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Information note on emergency preparedness and response

Executive Committee Meetings

Information note on emergency preparedness and response

6 September 1995


1. It will be recalled that in 1991, following approval from the Executive Committee, UNHCR embarked on a number of initiatives to enhance its capacity to respond to emergencies. A range of emergency resources tailored to meet human resource, material and financial requirements in emergencies was developed, and consolidated into a coherent emergency response system. Since their establishment, these emergency response mechanisms have been used extensively and have been fully tested by the spate of emergencies that UNHCR has had to respond to in the last few years, including emergencies of unprecedented scale in Africa. With every deployment, lessons have been learnt and the summary refinements made. At the same time, efforts to identify gaps in the response capacity have continued. Recent experience has shown that the magnitude of some emergencies may require assistance beyond the normal range of emergency resources able to be established by UNHCR in these circumstances; recourse may have to be made, where appropriate, to the military and civil defence capacities of interested Governments. Consequently, action is now underway to develop with these Governments the specifications and modalities for rapid deployment of various self-contained "Service Packages" to meet needs in specific sectors.

2. This report provides information on the use made, thus far, of the emergency resources which have been developed. It also provides an update on the current initiative to complement this capacity through the development of Government Service Packages.


3. The human resource capacity which UNHCR has on stand-by for emergency response is drawn from a number of internal and external arrangements designed to make available, at short notice, Emergency Response Teams which, to the extent possible, are well balanced in terms of experience, functional profiles, numbers and ratio of internal and external staff. The leaders of these Emergency Response Teams are drawn from the pool of five Emergency Preparedness and Response Officers (EPROs) who are on stand-by at all times EC/1995/SC.2/CRP.28 for deployment. The core members of these teams are drawn from a rotating internal roster of UNHCR staff members located in various Field Offices and units within Headquarters. They have been trained and stand ready for immediate deployment during a given six-month period. Personnel trained in providing administrative support for emergency operations are also available from an internal stand-by pool. UNHCR internal staff are complemented by personnel, including technical experts, seconded from external agencies with whom UNHCR has stand-by arrangements. These include the United Nations Volunteers (UNVs), the Danish and Norwegian Refugee Councils, Rädda Barnen (Sweden), Red R (Australia) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

4. Between 1992 (when these new emergency response mechanisms became fully functional) and mid-1995, the EPROs have been deployed for a total of almost 2,200 person days, and the emergency administrative staff for about 2,450 person days. During the same period, about 50 UNHCR staff on the internal Emergency Response Team roster have been deployed and a total of 30 emergency response teams have been constituted and deployed to some 20 operations. These situations have necessitated the use of some 150 UNVs and 180 staff from other external agencies under the arrangements mentioned earlier. The stand-by arrangements which have been established both externally and internally for the rapid mobilization of human resources have allowed UNHCR to establish an early presence in emergencies which is crucial for the effective implementation of UNHCR's mandate in the protection of and assistance to refugees.


5. The availability of material resources on stand-by is also necessary for the staff deployed to emergencies to be immediately operational and to effect programme delivery in a timely manner. Thus, UNHCR has established, as another component of its emergency response system, a central emergency stockpile which guarantees immediate availability of two categories of items, namely support equipment and facilities for staff, and essential non-food items for refugee relief. This stockpile has enabled UNHCR to equip its emergency staff with vehicles, office equipment, survival field kits and telecommunications equipment. It also allows the staff deployed to provide emergency relief to refugees with the minimum of delay. The administrative staff deployed with the emergency teams have been able, with this material support, to establish an office and organize the administration of UNHCR's operation within days of arrival. On a number of occasions, UNHCR has been in a position to extend the use of its facilities to other United Nations and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners in an operation, and this has helped increase capacity and facilitated coordination. With regard to programme delivery, the value of the emergency stockpile can be illustrated by the fact that during the Goma emergency, UNHCR was able to deliver, within a ten-day period, sufficient non-food items for 250,000 Rwandan refugees.

6. UNHCR's central emergency stockpile has been used quite extensively since its establishment in late 1992. Between 1993 and mid-1995 some $ 20 million worth of relief items such as blankets, plastic sheeting and kitchen sets, and staff vehicles have been released from the stockpile. Similarly, extensive use has been made of the stocks of telecommunications equipment, computer equipment, and office and field kits. The central emergency stockpile is managed as a revolving stock. It is replenished by charging those operations to which stocks have been released; moreover, it is renewed by rotating stocked items to ongoing operations, where necessary. The size and content of the central emergency stockpile has been constantly reviewed and adjusted to meet current needs. At present, it has the capacity to meet the needs for essential non-food items for some 500,000 refugees.

