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close this book: Meeting the Humanitarian Challenge - UNV's Work Between Conflict and Development (United Nations Volunteers, 44 p.)
close sub-section: Introduction
View the documentGlobal context and role of the United Nations system
View the documentBackground to UNV involvement in humanitarian assistance
View the documentBasic objective of UNVs humanitarian relief
View the documentProgress in implementation of the approach
View the documentFeatures of UNV humanitarian assistance
View the documentRange of services - ways in which UNV specialists make a difference

Background to UNV involvement in humanitarian assistance

Set up by the UN General Assembly in 1970, UNV is administered by UN Development Programme (UNDP). It serves as an operational partner in developmental, humanitarian and peace operations at the request of any UN member state or UN system agency. UN Volunteer specialists comprise more than 100 nationalities. They have the relevant academic qualifications or a proven track record in community-based action. All have working experience - usually some ten years. Their average age is 39. They serve in 120 developing countries, three quarters of them in those designated as Least Developed.

In the last decade, UNV specialists have served extensively with UN agencies in the provision of humanitarian assistance. Since 1992 over 1,500 UNV specialists have worked in the areas of emergency relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation, and disaster preparedness.

In 1984, the UNDP Governing Council (84/19) approved the use of UNDP's Special Programme Resources for African regional drought relief assistance through the use of UNVs. Later, Governing Council decision 85/22 urged the greater use of UNVs for emergency relief, drawing attention to UNV's flexibility, speed, and cost-effectiveness. The Maseru Declaration of 1986 at UNV's Second Inter-Governmental Meeting, called for UNV's capability in assisting in emergency situations to be institutionalised, developing its roster with specially-suited candidates.

The Kathmandu Declaration of 1991 at UNV's Third Inter-Governmental Meeting noted the importance for UNV relief activities of working through the UN Agencies and other international organisations specialised in this field. It placed special emphasis on UNV's comparative advantage in rehabilitation and disaster preparedness, particularly at community level.

In 1990-1991, UNV was faced with an upsurge in urgent requests from UN agencies rapidly to provide UNV specialists for humanitarian relief work. During 1991, UNVs served in Angola, setting up peace corridors for food aid; in Liberia and the Horn of Africa; and in Afghanistan, where UNVs formed the main field component of UN system efforts for relief and rehabilitation. From the initial phase of the Gulf emergency, UNV specialists provided field support to the key UN agencies involved in Iraq and neighbouring countries.

As a result of this rapid expansion, and in an effort to place its response on a more solid footing, UNV established a Humanitarian Relief Unit (HRU) in its Geneva headquarters towards the end of 1991, for rapid recruitment of short-term experienced specialists in fields where needs are most acute in times of humanitarian crisis.

Encouraged also by UNDP Governing Council decisions 90/22 and 90/38 in regard to working with refugees, displacees, and returnees, UNV's humanitarian relief approach is part of UN system-wide efforts to strengthen emergency response. This is in line with General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991, which called for special rosters of stand-by personnel, and also called for UN agencies' governing bodies to examine reserve and other contingency funding arrangements for stand-by capacity.

Start-up emergency funds for UNV enable earlier fielding of the operational, logistical, and technical personnel needed by UN partner agencies to reach the affected populations efficiently and cost-effectively. UNV represents a small investment with a disproportionately large return in terms of satisfaction of basic human needs for millions of people on the margin.

Since 1992 over 1,500 UNV specialists have worked in the areas of emergency relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation, and disaster preparedness