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close this bookCoordinating Among International Organizations in Complex Emergencies (Draft 1st Edition) (Complex Emergency Training Initiative - Disaster Management Training Programme, 77 p.)
close this folderPart 3 - Coordination mechanisms in the field
close this folderUN system in-country
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View the documentCoordination arrangements at the field level

Coordination arrangements at the field level

Experience has shown that no single model for humanitarian coordination at the field level is appropriate to all circumstances.

Experience has shown that no single model for humanitarian coordination at the field level is appropriate to all circumstances. Rather, it is for the IASC, under the leadership of the ERC, to decide which approach should be adopted according to the particular circumstances of each emergency and drawing from an inter-agency analysis of those circumstances. The model chosen in a particular case will depend upon a range of factors and will always be a matter for discussion at the IASC. In all cases, however, the Humanitarian Coordinator will be accountable to the ERC.

In situations of complex or major emergencies the IASC, under the leadership of the ERC, may decide to appoint a Humanitarian Coordinator. The UN Resident Coordinator should normally be requested to undertake this task, but in cases where the profile of the Resident Coordinator is not considered appropriate to the task, the IASC, under the leadership of the ERC, may decide to appoint a Humanitarian Coordinator as distinct from the office of the Resident Coordinator.

The IASC, under the leadership of the ERC, may also consider the designation of a lead agency, which shall be tasked with the discharge of the responsibilities of humanitarian coordination. The lead agency will be selected from among the members of the IASC. The lead agency will be accountable to the ERC for its coordination responsibilities, while continuing to be accountable to its own Executive Head for activities within its mandate.

A lead "sectoral" agency may also be designated at the field level by the Humanitarian Coordinator, in consultation with relevant agencies, to be responsible for a particular geographical area or beneficiary group in the humanitarian response, in addition to its responsibilities for activities within its mandate. In such a scenario the lead "sectoral" agency would be accountable to the Humanitarian Coordinator.

It is the responsibility of the ERC to ensure that the Humanitarian Coordinator is supported by any staff and other resources needed to assist him/her with the responsibilities of strategic coordination. These will either be secondment from IASC members and/or staff specifically recruited for the purpose (including experienced United Nations Volunteers) and financed through the Consolidated Appeal.

The following list identifies components of UN mechanisms at the field level and describes their roles in coordination.

UN Disaster Management Team (UN DMT)


The UN General Assembly has mandated that a standing UN Disaster Management Team (UN DMT) be formed in every disaster/emergency-prone country. The DMT is chaired by the Resident Coordinator. Its composition is unique to each country depending on its special circumstances and normally includes representatives, if present in the country, from FAO, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, WHO and UNHCR.

In an emergency, the DMT is the main in-country mechanism by which UN agencies coordinate policies and programmes of humanitarian assistance.

The primary purpose of the UN DMT is to prepare for and ensure a prompt, effective, and concerted response and promote coordinated UN assistance to the Government for post-emergency recovery. It does not in any way supersede the mandates of its members. In an emergency, the DMT is the main in-country mechanism by which UN agencies coordinate policies and programmes of humanitarian assistance.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General SRSG

A Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) is sometimes appointed to act on behalf of the UN Secretary-General in emergencies which are "complex or of exceptional magnitude." In practice, the appointment of an SRSG is normally reserved for those complex emergencies which involve the UN in major political negotiations and/or when UN peacekeeping forces are deployed.

If an SRSG is appointed, this person assumes overall responsibility for UN-system wide action and coordination in that country. In such situations, the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator dealing with the complex emergency reports to the SRSG in-country, as well as directly to the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator/Head of DHA. One of the challenges of a UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in such circumstances is balancing the need for coordination among the UN political, military, and humanitarian components with the need for the humanitarian component to retain its special identity, based on humanitarian principles such as neutrality and impartiality.

The UN Resident Coordinator and/or Humanitarian Coordinator

In the great majority of the countries where the UN system is present, overall coordination of UN activities falls primarily to the UN Resident Coordinator. In most cases, as development is the most important function of the UN, this person is also the head (i.e., Resident Representative) of the UN Development Programme.

If the emergency is of significant size, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, in consultation with the UN agencies, will appoint a special Humanitarian Coordinator.

Among the various hats which the Resident Coordinator wears is that of the coordination of UN humanitarian assistance. In this capacity he or she reports directly to the Under-Secretary-General of DHA. Once a complex emergency has occurred the UN Resident Coordinator continues to lead and coordinate the UN inter-agency response. However, if the emergency is of significant size, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, in consultation with the UN agencies, will appoint a special Humanitarian Coordinator. The Humanitarian Coordinator normally phases out once the emergency reaches the recovery and rehabilitation phase, with any residual tasks returning to the Resident Coordinator. (Terms of Reference of the Humanitarian Coordinator as approved by the IASC are found in Annex 1.)

In certain special circumstances, the Head of DHA/Emergency Relief Coordinator may designate one UN agency as the "lead agency." This would occur when a particular agency was providing the great majority of UN assistance. In such cases, the in-country agency head would also serve as Humanitarian Coordinator, while also reporting directly to his/her agency headquarters.

