|Coordinating Among International Organizations in Complex Emergencies (Draft 1st Edition) (Complex Emergency Training Initiative - Disaster Management Training Programme, 77 p.)|
The Organization of Humanitarian Assistance: Liberia, 1994-95
The majority of the population of Liberia is concentrated in the urban centers of Monrovia and Buchanan which are controlled by the Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group (ECOMOG). Originally built for some 300,000 people, Monrovia and environs are now inhabited by some 1.3 million people. Another 800,000 people have left the territory and taken refuge in the neighboring countries (Cd'Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Guin. It is estimated that no more than 250,000 people (many of them displaced) remain in the other, mostly inaccessible, areas in the country.
This case study, although written about events in 1994-95, is in the present tense in order to facilitate analysis.
The concentration of displaced people in areas controlled by the peacekeepers creates an unbearable demand on the already inadequate infrastructure and limited services. On the other hand, it allows Humanitarian agencies direct, regular access to those in need.
Although it is generally recognized that Liberia has all the ingredients for a major humanitarian disaster, the situation has, by and large, been kept under control: starvation and major epidemics have been averted in the accessible areas through a massive Humanitarian program under UNDP leadership. Funding for this program - over $100,000,000 annually - has come principally from the UN, USAID and the EU (ECHO). In addition national NGOs and community groups are involved.
The basic system
The UNDP Resident Representative in Monrovia serves as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, appointed by the head of DHA. Logistical support for all emergency and relief operations is provided by the UNDP Emergency Unit which is mainly funded through a cost-sharing arrangement between UNDP and USAID. For four months in 1994 a DHA specialist funded by UN Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) served with the Humanitarian Coordinator.
To organize the complex relationship between UN agencies and NGOs and build a new rapport after a period of distrust and uncertainty in mid-1993, a jointly agreed coordination system was put in place. Coordination in Liberia aims not only to build consensus on common issues but also to decentralize operational decision-making and delegate authority. The new coordination mechanism established by the Humanitarian Coordinator in 1993 consists of a three-tier system of weekly meetings, complemented by a number of technical sub-committees.
The UN/NGO/EC/USAID/US Embassy Coordination group meets every week at the UNDP office under the chairmanship of the Humanitarian Coordinator. UNOMIL and ECOMOG also participate in these meetings. Policy and strategic decisions are taken at this level, including the need for assessments on which all joint action plans are based. This mechanism builds consensus and has been essential for such things as obtaining common positions vis-a-vis warring factions and issuing joint statements on the principles of Humanitarian assistance in a conflict situation. Security, including evacuation/relocation contingency plans and all UN assistance to the NGO community on security matters, is also coordinated at these Head of Agency meetings.
There are also two Security and Information meetings, chaired by the UNDP Deputy Resident Representatives, which are held on a weekly basis. These meetings involve a larger audience and focus on more operational issues.
Seven technical sub-committees feed information to the Coordination committee for policy and strategy decision making. Two sub-committees are now chaired by the ministers (Health, Education) as an attempt at empowering national authorities and encouraging their engagement.
The main strategy
The strategy reflected in the various plans of action adopted by the Coordination group throughout 1994 as well as in the Appeal document for 1995 is based on a number of assessments carried out cross-lines and cross-borders during 1994-95. After assessed needs are matched with available resources, actions are decided upon. Resource gaps are identified and addressed at the Coordination meetings. For use as a planning, coordination and resource mobilization tool, UNDP compiled a comprehensive database of all ongoing Humanitarian activities in the country as well as available resources.
Joint UN/NGO assessment missions were planned and carried out in many areas including Nimba, Bong, Lofa, Grand Cape Mount, Greenville, Rivercess, Tubmanburg and Harper in 1994. To the extent possible, assistance was targeted based on the mission findings. Although many of the food supplies continue to be looted and diverted by the fighters, it is believed that large scale starvation was averted across the war lines. The various missions reported some malnutrition and widespread Human Rights violations. Medical supplies and facilities were lacking almost everywhere. Foodstuffs were available in the markets in Bong and Nimba but at prohibitive prices. Schools were functioning in many areas, mostly under very difficult conditions. The situation in Upper Lofa remains the least known but UNDP Monrovia and Conakry have negotiated for MSF(B) to be authorized to provide assistance cross-border starting early 1995. Two joint operations (LWS/WFP/UNICEF) were carried out as planned in January 1995 to Nimba cross-border from Cd'Ivoire as an alternative delivery tactic.
The results so far
The main objective of the Humanitarian effort has been to avert a large scale Humanitarian disaster. This has been accomplished so far despite the continuing conflict. No starvation is reported in the accessible population and no epidemic has spread uncontrolled. Clean drinking water and medical supplies are widely available in the accessible areas. Shelter has also been made available to most of the accessible displaced people. The numerous camps and feeding centers have been adequately organized and are functioning reasonably well, under the circumstances. An increasing number of displaced people are engaged in income generation activities.
