OCHA and slow-onset emergencies

Originally published



  2. There is a widespread recognition that the nature of humanitarian emergencies is changing. Although catastrophic, sudden-onset events like tropical storms, earthquakes and tsunamis will continue to happen, and will require rapid and well coordinated humanitarian interventions, many more humanitarian crises emerge over time based on a combination of complex and interrelated circumstances.

  3. For the purpose of this study, a slow-onset emergency is defined as one that does not emerge from a single, distinct event but one that emerges gradually over time, often based on a confluence of different events.

  4. Drought is a common example of a slow-onset emergency. In addition, global challenges – such as climate change, food and energy price spikes, macroeconomic trends, irregular migration, rapid population growth, and urbanisation – are contributing to increasing vulnerability and humanitarian need. In combination, these trends may result in more slow-onset emergencies in the future.

  5. This paper discusses OCHA’s role in slow-onset emergencies and recommends how OCHA can support national and international humanitarian partners to prepare for and respond to them more effectively. It is primarily based on research commissioned by OCHA. This included a review of literature in the fields of disaster risk reduction, contingency planning, slow-onset emergencies, food security, and vulnerability reduction, as well as more than 100 interviews with OCHA staff and partners in the field and in headquarters.

  6. Although the main focus of the research was on drought in Africa, it is also relevant to other kinds of slow-onset emergencies, including compound crises resulting from global challenges such as food and energy insecurity, which are increasingly recognised as important emerging drivers of vulnerability and humanitarian need.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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