A first (non) UN Humanitarian Coordinator… Uganda

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Uganda is to be, well non-UN!For the 99.99% of people working in humanitarian work I should explain. In each country the UN is headed by a Resident Coordinator (RC), this person is always a very senior UN Representative in country (more often than not the head of UNDP). Although they do not have line management responsibility for other agencies they ‘coordinate’ the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) and links with government and play a major role in ensuring joined up support to host countries.In an emergency or humanitarian scenario the RC may not be the most suited or have the time to also humanitarian response, hence a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) may be appointed by through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to-date this person has always been a UN insider. In the case of Uganda due to the localised nature of the humanitarian crisis in the north a separate HC was appointed, however it is a first to put a non UN staff member in this post.HC UgandaThe HC until recently Representative of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Geneva, Ms. Elisabeth Rasmusson, has extensive field experience especially with refugees and intenally displaced persons (IDPs). Though not a complete outsider, she formerly worked for the UN, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) , Ms. Rasmusson is certainly no insider.This is excellent news. The UN is often given unpleasant and unreasonable labels sometimes, but rarely, fairly. Humanitarian reforms have been driven hard and furiously over the last 12 to 18 months, engineered hand-in-hand between senior UN executives and key donors, noteably DfiD.The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) was beefed up by adding a $450m grant facility to an existing $50m revolving fund. To firstly, promote early action and response to save lives (release funds within 72 hours). Secondly, enhance response to time-crucial requirements based on demonstrable needs, and thirdly strengthen core elements of humanitarian response in under-funded crisis. Launched in March 2006, by and September 2006 it had raised $175m.The Humanitarian Coordinator system, designed to ensure focus and leadership during life saving response periods was initiated and many including Ms Rasmusson trained for the role.The Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC) structure was launched in 1992 to ensure that UN and NGO’s worked more effectively. However it has been reinvigorated with the application of technical clusters (initiated in the Pakistan earthquake with mixed success) and the spur of the humanitarian reform process.Thus it is welcome that the UN is now looking to finding the best and most suited people from across the range of humanitarian institutions to coordinate humanitarian response. At the very least it should lead to a great cross fertilisation of ideas and creativity, a greater acceptance of different institutional approaches and improved collaboration. On the downside… well I personally don’t see one! Read the rest of this entry »

Aid effectiveness wiki… by UNDP!

UNDP LogoYou may not be surprised to learn that UNDP has developed an excellent resource on Aid Effectiveness, tho’ you might be surprised that it is a wiki! Though not launched, and appears to have sneaked up by the back door it is certainly worth a second and third look.

Designed by a hardened field practioner the Aid Effectiveness Wiki has been developed by Aidan Cox at the Regional Centre in Bangkok following his development of the Donor Assistance Database (DAD) in Afghanistan and coordination support to Angola, India, Iraq, Maldives and Sri Lanka. DAD spun off from AIMS Humanitarian Information Centre where a very early stage incarnation the Appeal Tracking Information Management System (ATIMS) developed. Yes this history is of primarily nostalgic value.

Now UNDP has complimented its comprehensive corporate DevAid site with the wiki they can truly act as the access point to some of the best information on this topic, of course they are by no means on their own, ODI, The World Bank, OECD just to name three all conduct critical work in this area. However genuinely opening up to contributions for the broader community of expertise may well ensure that on this topic UNDP can at least ensure accessibility from one location to critical information and comment, if not develop thought leadership.

Lets sing praises where it is due. Following recent critical comments about the slow adoption of modern approaches to information management by security specialists in the humanitarian and development sphere, What do Aid workers and spies have in common? and Open Source Spying and NGO’s by the NGO Security blog. It is refreshing that in a critical area such as Aid Effectiveness advanced transparent approaches to information sharing and management are being advanced.

No doubt some find it hard to swallow that UNDP is leading the charge! However take another look, UNICEF openly publishes its RSS, podcast and vodcast at the bottom of every page on its website. Despite the excellent podcasts being produced by Christian Aid they are still hard to find on their site. Maybe traditional fears of change stressed by NGO Security are on the mark.

