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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder7. Coordination and Site Level Organization
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentCoordination
View the documentOrganization at the Site Level
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Organization at the Site Level


26. The framework for the organization and coordinating mechanisms at the site level are likely to reflect broadly those established centrally. However, there is one fundamental difference between the site and central levels: at the site level the refugees themselves should play a major role.

The organization of the refugee community must support and enhance their own abilities to provide for themselves.

27. A clear understanding of the aims and objectives of the emergency operation and proper coordination are even more important at the site level than centrally, for it is here that failures and misunderstandings will directly affect the refugees.

Of particular importance will be the adoption of common standards when a number of organizations are providing similar assistance.

Regular meetings of those concerned are essential. There should be an overall coordinating mechanism chaired by the government authority, UNHCR Field Officer, and/or an operational partner, and this mechanism may be complemented by sectoral committees.

28. Certain activities are interdependent or have a common component and will need particularly close coordination at site level. For example, environmental sanitation measures must be closely coordinated with health services, and the home visiting component of health care with feeding programmes and community services.

29. A rapid changeover of outside personnel can create major problems for site level coordination, though some specialists may obviously be required for short periods. The importance of continuity is proportional to the closeness of contact with the refugees. Operational partners at the site should have a standard orientation and briefing procedure to ensure continuity of action and policy despite changes in personnel.

Community Organization

30. The importance of preserving and promoting a sense of community is stressed in chapters 10 and 12 on community services and site planning. The approach to thinking about and understanding site and community organization should be from the smallest unit - the family - upwards, rather than imposed from the largest unit downwards, which would be unlikely to reflect natural or existing community structures and concerns.

31. The basic planning unit for site organization and management is likely therefore to be the family, subject to traditional social patterns, and distinctive features of the population (e.g. numbers of separated minors, adolescent and women headed households). Larger units for organizational and representational purposes will again follow the community structure. For example, the next level up is likely to be community units of about 80 to 100 people, grouped according to living arrangements, followed by groups of communities of about 1,000 people. Different settlement services are decentralized to these different levels - e.g. water and latrines at household level, and education and health facilities at community and larger levels. The physical layout of the site will have a major influence on social organization.

Generally, the smaller the Settlement the better - the overriding aim should be to avoid high density, large camps.

Community Involvement

32. The refugees must be involved in planning measures to meet their needs and in implementing those measures. The way the community is organized can help ensure that the refugees' specific skills are made use of and that the personnel for services at the site will come from the refugees.

33. There are three levels to the involvement of refugees. The first is in the overall planning and organization, for example the determination of what is the best and culturally most appropriate solution to a problem, given the constraints of the situation. This level requires that the refugees have a social organization within their community that is properly representative. As the previous social structures may have been severely disrupted, this may take time to redevelop but will be important to the success of the emergency operation and for the future of the refugees. Meanwhile, urgent action to meet evident needs must of course be taken.

34. The second level of involvement is in the practical use of the refugees' skills and resources wherever possible for the implementation of the operation. The refugees themselves should run their own community to the extent possible. Where suitably qualified or experienced refugees exist, such as nurses, teachers and traditional health workers, they must obviously be used. Where they do not, outside assistance should ensure that refugees are trained to take over from those who are temporarily filling the gap. Other services include feeding programmes, sanitation, (maintenance and cleaning of latrines, drainage, garbage disposal, vector control, etc.) construction (shelters and communal buildings) education, tracing and general administration. Note that women and adolescents often have the necessary skills but lack the confidence or language skills to come forward - an outreach programme to identify them might be necessary.

35. At the same time, other traditional skills - for example in construction or well-digging -should be harnessed. While specific measures to develop self-reliance will vary with each situation, their aim should always be to avoid or reduce the refugees' dependence on outside assistance. The more successful measures are generally those based on methods and practices familiar to the refugees.

36. The third level is the education of the community on life in their new situation, which may be markedly different from their previous experience. Public health education in such matters as the importance of hygiene in crowded conditions, mother and child care and the use of unfamiliar latrines is an example. As another example, if unfamiliar foods or preparation methods have to be used, immediate practical instruction is essential. Education and guidance of this sort are best given by the refugees themselves (including women and youth), with outside assistance.

Refugee Representation

37. Refugee settlements are not, typically, simple replicas of former community life, and large numbers of refugees may be living temporarily outside their traditional community leadership structures. However, in nearly every emergency, some refugee leaders, spokespersons, or respected elders will be present. It will be necessary to define with the community the method of choosing leaders to ensure fair representation and proper participation in both the planning and implementation of the emergency programme. The more the settlement differs from former community life, the more important this action is likely to be to the success of the programme.

However, be aware that some new power structures might emerge, for example through force, and may exercise de facto control over the population, but may not be representative.

38. The system of refugee representation should:

i. Be truly representative of the different interests and sectors of the community, and of both men and women;

ii. Include various levels of representatives and leaders to ensure adequate representation and access for individual refugees;

iii. Avoid unconscious bias, for example on the basis of language. Bear in mind that there is no reason why a refugee should be representative of the community simply because he or she has a common language with those providing outside assistance;

iv. Be based on traditional leadership systems as much as possible but provided these allow proper representation (for example, if the traditional leadership system excludes women, there should nevertheless be women representatives);

v. Be consistent with the physical divisions in the layout of the site.