succeed as a team –
or not at all
Twenty years ago, the United Nations
created a new humanitarian
system — where governments and
aid agencies worldwide agreed to work
together to deal with the rising number
Two decades on, that system has saved
millions of lives and is more important
than ever. But it is simply not working well
enough — and in some cases is falling far
short of what is needed. The humanitarian
system has to evolve and it has to do
Conflict, rising populations, rapid urbanization,
environmental degradation, water
shortages, increasing food prices and climate
change are leading to larger, more
severe and more complex emergencies
than ever before.
Already this year, we face crises in the Horn
of Africa, the Sahel, South Sudan, Sudan
and Yemen — to mention just some. We
will almost certainly face new emergencies
from unexpected conflicts and natural
disasters in the course of the year.
At the same time, humanitarian
becoming more complex. Many more
organizations, from more countries and
more diverse backgrounds, are getting
involved. And in an age of instant global
communications, the quality of our response
is under growing scrutiny, from
both donors and the people we are there
After the 2010 emergencies in Haiti and
Pakistan, we were accused of failing as a
system. While many people were helped,
we fell short collectively. Many of us agreed
with this assessment and decided we
needed to fix it.
That is why in December 2011, members
of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee
(IAS C) — a group comprising the leaders
of the major humanitarian agencies —
agreed to a significant shift in the way we do our work.
To make it better led, better
coordinated and more accountable.
Our first decision was that at the onset of
a major crisis, members of the IAS C will
come together within 48 hours and decide
on the best way to manage the crisis. The
focus will be on supporting the leadership
in-country. The team, headed by a humanitarian coordinator,
will have the power to take decisions, which the rest of
the system will abide by.
We agreed to improve the training available
to our senior leaders and to do much more
at headquarters to support their work. More
resources, better equipped staff.
We agreed to bolster our strategic planning — focusing on collective results, with
clear, streamlined roles in different sectors
(clusters) and organizations responding to
the crisis. And we agreed that under this
system, the leadership team would be held
accountable not just for their own agency’s
performance, but for the entire system’s response.
These are significant changes. No longer
will strong individual results be good
enough. We succeed as a team, or not at all.
Putting this into practice will not be easy.
It requires a change in mindset at all levels— and will lead to sensitivities and friction
as we make this new system work. In a
community as diverse as ours, we need to
capitalize on our individual strengths and
be clear about areas for improvement.
To make this work, the role of the ICRC
and IFRC members will be crucial — and
their opinions will profoundly influence
the way we progress. The Red Cross and
Red Crescent networks boast some of the
most experienced and talented disaster responders
in the world. I hope you will share
your expertise and play an integral part in
the new response mechanism.
No one expects this to be easy.
It will involve
some difficult decisions and, on
occasion, making compromises. As a community,
compromise does not come easily
to us. The core principles, which underpin
our work, will guide and shape what we do
and how we do it.
In an increasingly complex world, we have
to work together.
By Valerie Amos
Valerie Amos is under-secretary-general
and emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and is responsible
for the oversight of all emergencies requiring UN humanitarian
assistance. She also leads the Inter-Agency Standing Committee,
a forum for coordination, policy and decisionmaking
for UN and non-UN humanitarian partners.