Wiki’s are a key information management tool, the more focused the interest the more powerful and valuable they become. Given the critical nature of humanitarian and development work we would be doing a disservice to our end clients and ourselves if we do not adopt such technology sooner rather than later.

Second Life, the UN and living like a refugee

Second Life enters the humanitarian and development workers sphere of interest!


“The Stand Up Awareness Campaign” is being supported by the UN on Second Life. The Stand Up For Awareness Campaign is part of the larger Millenium Campaign to remind governments of their commitment to the eight Millenium Development Goals (MDG) that they agreed to in 2000, each of the eight 2015 targets are critical to reduce global poverty. This is a far from Bureaucratic excercise, if we can’t measure we can’t manage… by catalysing development organisations, donor governments and recipient governments the MDG indicators and targets, truly provide measures of success or failure that will have to be explained away if they are not met… keeping up the pressure world-wide is important.

DarfurThere is also a simulated Darfur refugee camp on Second Life, “Living Like a Refugee” was built to inform and educate … “An awareness and action camp spotlighting today’s genocide” and even patrolled by hooded avatars. Behind this seemlingly ‘geeky’ awareness approach, after all how many people really use Second Life, is a larger possibility of bringing the complexity, intricacies and daily catastrophe of humanitarian disasters to a increasinly well networked and socially aware next generation.

second lifeTeens Second Life is an interesting development by Linden Labs, visited by BBC’s Digital Planet, yes you guessed it Second Life for teens, governed by community rules, no parents or adults allowed, only screened adults from Linden Labs. Special institutions such as schools can feature on the game but are restricted to the island they create where the teens can choose to visit.

Clearly only the privileged (bandwidth, computers, high quality of life) are using Second Life, currently it acts as an interesting advocacy medium for the humanitarian and development world. But perhaps we should be more creative… why not a self concious training medium for students around the world, an advocacy platform. At the very least it offers an interesting way to capture the interest of youth and techie’s to increasingly support real life humanitarian needs, if only by applying their technology interests and genius to global advocacy and bridging communication gaps with the elite in southern countries.

“Out of Damascus”

Our intrepid Logistician made it, (see Sidney to Syria “I got a ticket to ride”, “It’s been a hard days night” and “A day in the life”), only to find after buying a car that he is not permitted to travel outside Damascus… this was his first escape, a tourist trip in the ancient country of Syria.

I arrived in Latakia, which is on the Syrian Mediterranean coast approximately 400kms from Damascus, in the afternoon of the Saturday and caught up with one of the military observers, we had a few beers and a meal together. Clearly it was time to look around the place and went to investigate what was on offer. He had been there a day or two and the highlight of his explorations was finding an Internet cafe and the DVD shop. So it was time to look around and see how the Syrian nightlife was. Imagine our surprise that the first place that we went, turned out to be a den of iniquity, .

The next day we had great plans for visiting the sites of this historic area where the crusaders achieved a dubious reputation for betrayal and vengence, fortunately we got back to the hotel just after 1:00 AM and as we said our goodnights, we arranged to meet early, breakfast and get on the road to look at some of the significant historical points of interest on the way back. After breakfast, we planned our visits and would set off after a quick stop over since I needed to get some fuel.

We were travelling in convoy with the UN vehicle in front, running interference and me following close behind. Suddenly he stopped at what was once a fuel station, it now however looked like something that would be left behind after the holocaust. Not even cockroaches would have felt comfortable there.

I pulled up at the fuel pump and after much posturing and hand gestures, it was determined that I should move to another pump. As I was talking to my friend I noticed that the guy filling the tank was having some difficulty in getting the nozzle into the fuel tank. To tell you the truth I never even thought it was strange he then patrolled the area and found a small stick to aid in his attempt to refuel the car.

I mentioned to my friend that the price of fuel here seemed to be a hell of a lot cheaper than Damascus and didn’t understand why. He finished filling the car and we set off, well my friend did. I made it as far as the drive-way entrance to the main road. This tall, inept, idiot had filled the car with Diesel.

