular circumstances of each emergency, provide the most appropriate blend of abilities and experience, local knowledge and teamwork. Key factors in determining this will be the scale of the emergency and role UNICEF may have to play; the size of the local office and the experience and personal qualities of resident staff; the capacity of the government and other agencies and the nature and adequacy of arrangements for operational coordination both locally and internationally.


36. The need for an appropriate combination of skills-within a "team" for major operations-has been emphasized previously. It has been suggested that the following might be the major categories of skills and experience required for many such operations: food/shelter/monitoring; health/water supply; logistics; supply operations; finance and administration; secretariat; and additional specialists as may be required by the situation (e.g. mechanics/technicians; communications; drilling; water treatment). It has, however, also been noted that general programming and planning skills and an empathy for the affected people and country are a vital complement to practical experience and operational abilities, while personality considerations and the ability to work well with others under stress are an absolute necessity.

37. When a number of personnel are required to be "fielded" for any particular assessment or operation it is felt to be important that there should be a specifically designated "team leader" who must have the ability to control and direct together with a sensitivity to personalities and personal relationships-an ability to lead without stifling initiative. Such "leaders of men" must, it is suggested, be cool and congenial, and be selected/appointed irrespective of present grades-but be given temporary grades appropriate to the responsibilities entrusted to them. For major operations it is likely that such a team leader would need the support not only of functional specialists but also of one or more "aids de camp”, young, responsible “^^^^ answers” with energy, ideas and initiative both to undertake the leg-work for the team leader and also to man field out-posts where necessary, always in very close contact with the team leader.

38. Regardless of whether there are or are not any specialist "emergency" staff on permanent stand-by (see previous section on internal organization) it is agreed by all that there is need for a roster of staff who are ready to serve temporary assignments in emergencies. It is, however, emphasized that those on the roster should just not be "volunteers"- although a willingness to undertake emergency assignments is a necessary prerequisite. Staff placed on the roster should, it is suggested, be specifically selected - perhaps by a special panel - on basis of the following criteria:

proven performance in prior emergency situations;

expression of interest in (temporary) service in emergency situations;

experience prior to or during UNICEF service demonstrating good performance under stressful, difficult living and working conditions;

special factors/circumstances such as family responsibilities, language abilities/proficiency, diversification of skills etc.


Day _______________
Session ____________

1. In your view, what were the key points learned in this session?

2. Comment on the application of these within UNICEF and your situation.

3. Suggest any additional critical points that should have been covered.

4. Do you have comments on the suggested reading?

Suggest any additional information sources for sessions of the day.
Case Studies:

5. Comment on the learning methodology (lectures, group work, films) used in the session.