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close this bookDisaster Preparedness - 2nd Edition (DHA/UNDRO - DMTP - UNDP, 1994, 66 p.)
close this folderPART 2 - International collaboration for preparedness
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe United Nations system
View the documentThe U.N. at headquarters level
View the documentThe U.N. at field level
View the documentThe UNDP in the field
View the documentU.N. agencies and development projects
View the documentSUMMARY


In this part of the module you will learn:

· three distinct roles for the U.N. system
· three obstacles to disaster preparedness at the national level
· four areas in which U.N. agencies can assist in developing disaster preparedness plans
· four roles of inter-agency collaboration at the field level through a UN DMT
· four ways UNDP can promote preparedness activities

Disaster preparedness plans and their implementation are the responsibility of the government. The United Nations can facilitate and enhance government efforts, but the government must formally initiate and control the disaster preparedness and response processes.

In spite of government primacy in the realm of disaster preparedness, most emergency situations of significant magnitude in the developing world require some form of collaborative assistance from the international community. This part of the module focuses on ways the international community can support national government disaster preparedness activities. It also analyzes how the United Nations system can facilitate these activities.

The terms “international community” and “international system” are largely abstractions.

The terms “international community” and “international system” are largely abstractions. There are few manifestations of community or system when dealing with the various nations, international governmental and nongovernmental organizations that inhabit the globe. When discussing aspects of international involvement in disaster management, you will usually be dealing with a random assortment of governmental, non-governmental and international institutions that form part of an ad hoc network.

This perspective of the international community includes three obstacles that directly affect disaster preparedness at the country level. The first is that support for national disaster preparedness efforts by those who might be most able to assist, such as bilateral donors, is by no means a certainty. Their assistance is not guaranteed. Therefore, it is important from the outset to establish the type of support a government’s disaster preparedness initiative might receive. This will entail not only establishing an effective means of interesting such donors in these activities, but also effective means to keep them interested.

Secondly, there are many reasons why governments are wary of including “outsiders” in the formulation of a disaster strategy or plan. One clear reason is that the planning process itself, if undertaken openly, exposes many of the inherent weaknesses of government perhaps resulting in embarrassing explanations about the causes of disaster vulnerabilities. These are insights that few governments wish to have paraded before the world. Yet, once a government accepts the rationale for a sound disaster preparedness plan, it will have to accept that the success of that plan may depend upon expertise, resources and technical assistance that may depend to some degree upon international contributions.

Finally, on some occasions, the inability of the United Nations “family” to work together towards a common country objective has proven disappointing. However, since much of the ability of U.N. agencies familiar with disaster management will be needed in the disaster preparedness formulation process, there exists an opportunity to advance effective collaboration.

Q. Consider an example of preparedness planning in your region involving collaboration by more than three international entities. Describe the primary role of three such organizations.

A. ___________________________________________________________



Answers might include specific role descriptions of U.N. agencies, NGOs or bilateral donors.

Q. List three obstacles related to the ad hoc structure of the international relief system which directly affect disaster preparedness at the country level.




Support for national disaster preparedness efforts is not guaranteed; national governments may be wary of including “outsiders” in their planning processes; and U.N. agency collaboration may be less than ideal.

The United Nations system

The role of the United Nations in disaster management is rapidly changing. A variety of arrangements need to be agreed upon amongst the agencies themselves if these changes are to lead to more effective assistance to disaster-afflicted peoples. There are already various established agency roles and functions in the realm of disaster management.

The following international agencies have functions that support the practical implementation of disaster preparedness plans.


planting assessments, crop forecast assessments and food information early warning system


disaster-to-development projects, technical assistance for disaster preparedness plans and strategies, and in-country resident coordinator of U.N. system


information coordination, disaster assessments, mitigation and disaster preparedness planning


vaccination programs and supplementary feeding programing in times of emergencies for vulnerable groups and water and shelter programs


emergency planning for refugee influxes


relief food needs assessments and food or non-food logistics


technical assistance on epidemiological matters in times of emergencies and health preparedness


tropical storm meteorological information

Each of the above have specialist technical literature for particular fields of competence. UNDP, WFP, UNICEF and UNHCR have excellent manuals on disaster preparedness and management that should be incorporated into preparedness planning exercises. DHA-Geneva has a publication series on disaster prevention and mitigation that is another valuable resource.

As a means to strengthen the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance, the Secretary-General has created a high level post of Emergency Relief Coordinator. This post will ensure better preparation for, as well as rapid and coherent response to natural disasters and other emergencies. Responsibilities of the Emergency Relief Coordinator include consolidated appeals, a register of standby capacities and a central emergency revolving fund. This US $50 million fund provides a cash-flow mechanism to ensure the rapid and coordinated response of the organizations of the U.N. system. Advances to operational organizations of the system can be made with the understanding that they will reimburse the fund.

The U.N. at headquarters level

In developing national disaster preparedness plans, there are at least four areas in which U.N. agencies can be of immediate assistance.

Headquarters support for disaster preparedness initiatives

It is important for agencies at the field level to know that disaster preparedness initiatives have the support of their respective headquarters. Beyond the intangible issue of moral support is the more practical matter of establishing the initiative as a recognized priority at the field level.