I wasn’t going anywhere in a hurry. To say that I flew out of the car would have done me an injustice. All I can say is that if it was over a hundred metres, you would now be talking to the new world record holder. Using all of the restraint I could muster, that is to say hurling threats and abuse to all of those that were within listening distance, I call up the true marital status of his parents and if indeed he was actually intellectually challenged. Fortunately someone spoke English, and acted as an interpreter on my behalf. It appears that somehow, after leaving the road and entering his establishment, my car had miraculously changed from a petrol driven vehicle to one now powered by diesel. At least this is what he had said that I told him. No wonder the fuel was cheap and the nozzle didn’t fit.

I now was left with a small problem, the tank would have to be drained, along with the fuel lines. No problems, my only now too helpful bowser attendant said that he knew someone up the road that could help me. Suddenly he couldn’t do enough for me. He arranged for the guy that was interpreting for us, to tow me a mile or so up the road to a mechanic. In between all of this my friend had returned to the scene of the crime, because he had realised after a few miles that I wasn’t following.

Off we went to the mechanic, which in fact turned out to be a car washing station. So before my temper got the better of me and I ending up killing some poor unfortunate. I called my assistant in Damascus 400kms away to act as a go between. It appears that they would leave my car at the car wash and get the mechanic (who was 50 metres from the fuel station) and bring him to the car. Decent I suppose. Then the guy that towed me, wanted a little something for his assistance. All he got was a curious look, a lesson in Australian vocabulary. He left empty handed, but certainly blessed with a new way of saying goodbye.

Time was dragging on and it was looking very slim that we would act as tourists. After two hours my car had been drained of the diesel, which I must admit, was cunningly siphoned, collected and spirited away by the people in the car wash and never seen again. The lines were now flushed with petrol, which was ironically purchased from the same fuel station that created the mess in the first place, and an amount poured into the fuel tank. All was fixed, but it had cost me another 1500 Syrian pounds. I thought the best moment of it all was when the people from the car wash asked me if I would like my vehicle cleaned.

So my time for adventure and exploring was spent between an establishment of dubious reputation and a car wash. Either way they both cleaned me out by hook and crook. Maybe next time I will be luckier and get to see some of the sites. Oh and I never got any pictures either .

by A. Logistician (aka Catweazle)

Rocketboom, UNHCR and refugees

Rocketboom … one of the most popular trivia and news podcasts available on the web published footage from floods and refugee camps in Kenya with UNHCR (21st Nov 2006). A refugee recounts his image of the impact of islamists from Somalia.

As reported in “Online Video Sharing…” and “Alive in Baghdad” … this highly accessible medium is making it ever easier for the young in the west to find out what they want when they want… as new generations increasingly shun TV for the Internet, or formal media for community and peer approaches. potential important tools for advocacy indeed!

Rocketboom can be accessed at their website or downloaded from i-Tunes, it presents 3 to 5 minute news clips for free, daily. Produced at very low costs, only distributed online (available world-wide), its ‘status’ has been achieved purely by word of mouth, and it seeks to engage its audience in an online dialogue, see WikiBoom.

New ‘participatory’ media is truly beginning to change the manner in which news and information is obtained, limitations to web access may not ensure video becomes common in developing countries, but there is no doubt that it will become an ever more important medium for communiction, information sharing and advocacy. Its great to see Rocketboom democtatising news broadcasting.

Water is a right. The price is wrong! … HDR 2006 UNDP

UNDP HDR 2006Yes… another exciting gripping Human Development Report, 2006 … ‘Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and Global Water Crisis’ hits the web!

Take another look, HDR 2006 in particular addresses the the crisis that leaves 1.2 billion people without access to enough safe water and 2.6 billion without access to sanitation. In addition to the arguments one would expect: A drive to achieve water and sanitation for all through national strategies and a global plan of action; examining the social and economic forces that are driving water shortages and marginalizing the agricultural poor; and investigating options for international cooperation to resolve cross-border tensions in water management. It also presents interesting arguments in favour of privatisation of water supply.