Most of the countryside remains inaccessible to regular road convoys from Monrovia. Since the resumption of relief convoys to some areas (mainly Cape Mount) in the latter part of 1994 and the relative success of some other delivery tactics, agencies have reported a decreasing number of severe malnutrition cases.
Coordination and cooperation among the Humanitarian agencies has brought about better efficiency and maximization of available resources. UNOMIL has also significantly contributed to the system. Joint programming and participatory implementation have created a special bond among the various actors in the field. Pooling and sharing of resources, including staff resources, improved the safety of all personnel. The security network put in place and managed by the UN system under the Designated Official has been functioning well and is fully inclusive of the NGO staff.
The common problems
Although the emergency Humanitarian program has so far responded to the basic needs of the accessible people in food, shelter, health and drinking water, it faces some major obstacles:
Governance - The program is mostly managed by the international community, by default and by necessity. National authorities participate little in its management. The authority of the LNTG and its ability or willingness to act, even on a limited basis, do not usually extend beyond the city limits. There is an important build-up of local capacities, however, in the delivery and even the local management (by displaced communities) of the program. Empowerment of local groups has been systematically pursued by the UN and the performance of some national bodies (e.g. LRRRC) and such local organizations as MERIC, LUSH and SELF in program delivery serves as a model for others.
Security and accessibility - Providing assistance to the population lying beyond the ECOMOG lines has always been hazardous. The withdrawal of peacekeeping forces from more areas and the growing insecurity have made things even more difficult since mid-1994. Roads leaving Monrovia are still closed except for the way to Buchanan and, sometimes, Tubmanburg and Kakata.
Fatigue - The looting by the factions of the UNDP office in Gbarnga and of virtually all supplies and equipment from all Humanitarian agencies in 1994 (a theft of several million dollars) not only strengthened the war effort but also caused a de facto suspension of all Humanitarian assistance to greater Liberia. The disillusion and growing disinterest of the international community created a potentially dangerous situation - possibly exemplified by the termination of funding for water trucking in Monrovia.
Sustainability - The effort undertaken to diversify humanitarian aid towards more sustainable assistance (for example, the provision of seeds and agricultural tools to farmers by UNDP and others) was lost with the resumption of conflict in mid 1994. By the end of the year, all crops had been lost and most other planned rehabilitation activities abandoned.
Dependence - The large scale staple food requirements (mostly rice) and the struggle to avoid a disaster at all costs since 1992, have created a growing dependence in the local population which makes recovery efforts increasingly problematic.
Continued conflict - A good part of Humanitarian assistance (possibly 30-50% as reported by our agencies) is diverted by the fighters which serves to prolong the war. In addition, some warlords now demand 25% of the convoy cargoes up front before allowing the convoy to cross the lines. Although distribution techniques and tactics to reduce the diversion of food aid have been developed, there is no solution to this problem.
Further ahead in 1995
Humanitarian needs will continue and the emergency will probably extend through the year. While the 1995 Appeal provides the overall framework for activity, different scenarios are foreseen which will be reflected in the action plans being coordinated locally.
Security and Humanitarian needs will have to be regularly reassessed; a detailed schedule for joint operations has been agreed through the Coordination meetings. UNOMIL will provide a helicopter whenever required. An emergency mission was sent to Toddee district on 5 February 1995 following a sudden influx of displaced people and follow-up assistance is being organized. The situation in Buchanan is getting worse with a daily influx of 400 to 600 displaced people from Compounds 1 and 2. The UNDP Emergency Unit, other agencies and ECOMOG are investigating the possible construction of an additional camp.
Short-term concerns are likely to continue to overwhelm the Humanitarian program as the situation gets more confused. Resource mobilization is also likely to become more problematic. Further withdrawal by ECOMOG and UNOMIL may render an already difficult situation hopeless. Some of the rehabilitation activities implemented in 1994 will continue in 1995, as much as possible. UNDP and FAO have made more agricultural implements available and will promote job creation through the proposed National Volunteers program and TUP once encampment starts and the country is pacified.
On the capacity side, it is important to build up preparedness to handle the return of refugees and the reinsertion of the displaced population in the hope that the peace process can be revived. Increased support to UNOMIL's demobilization program will be needed during the encampment period for such things as literacy training, skill testing, orientation, and psychological and medical help. Uncertainty regarding which strategies to use on the military side (ECOMOG/UNOMIL) hampers substantive planning and preparation by Humanitarian agencies.
Q. What are the strengths of the coordination system put in place by the Humanitarian Coordinator? What are the weaknesses?
In what additional ways could the Coordination group strengthen and encourage the participation of national and local authorities?
How might the Coordination group more actively involve ECOMOG and UNOMIL so that humanitarian assistance strategies are planned in cooperation with military strategies?