Short-term consultancies, study tours and exchange of experts

Agencies at headquarters level should have better insight as to which experts might be available to support field level efforts, in both the planning and implementation stages. Agencies should compile rosters of available experts. These rosters should be exchanged with other agencies. Agencies should review hiring procedures to ensure the rapid fielding of experts.

Wherever possible, agency workers should encourage government officials to discuss disaster preparedness measures at headquarters levels. These workers should take study tours to countries that have well established disaster preparedness plans. Such exchanges should be worked out between headquarters and the field office.

Emergency funding

More flexible systems will have to be developed among some of the agencies to improve the use of field office resources in times of emergencies, and to ensure additional resources for emergencies from headquarters. Such flexibility should be recognized as part of the anticipated resource base in the national disaster preparedness plan.

Headquarters procedures and scheduling

Through their field offices, agencies will have to make sure that the proposed disaster preparedness plan incorporates headquarters procedures and the scheduling necessary for an agency to respond effectively to various crisis scenarios.

The U.N. at field level

At the field level, inter-agency collaboration can have a positive impact on devising and implementing a disaster preparedness plan. Four components of such collaboration are essential.

An interagency team

Each agency should designate an individual to become part of an inter-agency “Disaster Management Team” [UN DMT]. Because agencies increasingly have had field expertise in disaster management, the designated official would hopefully be an individual with such expertise. For example, where UNHCR is involved in relief management for refugees, a UNHCR representative should be invited to become a member of the UN DMT.

The UN DMT should be established as a permanent, functioning inter-agency body at the field level. Each member agency should have defined sectoral responsibilities. The chair of the DMT should be the Resident Coordinator. If agreed among the members of the DMT, the DMT’s secretariat should be under the responsibility of UNDP’s designated DMT participant, the “Disaster Focal Point.”

UN DMT meetings should be held at regularly-scheduled intervals. The frequency of meetings might be adjusted in times of known potential threats, such as during rainy seasons.

Purpose of the DMT

The DMT should be a forum in which information is exchanged on a variety of matters. Long-term risk reduction and preparedness arrangements within the country should be reviewed. Development projects that would have some direct or indirect impact upon disaster prevention or preparedness should be part of this review.

Reviews of preparedness arrangements within the U.N. should include: mechanisms for the coordination of U.N. emergency assistance; inputs and operations between the government, bilateral donors and NGOs; location of personnel in the field when there is an immediate threat; and lists of resources available for specialized emergency activities.

UN DMT members should discuss the analysis and interpretation of data derived from early warning systems, both from within the country and from outside. They should also review information requirements needed for reporting formats, such as U.N. situation reports, to be disseminated either on preparedness or on relief activities.

The UN DMT as a focal point

The UN DMT should serve as the focal point for U.N. assistance in the preparation of national disaster preparedness plans. In collaboration with government counterparts, the DMT should review and comment upon proposals at their various stages. Representatives of the DMT should be on hand for expert advice during the policy formulation process. Where possible, these representatives should seek resources from individual agencies to bolster technical assistance and provide additional expertise.

The UN DMT and its region

The DMT should also look at disaster preparedness in a regional context. The activities of a neighboring nation may directly affect those of another. Early warnings on locust infestation, for example, is but one practical issue in which regional cooperation should be incorporated into a disaster preparedness plan. While governments will know regional and international organizations relevant to their interests, the DMT might be useful in demonstrating specific ways that such organizations might be used to enhance particular disaster preparedness programs.

The UNDP in the field

UNDP’s Resident Representative (ResRep), as U.N. Resident Coordinator at the country level and chair of the UN DMT, has a central role to play in the field of disaster preparedness. As Resident Coordinator, this person will be in a position to promote linkages between disaster preparedness initiatives and development activities. He or she will be able to use this position to promote disaster preparedness planning at senior government levels. The effectiveness of the UN DMT depends upon the leadership ability of the Resident Coordinator.

To assist the disaster preparedness planning and implementation process, the Resident Coordinator, in close collaboration with sister agencies, will have to ensure that the UN DMT is established, and that regular meetings are organized in order to cover the types of issues listed above. The Resident Coordinator must also ensure that a secretariat is established for the UN DMT, with proper facilities and staffing to enable the general functioning of the secretariat. Key functions in this regard will include the collection and dissemination of information, reports and studies. The secretariat should serve as a focal point within the U.N. system for essential data on:

· National policies regarding acceptance and use of international assistance, including external teams or personnel; policies concerning the use of communications equipment; and policies concerning specific types of foods and medicines.

· Government structures, including relevant names, telephones/fax/telex numbers of key personnel within central, regional, and local authorities.

· Names and telephone/fax/telex numbers of institutions outside the country that could be of assistance in times of crises.

· Baseline data on each distinct disaster prone area, which should be part of the ongoing process for vulnerability assessments.