A sharply analytical and hard hitting report, it highlights issues such as the 1.8m children who die from diarrhoea annually because local government cannot avoid the mixing of faeces and water! and identifies action needed. An interesting article in the Economist points out… not least it identifies that the simplest and most obvious tool to ensure effective delivery of services is often most neglected… Price.

Water is a right, however it has a cost of delivery that must be met, as the report points out, “Underpricing (or zero pricing in some cases) has sustained over use: if markets delivered Porsche Cars at give-away prices, they too would be in short supply”

The World Bank estimates that it takes approx $10 per household to supply subsistence water, Vivien Foster and Tito Yepes estimate that in Latin America 90% households could afford this paying 5% income. However in sub-Saharan Africa and India more than half would struggle to pay this amount.

Currently government subsides in water supply flow to the wealthy and middle class, the urban minority connected to water systems. Subsidy of water supply is neccessary, utilities private or government funded need support but to provide appropriate supply to those not connected to the water grid.

HDR praises Chile where the government covers 85% to 25% of water bills to those households that can illustrate need, of course the secret to success. For such a model to be effective and honest it requires both identification of those in need and water metering. However it also provides good data to enable planning and expansion of urban water grids, unusually with known income.

Of course the poor already pay a disproportionately large percentage of income on water through all sorts of small scale private sector such as vendors and freelancers selling from bowsers, drilling wells and laying pipes.

It is unfortunate that the best of intentions had led many to focus on an argument of public or private water supply, the HDR’s determined focus on practicalities and reality is refreshing. It would be marvellous if UNDP could translate this call for action into a concerted drive by its country offices to inform, monitor and shape government practice in support of appropriate private sector service provision.

For some thoughtful insights see
27.11.2006 ODI comments on the HDR 2006
02.12.2006 “Turning the tap off” by Alberto at Globalab

One UN ! … to be a fact or fiction?

“The most radical and dramatic thing we can do, is to do nothing,” Mr. Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway. “Maintaining the status quo would represent a victory for inertia.”

The eargerly awaited report “Delivering as one” the report of the High Level Panel on UN Reform (System-wide Coherence) is released… as one who participated in the round of discussions in Pakistan it seems the panel has reflected demands from the field for a clear break with the past.

The outgoing Secretary General Kofi Annan of course strongly endorsed the report’s proposals of country level consolidation, strengthening leadership on humanitarian and environmental activities, creation of a new funding mechanism and consolidation of one new women’s organisation.

UN Reform High Level Panel

“Delivered as One” when conceived was foreseen to lay the foundations for a restructuring of UN field work, as requested by global leaders at the 2005 World Summit in New York.

…the UN’s work in development is fragmented, weak and not properly structured to meet country needs, …
… “incoherent” programme interventions and “excessive” administrative costs stem from large UN country Teams. More than one third have ten or more agencies on the ground, several with more than 20…

Structurally it is recommended that “One UN” Country Programme would streamline UN agency activities and be led by the Resident Coordinator and handled by a strategic Sustainable Development Board (SDB) that would eventually bring together the boards of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The UNDP Administrator would serve as a UN Development Coordinator, reporting to the SDB. This should be tested in half a dozen countries next year to pave the way to a possible system-wide overhaul.

“We want the UN to be a strategic player at the country level, supporting us in the preparation and implementation of our nationally-owned development strategies,” Luisa Diogo, Prime Minister of Mozambique.

Being an optimist I am pleased to see the strong recommendations as the Secretary General Designate Mr Ban Ki-moon takes over… what a great opportunity for the UN to better serve its mandate and above all its clients, those around the world who do not have a voice and all too often are passed by as the Aid machinery swings into action. But speed is of the essence.

“Blunt and Brutal” was ODI’s assessment, they go on to call for a lead from the UK. Change requires dedicated and concerted attention and follow up. The UK representation to the UN has taken a strong lead to-date as being a strong critique and ally of the UN, Gordon Brown’s role in the panel reinforces this interest. Now is the opportunity to strike, the UK should lead the charge.