7. In addition to the central emergency stockpile, UNHCR has also relied on cooperation with outside agencies to provide support for its staff in exceptionally difficult locations, and to enhance its logistical capacity for programme delivery. Since 1992, UNHCR has called on the stand-by arrangement with the Swedish Rescue Services Agency to establish base camps or staff facilities for emergency operations in infrastructurally limited locations in Kenya, Liberia and the United Republic of Tanzania. Based on these experiences, UNHCR decided to develop an emergency staff housing "package", to ensure an adequate standard for working and living conditions. This package has been ready for deployment since end-August 1995. UNHCR has also called on its stand-by arrangement with the Russian government agency EMERCOM to provide a 30-truck fleet with drivers to the Ngara (United Republic of Tanzania) operation, which had to operate under dire logistical conditions.

8. UNHCR has collaborated with a number of NGOs in the development of their emergency response capacity for programme implementation in specific sectors of assistance. Informal understandings have been reached with these agencies, so that UNHCR is kept informed of the level of their response capacity. This information has made it possible for UNHCR to identify rapidly potential operational partners with the capacity to implement specific sectors of programmes, when required. This has been found to be a more appropriate way of providing support in implementing capacity, rather than through formal stand-by arrangements. Such an approach gives the field the flexibility of addressing programme implementation needs with, in the first instance, implementing capacity that is already on the ground; moreover, it enables the field to tailor implementing arrangements according to its specific needs.


9. It is necessary to have immediate access to funds in order to mobilize the resources needed in emergency operations. UNHCR's Emergency Fund has continued to be an indispensable resource. In addition to assisting in the provision of the start-up funds for the establishment of central emergency stockpile and other emergency resources, it is the immediate availability of resources through the Emergency Fund that makes rapid response possible.


10. In the establishment of the various emergency resources, considerable attention has been paid to enhancing their effectiveness through training. Emergency training is being provided to various target audiences. At a more general level, Emergency Management Training Programmes are being provided to NGO partners, government counterparts and UNHCR staff in various regions, thrice yearly. Between 1992 and mid-1995, eleven courses have been conducted for countries which, for a member of reasons, have been susceptible to emergencies. These courses have benefited 101 NGO staff, 113 government representatives and 135 UNHCR staff. With the establishment of the stand-by staffing arrangements for emergency deployment, systematic training has been developed to prepare these staff for emergency operations. This has included a compulsory one-week training programme for all internal staff selected for the Emergency Response Team roster, which is renewed every six months, as well as briefing and training programmes for stand-by staff on the roster of external agencies with whom stand-by arrangements have been established. In addition, attention is being given to sharpening the management and leadership skills of the EPROs, who lead emergency teams during the initial phase of an emergency. An integral part of this training is the incorporation of lessons learnt from actual deployment; this has contributed towards institutional capacity-building. The experience from emergency operations is also being translated into management tools for the rest of the organization. To date, the tools which have been developed or are in the process of being developed are: a Checklist for Emergency Administrators, a Field Guide for Registration, Commodity Distribution Guidelines, Needs and Resource Assessment Guidelines, and Contingency Planning Guidelines.


11. The range of emergency resources which have been developed has allowed UNHCR, with the contributions of its implementing partners (particularly NGOs), to respond to the normal range of emergencies. The magnitude of some emergencies require another level of preparedness beyond the institutional capacity of UNHCR and its traditional partners. This was the case when 1 million refugees fled Rwanda to Zaire over a very short period of time. As a result, UNHCR had to seek exceptional assistance from Governments in the form of self-contained "Service Packages", utilizing military and civil defence capabilities to deliver assistance in key sectors. As a result of this generally positive experience, and at the request of the Executive Committee, UNHCR undertook a study to define and develop further the modalities for deployment of such self-contained assistance packages in future major emergencies. An informal consultation convened by UNHCR considered this study on 3 April 1995. A follow-up meeting was convened on 13 June 1995 with some 20 Governments that had expressed interest in cooperating with UNHCR on the development of the Government Service Package concept. These Governments were invited to identify specific service packages in which they had an interest, and to participate, as necessary, in technical consultations with UNHCR to finalize the specification of these packages. To date, six Governments have declared an interest in specific packages. In addition to agreement on the technical specifications, the parameters and procedures for mobilization of the service packages will need to be established with each potential service package provider. In this endeavour, UNHCR is coordinating closely with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA). (Details of this coordination and the UNHCR approach to service packages are provided in the Background Note presented to the Informal Consultation on Service Packages on 13 June 1995).


12. In establishing its mechanisms for emergency response, UNHCR has paid particular attention to ensuring cost effectiveness. Preparedness measures are costly. It is therefore important that the level of stand-by capacities established matches the likely level of demand. Moreover, it is also only through deployment experience that the stand-by resources established can be continuously refined and made more effective. For these reasons, UNHCR has been cautious in expanding the number of stand-by arrangements, except for obvious gaps which have been identified. With the level of preparedness which has been established institutionally, now being complemented by the Government Service Packages, the emphasis in the near future will be on improvement of established measures rather than on creating new ones. Another area of future activity is that of contingency planning. UNHCR intends to give greater emphasis to specific preparedness measures at the country level, in particular through joint contingency planning in country with operational partners, including provision for the integration of local resources into the planned response mechanisms.