After lunch, our Delegation had the pleasure to meet Mr. Oliver Ulich who works for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The main task of OCHA is to create a coordination structure in order to provide humanitarian assistance in emergency situations. Normally, the national authorities organize emergency relief themselves. Only in cases where they are incapable to handle the situation, the United Nations offers its support.
Mr. Ulich pointed out that the provision of humanitarian assistance is often fairly chaotic, as various sub-organizations of the United Nations and many Non- Governmental Organizations are involved. It is the task of OCHA to create a coordination structure and to identify those agencies which have the best ability to deal with the situation.
OCHA has no regular budget. All contributions given to it are voluntary donations. Hence, for every emergency situation, fundraising needs to be done. Before OCHA consults the Governments of the donor countries, it asks all involved agencies what financial means they need in order to carry out the assistance. Mr. Ulich stressed that the fundraising often takes several months which in numerous cases leads to the loss of many lives.
Moreover, OCHA has to negotiate with the Governments or the leaders of the affected territories to gain access to the emergency site. Especially during internal or anti-western conflicts, the negotiations are difficult and often take a lot of time. Sometimes rebel checkpoints restrict access to the emergency area and in many cases money has to be provided to them in order to be let through.
After this general overview of OCHA, Mr. Ulich talked about OCHA’s engagement in Sudan. He described the situation in Sudan as one of the bloodiest civil wars in history with about 1.8 million displaced people in Darfur alone. Since March/April of 2004, OCHA attempts to provide humanitarian assistance in that region. However, the responses from the Security Council to the situation in Sudan are mixed. No comprehensive solutions have been found so far. Neither the option of sanctions nor the suggestion that the case of Sudan should be referred to the International Criminal Court has so far gained a majority. As there is no compromise, the arbitration has moved on to capital-to-capital negotiations. According to Mr. Ulich, it is important to station more peacekeepers of the United Nations in Sudan, as even small military groups create a safer feeling among the population. Nevertheless, he recognized that the situation in Sudan is no easy challenge to overcome. (The Security Council later passed Resolution 1593 of 31 March 2005 referring the case of Sudan to the International Criminal Court).
In the case of the 2004 tsunami, Mr. Ulich mentioned that the massive amount of donations has set new standards. For OCHA it is important to convince people and Governments that this should be an example for future emergency relief. OCHA coordinated the funding for the immediate assistance. However, it does not have the responsibility for long-term support. While providing humanitarian assistance, OCHA worked together with a greater number of Non-Governmental Organizations than usual: While OCHA normally coordinates the work of about 20 Non-Governmental Organizations, this time their number amounted to over a 100. In numerous Indonesian villages, all state authorities had been killed in the disaster. Therefore, OCHA was the only organization capable of catering for all the necessary coordination.
Finally, Mr. Ulich shortly addressed the question of sustainability of humanitarian assistance. Food assistance might reduce local food production; field hospitals are removed from affected regions after a short period of time.
We would like to thank Mr. Ulich for this very informative briefing on the work of OCHA and the challenges and dilemmas which the organization has to overcome in emergency situations.