Geneva — Over the past two years, UNHCR has had to respond to emergency after emergency, from Libya to Liberia, South Sudan to Syria. The practical help of an informal group of government partners specializing in emergencies has been vital in ensuring success and a more effective response.
In a full-blooded displacement crisis, the first emergency teams should be deployed within 72 hours to reinforce staff already on the ground. These personell also urgently need support facilities, including accommodation and heavy equipment.
To achieve this level of readiness and response, the UN refugee agency relies in part on cooperation with a network of governmental partners in Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, who specialize in emergency response work and form the International Humanitarian Partnership, or IHP.
The relationship with IHP is becoming more and more important and last month, during a meeting hosted by UNHCR in Geneva, the two sides signed a declaration of intent to further strengthen cooperation in the area of emergency response capacity and preparedness.
The IHP members agreed to "ensure a robust capacity in complex or large-scale emergencies." In practical terms, this means things like building temporary staff accommodation and office space for refugee camp workers in harsh environments; shipping out truck fleets; setting up mechanical workshops; and installing water and sanitation systems.
In South Sudan's Maban County, for example, the first emergency team members sent into the field in December 2011 were living in desperate conditions: they stayed in bug-infested mud huts and relied on water supplies brought in by donkey. Then Sweden's Civil Contingencies Agency, an IHP member, swung into action in response to a call for help and airlifted a "base camp" to UNHCR's team in Maban, where there are currently four refugee camps.
"The living conditions of our team in Maban County have greatly improved, boosting the morale of the entire team," said Frederic Cussigh, head of the UNHCR office. "We support more than 115,000 refugees in Maban county." The Swedish agency provided offices, staff accomodation, toilets, showers, water treatment plants, basic medical equipment, generators, high quality tents and pre-fab housing.
It made all the difference, according to protection specialist France Lau, who went out on emergency to Maban. She also noted that when the offices of other aid organizations were flooded during the rainy season, "We hosted them in our compound."
More recently, IHP members have helped construct a base camp for UNHCR staff working in the sprawling Za'atri refugee camp in Jordan. UNHCR and IHP members also work closely together in pursuing cost-effective and sustainable shelter solutions as well as facilitating emergency-related training events.
"IHP members contribute unique capabilities, which are rapidly deployable and which UNHCR does not have in-house," noted Amin Awad, director of UNHCR's Division for Emergency, Security and Supply. "The IHP helps make UNHCR field operations more effective, with a direct impact on the well-being of staff and refugees."
IHP Chairman Esa Ahlberg, meanwhile, pledged to continue working to strengthen the relationship. "IHP stands ready to further join forces in an effort to meet the challenge of growing humanitarian needs," the Finn stressed.
And UNHCR's Awad said the new agreement would "facilitate expanded cooperation in new areas such as innovative technology, logistics and medical support for UNHCR staff members at the onset of an emergency."
The IHP groups Finland's Crisis Management Centre, the Danish Emergency Management Agency, the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection, the Estonian Rescue Board, the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency and Germany's Federal Agency for Technical Relief.