Coordination of Humanitarian assistance

Published: 11 November 2004


This item, and this debate in the Plenary of the UN General Assembly, is in many respects the centrepiece of presentations made by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the United Nations each year. It is the debate in which all participants respond to the challenge posed by the Secretary-General's report on the length, breadth, purpose and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance.

In my own country, Jamaica, we have recently experienced the need for properly coordinated humanitarian assistance. The Jamaica Red Cross, of which I am the President Emeritus, was profoundly involved in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Ivan, which struck in September.

Once the hurricane's path was established, our staff and volunteers took part, along with the relevant government agencies, in meetings convened by the National Office of Disaster Preparedness. Community-based teams were trained prior to the arrival of the hurricane. Once it struck, we identified the people in need and managed the emergency shelters. We also prepared detailed assessments of the damage and needs, which enabled vulnerability to be properly addressed.

The experience of Grenada illustrates the impact of Hurricane Ivan to our region. At least two-thirds of the homes in Grenada were destroyed by the Hurricane. The country's economy is traditionally based on tourism and cash crops, such as nutmeg. Given that a nutmeg tree takes seven years to bear its first fruit, the economic impact of this disaster is clear. Once again we see how important it is to integrate disaster preparedness and risk reduction into national development planning.

The Grenada Red Cross has moved swiftly and bravely to provide relief. Thankfully, despite the problems experienced in Jamaica, we have been able to offer psychological support to the peoples of Grenada and the Cayman Islands. We are working together to rebuild our futures.


The debate this year takes place amidst rising concern on the part of agencies, member States, non-governmental organisations and the communities themselves about the ways in which humanitarian assistance programs are conceived and delivered. One of the main reasons for concern is that humanitarian assistance today is a very different thing from what it was in the past.

Many important issues, which the IFRC has advocated for decades, have only recently been prioritized by governments. It is fortunate that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have placed a clear emphasis on vulnerability and need. This is perhaps the most important new development in how the international community considers humanitarian assistance.

As a regular participant in the work of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the IFRC has the advantage of being in constant dialogue with UN partners and others about the priorities and directions of humanitarian assistance. Our role, as the co-chair of the IASC Task Force on Natural Disasters, has brought forth some points worth noting today, for member States as well as the wider international community.


Our strategic plan for the next five years, Strategy 2010, outlines our work and commitments in this field. Taking account of the current global trends, we are reviewing Strategy 2010 to ensure that we are meeting essential humanitarian needs.

There are also currently two important initiatives taking place, which deserve special attention.

One is the process known as "Good Humanitarian Donorship." It encourages the strengthening, effectiveness, efficiency and timeliness of humanitarian action as well as the necessity of long-term commitments. We commend the Government of Canada for hosting the October 2004 meeting in Ottawa.

The other initiative was recently launched by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator to review the capacity of global humanitarian response.

This initiative originates from the concern that the international community is often unable to meet the basic needs of populations affected by emergencies and crises. We look forward to further discussion on this issue at the meeting of the IASC Principals in Geneva in December. We will bring forward the experiences of our members worldwide to this meeting.

We strongly believe that response is not only the task of international actors. It is most frequently provided at the national level, and very often by Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies at the community level.


Community resilience, the theme of the IFRC 2004 World Disasters Report, should be integrated into the way that humanitarian assistance is conceived and provided. In this context, we are paying close attention to the forthcoming World Conference on Disaster Reduction, to be held in Kobe in January 2005.

The IFRC has been invited to participate in one of the High Level Round Tables where we will help stimulate discussion on challenges, needs and opportunities in disaster risk reduction initiatives worldwide. We have accepted this opportunity and are working with the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction and other stakeholders to prepare for this important event. We sincerely hope that the Conference will take account of the IFRC's project on International Disaster Response, Laws, Rules and Principles (IDRL). For further information on this initiative, please visit our website [].


Our experience shows that coordinating humanitarian assistance has become increasingly challenging. This reflects not only the complexity of the issue, but also the sharp growth in the number of stakeholders seen by States as relevant to humanitarian work, including the private sector. It is thus important to coordinate the work done by these stakeholders.

One such example is the Interagency Global Fleet Forum in Amsterdam, at which the IFRC, WFP and World Vision International worked together to help build a grouping of 32 humanitarian organisations with common vehicle fleet concerns. Together they have a substantial vehicle fleet numbering close to 45,000 vehicles, representing the second largest operational cost item in humanitarian work. This meeting affirmed the necessity of involving every stakeholder in coordination, design and delivery of humanitarian assistance.

This coordination is, of course welcomed. Accordingly it is the reason why another of the important events of the year is so vital.

Namely the consideration of the recommendations contained in the Cardoso Report - the report of the panel of eminent persons on Unites Nations and Civil Society relations. Among others, the issue of how to work with the MDGs and how to coordinate humanitarian assistance will need to take account of the need to find a place at the table for civil society.

We highlight the importance of this, for our role as the auxiliary to governments and the bridge to civil society has given us many insights into the urgency of this need. Without community involvement coordinated solutions are unlikely, which is demonstrated through the experiences of our Caribbean Red Cross Societies.

The challenge for all of us is not simply to coordinate humanitarian assistance, but to make sure that this assistance reaches people like those in Grenada quickly, effectively and then lastingly. Hence, removing the need for them from to have to wait another seven years before their next nutmeg crop.