Education in emergency programme supported by UNICEF at Jamalpur. Students performing an earthquake safety drill during the class. 2020, Jamalpur, Bangaldesh. Photo: UNICEF/Parvez Ahmad
1. Enhancing Emergency Preparedness
Being prepared to respond quickly, appropriately and effectively to an emergency is a core responsibility of humanitarian leadership. The UN Resident Coordinator (RC) plays a key role in coordinating inter-agency readiness to respond to potential crises in support of national preparedness efforts. The aim, ultimately, is to anticipate – not wait for – humanitarian crises.
Key roles of the RC and HC
Emergency Response Preparedness (ERP) Approach
The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) adopted the ERP approach in 2015 as the agreed method to ensure readiness to respond to potential crises that require coordinated action from the humanitarian community in support of national response. The aim is to increase the speed, volume, predictability and effectiveness of aid delivered after the onset of a crisis.
The ERP provides an internationally agreed framework that allows country teams to analyse and monitor risks, take actions to enhance preparedness, and flag gaps in capacity to the regional and global levels so that the right support can be mobilized. Heightened readiness will increase the volume and speed of aid in the crucial first weeks of an emergency. It can also increase the value for money of humanitarian action by ensuring that scarce resources are directed towards the most urgent needs and reach people in time.
At the global level, IASC members have endorsed the ERP and are committed to being adequately prepared to respond to emergencies. This accountability covers their specific agency roles and their cluster lead roles, where these exist.
In countries where IASC humanitarian coordination structures are in place, the RC, working with the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) and country-level clusters/sectors, should lead the ERP process. S/he is also responsible for ensuring that the response readiness efforts of relevant organizations are inclusive and coordinated.
In countries where IASC humanitarian coordination structures are not in place, the RC should work with the UN country team and national authorities to implement the ERP. The RC should encourage the input and participation of IFRC and NGOs, including women’s and youth-led organizations active in country, to ensure that their humanitarian capacities and expertise are recognized and that they can contribute fully. In-country coordination mechanisms may need to be expanded for this purpose.
In refugee situations, UNHCR, in accordance with its responsibilities, will lead the refugee preparedness and response in close coordination with WHO, the RC/HCT, Governments and other actors. In countries covered by refugee and migrant response plans, the existing inter-agency platform will continue. The Joint UNHCR-OCHA Note on Mixed Settings66 remains applicable, as it lays out the respective roles and responsibilities of the RC and the UNHCR Representative as well as the practical interaction of the IASC’s and UNHCR’s refugee coordination arrangements, to ensure that coordination is streamlined, complementary and mutually reinforcing.
Joint UNHCR-OCHA Note on Mixed Settings, OCHA/UNHCR, 24 April 2014.
The ERP in practice
The ERP approach is designed to ensure that the humanitarian community in a given country has a shared and up-to-date understanding of risks, and a joint plan for enhancing preparedness. The ERP approach is intended to be:
67 Including health policies on the COVID-19 response.
68 Taking into consideration limited movement and interaction given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ERP approach has four main components:
The ERP approach was designed to be flexible and practical, with a focus on outcomes rather than process. Implementation of the ERP will therefore differ in each country. The approach is considered to be implemented when the following are achieved:
Links with anticipatory action
The ERP approach and anticipatory action are very much two sides of the same coin. In simple terms, the ERP’s primary focus is on identifying the most appropriate response activities for a given crisis and ensuring that operational readiness is in place to implement these activities, whereas the focus of anticipatory action is on identifying the most appropriate activities that can mitigate against the potential impacts of a crisis, and ensuring that operational readiness is in place to implement these activities. At the country level, the process for developing both response readiness and anticipatory action is very similar and complementary. Anticipatory action is being included as a standard element of the ERP approach going forward – something that has been welcomed by partners and through independent research.69
69 A key recommendation in ODI’s April 2019 paper Anticipatory humanitarian action: what role for the CERF? was to build on the success of the ERP approach.
The role of national Governments in the ERP
The responsibility to be ready to respond to humanitarian emergencies rests primarily with national Governments. The ERP is intended to complement national preparedness efforts and guide the work of humanitarian organizations to respond if and when national capacity is lacking. National institutions and local organizations, including women’s groups, should be included in the ERP process as much as possible.
Links with the Humanitarian Programme Cycle and Humanitarian-Development Collaboration
The ERP approach is an important component of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle (HPC). The analysis and monitoring of risks should be part of the inter-agency Humanitarian Needs Overview and related response plans. That said, the ERP approach is first and foremost an operational tool to ensure that country teams have concrete systems in place to respond to needs quickly as they arise.
See section B.4 for details on the Humanitarian Programme Cycle.
Humanitarian response readiness provides a key operational link between humanitarian and development partners at the country level. This link is twofold: firstly, faster and more effective response reduces human suffering, protects hard-won development gains and enhances resilience; secondly, the ERP focuses on risk and, as such, provides an important platform for humanitarian and development partners to engage in analysis of not only the humanitarian response readiness requirements, but also the long-term prevention-and-mitigation activities for addressing the identified risks. In countries that do not have a Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), the ERP approach is one of the main platforms for enhancing collaboration with development actors.
Index for Risk Management (INFORM)
INFORM is a global, open-source risk assessment tool for humanitarian crises and disasters. It is a collaboration of partners led by the IASC Reference Group on Risk, Early Warning and Preparedness and the European Commission. INFORM develops methodologies and tools for use at the global level and also supports their application at subnational level. The INFORM model is based on risk concepts published in scientific literature and envisages three dimensions of risk: hazards and exposure, vulnerability and lack of coping capacity.
INFORM is developing a suite of quantitative, analytical products to support decision-making at different stages of the disaster management cycle – specifically prevention, preparedness and response.
Today, we can predict with growing confidence the occurrence and humanitarian impact of shocks such as extreme climatic events and communicable disease outbreaks. In these cases, neither the shock nor the way a crisis will unfold should surprise us. Data can facilitate the decision to trigger the release of pre-arranged finance for pre-agreed interventions that mitigate the impact of such shocks before they happen. By taking this anticipatory approach – using evidence of risk instead of suffering – we can better protect and save more lives, make the money go farther and protect hard-won development gains. Above all, an anticipatory approach is more dignified.
Anticipatory action is taken ahead of a high-risk and high-probability shock, and before humanitarian needs manifest themselves, to mitigate the predicted humanitarian impact. An anticipatory action framework combines three components:
When the selected forecast exceeds an agreed threshold – say a given probability or indicator of severity – the default decision will be to release pre-arranged finance for the implementation of ‘pre-agreed’ actions to minimize delay and mitigate the impact of the predicted shock.
What does anticipatory action look like?