Provincial Early Recovery Coordinator, UNDP
18 August 2012, 07:38
Dear Remo Fambri,
You have correctly highlighted that despite continuous efforts by the international response community and the resultant measure of progress, there still remains significant deficiency in the humanitarian coordination mechanism especially in the area of mainstreaming local communities , national NGOs and national authorities, the Principles of Partnership(POP) by Global Humanitarian Partnership, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership( HAP) and Good Humanitarian Donorship ( GHD) notwithstanding. Repeated recommendations in individual agencies 'and overall humanitarian response evaluations underlining this deficiency seem to have little or no effect on the state of humanitarian coordination.
The reasons are many and complex. They range from an inherent inclination on the part of international agencies including donor agencies to resist coordination despite commitments such as highlighted above, lack of patience with the slow moving wheal of an all-inclusive coordination, inadequate capacity of the local agencies and national authorities, dynamics and constraints of supply driven relief and a genuine urge to reach out to the victims of disaster and alleviate their suffering.
Sometime it is extremely difficult to coordinate with the national authorities mainly because the relevant government authorities are themselves not coordinated. In the South Asian context ( which is also relevant to other regions) when the Humanitarian Coordinator and OCHA coordinate with National Disaster Management Authority( NDMA) and streamline the coordination structure , they are, after a while, called by the economic affairs ministry for coordination meeting and shocked by asking as to why they being the focal ministry for all external assistance including humanitarian assistance have not been coordinated . Then there are also coordination demands from foreign and other ministries. Surprisingly, while one branch of the government does not talk to the other, each one expects the humanitarian coordination team and individual agencies to coordinate with it. In some cases the national, provincial and local governments assert that their mandate for disaster response supersedes that of the higher tiers of the government and therefore the coordination structure has to be tailored as they want it. Also the humanitarian agencies located at the provinces and districts have to extend instant relief to the affected communities at the request of provincial and local authorities while the NDMA prohibits any assistance unless it is first cleared with them. This is because they want to (rightly) ensure that any external assistance is solicited only when the disaster is beyond their own capacity. On top of all this is the overbearing attitude of the military, often the most resourceful and organized initial responders, who do not recognize any coordinating structure other than the one in which they call the shots. Even when an integrated coordination structure mainstreaming the government is put in place, the government co- chair often finds it difficult (barring exceptional cases) to balance the competing demands of his primary duties and the relief coordination responsibilities to the detriment of the latter. All this is obviously frustrating to OCHA and the Humanitarian Coordination Team (HCT) which feels obliged to provide instant succor to the affected communities and are at loss which part and branch to coordinate with. They are in a dilemma. If they go ahead on their own, they risk annoying the government which leads to friction,conflict and duplication and if they go with the dysfunctional or slow integrated coordination, they risk not being able to extend relief to the victims even when they can.
Having stated all this, bureaucratic and procedural hurdles by the national authorities give no cause to the humanitarian community to bypass national authorities... It is bound by its own principles and international obligations to let the government spearhead the relief and recovery effort. Not coordinating with government authorities results in duplication and sustainability problems.
To my mind, this problem can be solved through a standing HUMANITARIAN COORDINATION PROTOCOL at individual Country level ( for all disaster prone countries) where full details of coordination are clearly spelt out after thorough deliberations between the respective governments and OCHA. . The national disaster management authority should then disseminate that protocol to all the ministries and relevant departments including provincial governments. This should be followed by capacity building training of the government officials preferably by National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities with the support of the international agencies. Ideally such training and orientation courses should be periodically arranged where the national officials including national NGOs should be educated on the mandate and working of the Humanitarian agencies and the obligations of the national authorities.
Ex UN Area Coordinator and Recovery Coordinator