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.

66 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.

Anticipatory Action

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?

2. Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction

Disasters related to natural or human-made hazards are increasing in frequency and intensity, many of them exacerbated by climate change. Disaster risk reduction (DRR) aims to protect the livelihoods and assets of communities and individuals from the impact of such hazards. The RC is responsible for working with Governments – in collaboration with humanitarian and development actors – to limit the negative impacts of these events by addressing the underlying drivers of risk, and building the capacity of people exposed to these hazards to anticipate, adapt and recover.

Key roles of the RC and HC

Reducing disaster risk is fundamental to reducing humanitarian needs and achieving sustainable development. Every $1 invested in risk reduction and prevention can save up to $15 in post-disaster recovery.70

70 Shreve and Kelman (2014) Does Mitigation Save? Published in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction.

In many humanitarian contexts, populations are impacted by a combination of conflict, civil strife and disasters emanating from natural and human-made hazards, which are often fuelled or exacerbated by climate change. It is becoming increasingly clear that we need to think and act differently about disasters: shifting the focus from picking up the pieces post-disaster to risk-informing development (see figure below). Investing in DRR measures can help to build vulnerable communities’ capacity to prevent, resist, absorb, adapt, respond to and recover from disasters – alleviating some of the pressure on the mounting demand for humanitarian aid.

This requires collaborative approaches: working across sectors as well as between and within institutions. Enhanced DRR is also essential to ensure that no one is left behind. To protect the most vulnerable groups, all levels of society should be engaged in prevention, risk reduction and risk management measures.

Risk-informed Sustainable Development

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (Sendai Framework) provides a global road map towards a resilient, sustainable future, setting out the case for risk-informed development. It marks a clear shift in focus from disaster response towards integrated and anticipatory disaster risk management. Sendai Framework Priority Action 4 specifically advocates for “enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to ‘Build Back Better’ in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction” and to “facilitate the link between relief, rehabilitation and development”. Similarly, the UN Secretary-General’s Prevention Agenda highlights the need to “support the development and implementation of national DRR plans that address growing challenges of climate change, environmental degradation, urbanization and population growth”.

Supporting National Governments

As set out in the Sendai Framework, each Member State has the primary responsibility to prevent and reduce disaster risk, including through international, regional and bilateral support. Many countries have increased their capacity to implement DRR since the adoption of the Framework in 2015, but it is clear that DRR is still not sufficiently considered across a wide range of sectoral policies and investments, and is yet to be fully integrated in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.71

71 Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (A/75/226).

At the country level, strong leadership from the RC is essential for enhancing cooperation with the Government to facilitate the implementation of the Sendai Framework, in coherence with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement and other applicable instruments. This includes:

72 Underlying drivers include poverty, inequality and environmental degradation, among others.

73 Global Sustainable Development Report 2019.

74 SDG 1 – End poverty in all its forms everywhere; SDG 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; SDG 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Scaling up DRR in Humanitarian Action

Strong leadership from the RC is critical for scaling up DRR and resilience in humanitarian action. The growing focus on humanitarian-development-peace collaboration provides new opportunities to reduce existing and emerging disaster risks. Building resilience to shocks and hazards – including through early warning and anticipatory action, social safety nets, resilient livelihoods, targeted action for women and girls, and forecast-based financing – can be an efficient and cost-effective way of placing countries in crisis on a path to prevention and sustainability.75

75 Report of the UN Secretary-General on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (A/75/226).

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), in collaboration with humanitarian partners and in partnership with OCHA, has developed guidance on Scaling up DRR in Humanitarian Action, in the form of a practical checklist. The recommendations below are an excerpt, highlighting concrete actions relevant to the RC, framed around the stages of the HPC:

> See section B.4 for details on the Humanitarian Programme Cycle.

Needs Assessment and Analysis

Strategic Planning

Resource Mobilization

76  3W matrices describe Who does What and Where. In many countries, 9Ws reflect actions across the peace, humanitarian and development communities. OCHA provides a useful overview of types of assessments and documents.

Response Monitoring

  • Ensuring that DRR-related targets and indicators are articulated and monitored in the HRP, in multi-year plans or in frameworks for collective outcomes. This can include reduction in disaster-related deaths, disaster-affected populations, population movement data, etc.
  • Ensuring that reviews and evaluations consider the success of programmes on the basis of the extent to which risk has been reduced and considered in programming. Documentation processes, including after-action reviews, are good for capturing lessons and promoting ongoing learning at country level.

Integrating DRR in UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Frameworks and Common Country Analyses (CCA)

The Cooperation Framework and CCA are the UN’s primary tools for helping Governments integrate DRR in sustainable development policies – in line with the Sendai Framework, the SDGs, the Paris Agreement and other relevant instruments. Through the Cooperation Framework, the UN can play a critical role in ensuring that development practices and investments strengthen resilience, reduce existing risks and avoid creating new ones. The Cooperation Framework can help strengthen national DRR strategies and leverage the multi-stakeholder approach put forward by the Sendai Framework.

A climate- and disaster risk-informed Cooperation Framework can help to integrate risk management practices and support an all-of-society approach to crisis prevention. The new Cooperation Framework guidance (August 2020) emphasizes the need for country teams to ensure that disaster risk is addressed effectively as a central part of analysis and programme design.

The RC plays a critical role in providing in-country leadership on integrating DRR throughout the Cooperation Framework cycle, including by:

Case study: A strategic approach to emergency preparedness and DRR in Bangladesh

To operationalize humanitarian-development cooperation in Bangladesh, the RC’s Office uses the Strategic Preparedness for Response and Resilience to Disaster (SPEED) approach, adapted from the Rapid Response Approach to Disasters in Asia-Pacific (RAPID) – a lighter, flexible approach to disaster preparedness developed by the OCHA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. The approach is in line with the global policy guidance for both the Sendai Framework and the Agenda for Humanity, and it incorporates UNDRR guidance on DRR mainstreaming and the IASC ERP guidelines.

The SPEED approach consists of four key components: impact analysis, priority actions, institutional capacity and action plan. A DRR lens is integrated across all four.

The Humanitarian Coordination Task Team (HCTT), co-led by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief and the RC’s Office, coordinates disaster preparedness, response and recovery interventions based on the SPEED approach. The HCTT Workplan 2020 includes three main focus areas, one of which is ‘promoting DRR mainstreaming in humanitarian action’. Other key actions include:

The HCTT supported the Government of Bangladesh in responding to Cyclone Amphan in May 2020 through the development of an HCTT Response Plan. It included a strategic objective to ‘Reduce vulnerabilities and restore the safety, dignity and resilience of the most vulnerable populations’.

Handbook – Humanitarian Coordination and Collaboration in Bangladesh, 2020

77 This includes forecast-based action linked to social protection. This working group is led by Bangladesh Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the German Red Cross.