The Designated Official for Security

In each country where the UN is present, the Secretary-General designates one senior official with the title of Designated Official. The Designated Official is accountable directly to the Secretary-General, through UNSECOORD, for the security of the organizations' staff members, eligible family members and property. At most duty stations, the Designated Official will be the Resident Coordinator/Resident Representative of UNDP. The Designated Official is assisted with his/her security responsibilities by a Field Security Officer, who is an international staff member.

The responsibilities of the Designated Official include ensuring the security of all UN personnel in country, advising agency heads on security issues, coordinating security training, controlling the movement of personnel in areas of conflict, security planning and, if necessary, conducting the evacuation of UN staff and their dependents.

DHA Coordination Center

The mission and main responsibilities of DHA were described in Part 2. In a complex emergency DHA is responsible for the coordination and leadership among those providing humanitarian assistance. This includes:

· providing services that maximize the efficient use of resources for humanitarian assistance, such as consolidating and managing information including needs assessments, preparation of inter-agency appeals, financial tracking of donor response, maintenance of centralized data bases, early warning services and training programmes

· acting as the focal point for advocacy on humanitarian concerns, and for maximizing opportunities for preventive action and for securing access to people affected by conflicts

· ensuring that emergency relief contributes to future development, and that development plans incorporate measure for disaster preparedness and prevention

To implement these responsibilities, DHA will often establish a Coordination Center, which typically provides the following primary functions:

Operations/Programme Coordination - DHA has responsibility for facilitation of a coordinated, comprehensive and coherent operation/programme of assistance to meet the humanitarian needs in the emergency situation.

DHA has responsibility for facilitation of a coordinated, comprehensive and coherent operation/programme of assistance to meet the humanitarian needs in the emergency situation.

Information - DHA seeks to collect, compile, analyze, display and report on the general emergency situation, its consequences, resource needs and availability, the response activities, the achievements, and the unmet needs.

Liaison - DHA is responsible for facilitating ongoing and effective communication and cooperation between UN agencies and national and local government, donors, media and international responders including international teams, other international organizations and NGOs.

Auxiliary functions which may be provided by the DHA coordination center include 1) logistics coordination; 2) support for monitoring and implementation of security procedures; and 3) telecommunications coordination. In regard to these functions, the DHA coordination center's primary responsibility is to ensure that these functions are being adequately performed. When it is clear that these areas are not adequately covered and the gap cannot be immediately filled by other entities, for example during the early stages of an emergency, a DHA coordination center may have to provide these auxiliary functions. The objectives for auxiliary functions are as follows:

Logistics - Oversight of logistical aspects of the emergency. Help ensure that vital operational tasks and programmes operate smoothly. Facilitate cooperation between all actors in the emergency to provide the optimum capability from the minimum of resources.

Security - Responsibility for adequate preparedness and response to changing security situations, protection of personnel and assets.

Telecommunications - Responsibility to ensure the creation, effective implementation and coordination of necessary communication systems including planning, supervision of installation, and management of communication networks among the UN agencies and, to the extent possible, the humanitarian assistance community in-country.

Field Coordination Unit


In most complex emergencies beyond the very small ones, the in-country support staff required to enable the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator to carry out his/her responsibilities are organized into a Field Coordination Unit. Such units have come in a variety of sizes and configurations. There may be a need, especially after the initial response phase, for other special units to be created under the supervision of the Humanitarian Coordinator. Examples might include for de-mining, or for demobilization of combatants. Such large operations would normally be parallel to but separate from the emergency coordination unit, and would report directly to the Humanitarian Coordinator.

The Field Coordination Unit convenes under different names in various countries and may include other non-UN members similar to the make up of the IASC. In Somalia it is called the UN Coordination Team with the UN Coordination Unit serving as its secretariat and chaired by the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator. In Afghanistan it meets under the chairmanship of the Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance in Afghanistan (UNOCHA) and is called the Inter-Agency Humanitarian Coordination Committee.

In some complex emergencies the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC), fielded by DHA through standby agreements with several governments, will support the Field Coordination Unit.

Peacekeeping Forces office

Given the differing cultures and inherent tensions between humanitarian agencies and military forces... an important role for DHA staff is to build bridges and resolve misunderstandings.

While UN humanitarian assistance is provided in almost all complex emergency situations, UN peacekeeping operations remain more limited in number. Peacekeeping operations can provide security, including for relief convoys, as well as major logistics support to relief efforts, especially in terms of truck and air transport.

If support, such as convoy escorts or transport is provided, it can quickly become a focus of anger and frustration unless its coordination is well handled. DHA plays a leading role in coordinating such support. This is often accomplished through the creation of a Civil-Military Operations Centre (CMOC). The CMOC is staffed with military and civilian personnel, and works in support of the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator. Overall, given the differing cultures of humanitarian agencies and military forces, and the inherent tensions resulting from differing objectives, responsibilities, and operating styles, an important role for DHA staff is to build bridges and resolve misunderstandings between those two groups.

One useful and important role of UN humanitarian coordination staff is to help bridge this gap. Examples might include providing coordination meetings where humanitarian and military staff can work out issues of common concern, and bringing liaison officers from the military organizationally and physically into the humanitarian coordination structures.