Leading an Emergency Response: A Concise Guide for the UN Resident Coordinator

Manual and Guideline
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The UN Resident Coordinator (RC), when called upon to lead and coordinate an emergency response, is ultimately accountable in his/her humanitarian role to the populations in need – whether designated as a Humanitarian Coordinator or not. When responding to humanitarian emergencies, RCs report directly to the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC). They should immediately inform the ERC of the emergency, forward available information and consult on the future course of action.

OCHA Support: As the RC, your first port of call is the OCHA country office, if one exists. If there is no OCHA presence in your country, contact the OCHA regional office.

At headquarters level, your entry point is the Director of OCHA’s Operations and Advocacy Division, based in New York. For urgent support needs contact the Director of the Coordination Division, based in Geneva.


Successful humanitarian response is dependent on comprehensive emergency preparedness and effective information management. This ensures that when an international response is required, response mechanisms can be stood up quickly to address gaps where these exist or adapt existing structures to the specific needs of the humanitarian response.


This supplementary guide outlines actions to take at the onset of an emergency – whether it be a natural disaster, an escalation of conflict or a rapid deterioration in humanitarian conditions – and serves as a reminder of actions and events to anticipate during the response. As situations vary, the type and order of activities must be adapted to the context, including the nature of the emergency, the stakeholders and actors involved, the available resources and capacity, and the operational environment. Whatever the context, coordination must take place in a manner that neither undermines adherence to humanitarian principles nor exposes affected populations or humanitarian workers to greater risks.


The following apply to all emergencies, regardless of whether the Government has requested, welcomed or declined international assistance. The RC must:

  1. Complement Government action

• As set out in General Assembly resolution 46/182, each State has the responsibility, first and foremost, to take care of the people affected by emergencies within its territory by initiating, organizing, coordinating and implementing humanitarian assistance.

• The RC should support national efforts by leading and coordinating the humanitarian action of relevant organizations in country, whenever possible in coordination with national and local authorities.

• States and other relevant actors (such as armed groups party to a conflict) are called upon to facilitate the work of impartial humanitarian organizations in implementing humanitarian assistance.

  1. Promote respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and humanitarian principles

• In all activities, the RC is guided by international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL) and the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

  1. Be guided by the Principles of Partnership

• Relations among organizations involved in humanitarian action are governed by the Principles of Partnership: equality, transparency, results-oriented approach, responsibility and complementarity. Humanitarian action is a collaborative endeavour that strives to deliver collective outcomes and the accountability of all actors to implement agreed global humanitarian policies.