The UN Response to the Lebanon Crisis - An OCHA Lesson Learning Paper


Executive Summary

This report presents overall findings from a review of the OCHA and UN system wide response in Lebanon between July-October 2006. The aim of the lesson learning review was twofold;

- to review the appropriateness and timeliness of the response and understand what worked well and why

- provide a platform to discuss key issues relevant for OCHA, for action and follow up.

Both primary and secondary information have been used and more than 25 key informant interviews were carried out with stakeholders external to OCHA. Though limited in scope the paper covers key areas that OCHA staff felt most relevant to them, including: a) humanitarian response, b) security, c) deployment d) information management, and e) clusters and protection.


The scale, duration and intensity of the conflict in Lebanon caught the international community by surprise. The United Nations didn't have an updated contingency plan on Lebanon and were not well prepared to respond to the humanitarian situation [please see the Beirut Action After Review on this]. The UN warned of a humanitarian disaster on 18th July and this warning was then followed through with repeated calls by the Secretary General and the Emergency Relief Coordinator [ERC], for a ceasefire and the need for aid to be allowed into the country. Finally, on 11 August - the Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 - which ended the month long hostilities. The UN Security Council had been criticized for being slow in its deliberations and the credibility of operational UN agencies on the ground wavered in the early days of the crisis, but then recovered, when the large relief program was implemented.

The war lasted 33 days. The humanitarian response was short lived and most needs were met in a timely manner though response times differed for each UN agency. Hostilities were in their sixth day when the ICRC and WFP first deployed its teams and OCHA arrived three days later with a small team of three. The OCHA team expanded to 22 in total and in addition it deployed two personnel: i) IDF liaison cell and ii) one person into UNIFIL south of the Litani River. Its role and contribution to civil/military coordination were perceived as pivotal for the humanitarian community at large.

Though most humanitarian needs were met, many key informants considered the response to be too supply driven and materialistic. Interviewees felt that OCHA played a vital advocacy role during the crisis but that other gaps still existed in protection. Many key informants believe that the needs for vulnerable groups in Southern Beirut were not met and this was partly because agencies did not always share information [i.e. it wasn't always clear who was doing what where]. Assistance was not always targeted because data was often inaccurate, particularly on the location and numbers of primary and secondary displacement and tracking of assistance was poor.

UN agency performance appears to have been mixed. While UNHCR and OHCHR appear to have faced problems scaling up and meeting demands; WFP, UNICEF and ICRC appear to have responded quickly with large teams. It's not clear whether having a prior presence in country helped - but certainly having regional connections as OCHA had, assisted in getting assistance in quickly [resources, access routes, staff]. There is agreement that OCHA was slow and late to deploy and that recruitment procedures and insecurity impacted negatively on the program. However, there is also an appreciation that the challenging relationship between UNDP and OCHA and the confusion around the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator and Designated Official [HC/RC/DO] roles, complicated coordination efforts from the outset. All agencies could have utilized the capacity of local experts and development agencies already existing on the ground and linkages between relief and recovery could have been stronger.

While most key informants agreed the situation was dangerous, many did not understand the rationale behind declaring phase IV. Nor did there appear to be any prior consideration of the implications of declaring phase IV in terms of the capacity [or thereof] of agencies to be MOSS compliant. It appears there was no thorough threat assessment detailing new risks on the situation in Lebanon. Instead, the updated plan revised in July 2006 was built on a hostage taking scenario. Confusing signals were sent out on security; different rules and regulations applied to different agencies; Minimum Operating Security Standards [MOSS] compliance was patchy and the staff ceiling that was imposed was perceived as inappropriate. Interviewees felt strongly that an urgent evaluation of DSS was needed and stated that unless UN security arrangements are made more flexible and can adjust to quick changes in the local context, the ability for the UN to fulfill its mandate will be paralyzed.

Many of the constraints to the operation were mostly rooted within the UN organizations themselves. Lack of experienced staffing, security issues, agency bureaucracies, agency competition and the short term nature of the conflict impacted on how the humanitarian response was shaped and then followed through. The large amounts of funding provided for Lebanon meant that humanitarian needs as well as initial recovery activities were easily met. The lack of funding can not be used as an excuse for shortfalls in programming. The resilience of the affected population being assisted was also strong and Lebanon's ranking as a middle income country contributed to fast return and recovery.

Key findings for OCHA

  • OCHA was slow and late to deploy and finding experienced emergency staff quickly proved difficult throughout the response [in part due to difficulties in recruiting and OCHA's "limited slots" under the security ceiling limits in Lebanon].
  • Coordination of the humanitarian response was essential and OCHA's presence and ability to set up humanitarian hubs and field presence was pivotal.
  • The original UN Flash Appeal/revised Flash Appeal and Central Emergency Relief Fund [CERF] contributions were timely and realistic.
  • OCHA's decision to ask the OHCHR representative to leave Tyre for 48 hrs due to staff ceiling issues was raised as a point of concern, by some key informants [external to OCHA].
  • OCHA's advocacy and liaison function was appropriate and had a positive impact on the response. The Humanitarian Coordinator and Emergency Relief Coordinator sent key messages to the public; it seconded personnel into the Israeli Defense Force [IDF] cell in Tel Aviv and into UNIFIL [Civil Military Coordination - CMCoord]. It was slow to deploy its own protection advisor into Beirut.
  • Respondents praised the work of the HC - but questioned the transparency and selection process of the HC/RC/DO functions.
  • Humanitarian Information Coordination [HIC] should sit within OCHA [and not separate to it]. More work could be done on analysis of information [using the data coming out of clusters but its not clear how this should be taken forward]. Further discussion is required.
  • The cluster approach worked well in some areas. While OCHA is clear on clusters and how meetings should be used - other UN agencies were accused of using cluster meetings as fundraising sessions. Some key informants felt that that a disproportionate amount of time was taken attending meetings or writing reports for HQ's rather than getting out into the field.
  • OCHA's exit strategy was timely and well coordinated with development actors and government.
  • There are mixed opinions on whether international staff working on the development issues in Lebanon could have been used more from the outset of the crisis but most agree, local capacity was not utilized as much as it could have been.
  • The Flash Appeal was fully funded within 6 weeks of being issued. OCHA insisted that the target be 100% funded so it worked hard to achieve that [Letters were sent to Heads of Gulf states etc].

OCHA - Lessons Learned

Many lessons have been learned but for the purpose of this exercise the author has concentrated on five main areas.

  • OCHA's internal recruitment standards need to be improved and SURGE capacity within HQ's must be explored. A corporate protocol on emergency response must be established.
  • Civil/military liaison functions worked well. However, there appears to have been some disconnect between Geneva, New York, Beirut, Naquora and Tel Aviv on civil military matters. A clear reporting chain and mechanism for sharing information on civ/mil matters would serve to clarify matters.
  • The quality, analysis and dissemination of information must be improved [HIC/OCHA relationship must be clarified; rapid needs assessment formats developed; templates for sitreps; a situation room is needed in New York].
  • In order to improve the efficiency of task force meetings - senior managers should be given authority to make decisions on the spot. OCHA should decentralize its decision making to Coordination Response Division [CRD] managers for emergency crises.
  • Unless UN security arrangements are made more flexible and can adjust to quick changes in the local context, the ability for OCHA to fulfill its mandate will be paralyzed.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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