Relief coordinating body seeks $ 61 million

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima today appealed to donors for just over $61 million to enable the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to finance its activities throughout the world.

“ More than ever, OCHA’s role as coordinator of humanitarian assistance efforts is critical to the success of emergency response,” Oshima, who is also Emergency Relief Coordinator, said.

Out of a total of US$ 70 million only US$ 9 million or 12 percent is covered by the regular UN budget. The remaining funds need to be raised from donor contributions, OCHA said.

OCHA has doubled its field presence in five years to 34 countries, reflecting the massive increase in conflicts and natural disasters. In 2002, OCHA plans to establish regional support offices for Central and East Africa and West Africa as well as strengthen disaster response capacity in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

But OCHA’s field presence is not static, according to Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain, and it does not hesitate to close down field offices when appropriate.

“We are in the business of getting out of the humanitarian assistance field to pave the way for transitions to reconstruction and development,” Mountain told donors in Geneva today. “In this vein, we closed our office in Rwanda and Congo Brazaville. He added that the office, which helped to coordinate response to the drought in the Horn of Africa, “was also closed as the mandate ended.”

One of the OCHA’s priority areas is rapid and effective response to emergencies and OCHA does now have some staff ready to deploy to disaster sites “at a moment’s notice,” according to Mountain.

OCHA’s response to the recent eruption of Mount Nyirangongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), an area plagued by armed conflict, was cited by Mountain as an example of its institutional strength.

“Within 72 hours of the event [volcanic eruption], thanks to redeployments from headquarters and country offices, OCHA had a total of 14 staff on the ground,” Mountain said.

During 2001 OCHA responded to a total of 72 natural disasters, including floods, drought, oil spills, earthquakes, cold waves, volcanoes and hurricanes.

The Chief of OCHA’s Advocacy, External Relations and Information Management Branch, Opia Kumah, said that he wanted to boost OCHA’s advocacy initiatives at field level to ensure that the appropriate media coverage is received.

“We want to be on the cutting edge in providing advocacy support to natural disaster response,” Kumah said.

Strengthened capacity for information management and communication technology is another priority area, according to OCHA managers.

“ We are in the process of finalising an internal accounting system… to provide donors with more timely financial reports in the future,” OCHA New York Director Ed Tsui said.

Policy development is also outlined as a key area. This includes integrating the protection of civilians into the work of the UN, developing an agreed methodology for reviewing the humanitarian impact of sanctions, defining how humanitarian and relief actions contribute to the processes of conflict prevention and peace-building, providing better support in the management of natural disasters and conducting lessons learned exercises.

“Two immediate exercises are planned to review our involvement in and response to Afghanistan and [the volcanic eruption in] Goma,” Tsui said.