In close collaboration with the government and sister agencies, UNDP at the field level should review with the government the purpose and prospects for a disaster preparedness plan. If such a plan is already in place, UNDP should review with the government ways that such a plan might be enhanced. UNDP should also discuss with the government ways to sensitize its authorities at local, regional and central levels to the needs of disaster preparedness. Finally, UNDP should promote specific projects concerning disaster preparedness and disaster preparedness planning. There are a range of activities that such projects might include, such as:

· Disaster preparedness planning projects, intended to launch the entire process of disaster preparedness. Features of such a project might include aspects of sensitization, such as overseas study tours and conferences, technical assistance (including consultants who might be able to assist in the planning process), and workshops to enable formulation of the proposed plan.

· Essential studies as part of an overall plan, such as a transport capacity study or vulnerability assessments.

· Institution-building projects, designed to strengthen already existing disaster preparedness focal points or to develop more effective early warning systems.

· Training projects that develop appropriate disaster planning courses within country. These projects might enable key personnel to take advantage of overseas courses. They might be designed for vulnerable communities. The range and importance of training measures must never be overlooked.

U.N. agencies and development projects

An essential role for U.N. agencies should be to review those projects that are within the Country Program that might be linked with disaster preparedness planning. Present development projects should be reviewed in an effort to determine how these projects might be effectively linked to preparedness measures. Conversely, U.N. agency staff should consider how preparedness measures might enhance the development process. Through the UN DMT, other agencies might review their own projects along similar lines.6

The appropriate mechanism for bilateral liaison will have to depend upon the conditions within each country.

Well-established working relations with government authorities are essential if U.N. agencies are to provide effective assistance in the disaster preparedness planning process. The relations which U.N. agencies have with the non-governmental and bilateral communities are equally important. UNDP, through the UN DMT, should seek wherever feasible and politic to support the NGO community. This may involve attending meetings when invited to discuss initiatives being undertaken by the U.N. system. If acceptable to sister agencies and the NGOs, other members of the U.N. system should attend such meetings to give briefings on their respective activities.

U.N. agencies should establish means to promote disaster preparedness activities proposed for the NGO community, such as workshops at training sites. If acceptable to government and NGOs, U.N. agencies should make every effort to incorporate the roles of NGOs into the formal structure of national disaster preparedness planning and implementation. Finally, U.N. agencies should ensure that the bilateral community is kept apprised of events in the disaster preparedness planning process. Regular meetings with donors are one means of establishing sound working relations. However, whether such meetings should be held under the auspices of the U.N. is an issue that may prove sensitive to the government as well as to bilateral donors. The appropriate mechanism for bilateral liaison will have to depend upon the conditions within each country.

6 See also the Disaster Management Training Programme module titled Disasters and Development.

While effective means for bilateral consultation are generally important in light of the roles that bilateral donors play in disaster relief, it is important to keep in mind that:

· Effective measures for bilateral involvement expedite obtaining resources for disaster preparedness planning and implementation.

· In particularly disaster-prone countries, donor governments have occasionally provided a fund for the Resident Coordinator to use for disaster preparedness and relief purposes. This fund has been used at the discretion of the Resident Coordinator, based upon the monitoring authority of bilateral ambassadors.

Information dissemination is vitally important during a relief operation and only slightly less so in the disaster planning process period. It should be an essential responsibility of UNDP, in conjunction with the DMT, to devise appropriate public information formats. These formats should serve to provide a regular flow of information to the international community (including U.N. agencies at headquarters levels and capitals of key bilateral donors) as well as members of the international community in-country and relevant government departments.

Information on relief assessments or preparedness measures, intended to be of benefit to the nation, can be regarded as highly sensitive. This is true not only for the government but also for sister agencies and NGOs. You must therefore think carefully about the contents of your various outputs. Two common types of information formats include situation reports (“Sitreps”) and newsletters.

Sitreps have become the standard source of information on emergency activities throughout the U.N. system. There is no rigid format for these reports. The message should include key activities related to preparedness, relief and needs assessments, noting requirements fulfilled and unfulfilled. The frequency of sending in Sitreps normally depends upon the level of crisis at hand.

If time allows, newsletters covering disaster preparedness activities serve to keep a wider community informed about events being undertaken in the field. Newsletters normally serve more as a promotional vehicle and do not cover issues that might be deemed sensitive. The intervals at which newsletters are published depends upon the amount of time at hand in the UN DMT secretariat and the number of activities that the DMT considers worth publicizing.


Most emergency situations of significant magnitude in the developing world require some form of collaborative assistance from the international community. The United Nations system can facilitate coordination of international community efforts which seek to support national government disaster preparedness activities. Through a variety of agencies at the headquarters level, the U.N. system can be of immediate assistance by: supporting disaster preparedness initiatives; providing short-term consultancies, study tours and exchange experts; generating emergency funding support; and mobilizing field office resources.

At the field level, U.N. inter-agency collaborative efforts may be coordinated efficiently and effectively through a designated “Disaster Management Team” (DMT). As a focal point for U.N. assistance the U.N. DMT can serve as a forum in which information is exchanged on a variety of matters, including long-term risk reduction and preparedness arrangements, review and upgrading of preparedness plans, the international network of support, and effective linkage with on-going development efforts.