Select Committee on Public Accounts First Report

The Co-ordination of Humanitarian Aid

16. Against the background of the Department's successful response to the tsunami disaster we asked them to identify what went well, and what could be improved for the future. The Department told us that evaluations of the tsunami emergency had emphasised the importance of having the right structures, the right systems and the right skills in place. They considered that while individual UN agencies, such as the World Health Organisation, World Food Programme and UNICEF, had performed well in responding to the tsunami, others had not and there was a need for the UN system to improve co-ordination during emergencies. To assist co-ordination, the Department had seconded a number of experienced staff to the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) during the tsunami emergency, and since then OCHA had recruited an additional 20 permanent staff for this work.

17. Looked at from the perspective of a recipient government, such as Sri Lanka or Indonesia, the skills of the different aid providers that descend on a country following a disaster, such as the UN agencies, the European Union, NGOs, official bodies and the Red Cross, need to be properly co-ordinated. Otherwise there are high transaction costs and administration costs for the recipient country. The Department consider that OCHA should have the clear mandate for the co-ordination of humanitarian aid across the UN and other aid providers, requiring aid providers to relinquish an element of their independence to OCHA.

18. Even before the tsunami emergency the Department had developed an eight-point plan for UN humanitarian aid reform to address the weaknesses that they had identified in the UN system, including those weaknesses which became apparent during the tsunami disaster. The eight points are identified in Figure 4.

Source: DFID Evidence[5]

19. Through their eight-point plan the Department have sought to encourage other aid donors to improve and reform the humanitarian aid system. Implementing the reform programme will require the agreement of the international community, and already progress has being made in some areas, particularly with the development of a UN Response Fund, which now stands at US$ 260 million. In addition, the UK is encouraging reforms by increasingly linking the award of grants to progress in implementing reform. However, the Department recognise that it might take two or three years to complete the reform process. Until then the Department need to continue working with the international community to raise awareness of their proposals for reform, and so to influence the implementation of beneficial change.

5   Ev 16-18 Back

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