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The role of OCHA in the emergency operations following the eruption of the Nyiragongo Volcano in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published

Prepared by: Stephen O’Malley, HEB
Final Version
Executive Summary

The immediate response to the Nyirangongo volcano eruption was very effective. Despite the difficult operating environment, the loss of life was minimal, there were no outbreaks of infectious diseases, and key services were quickly restored. This positive outcome resulted from well-targeted emergency interventions, exemplary cooperation between UN agencies and NGOs, and good coordination by OCHA. The humanitarian community acted as a community, and there was little evidence of the turf wars that often characterize the response in high-profile emergencies.

OCHA made four significant contributions to the response:

  • It brought in volcanologists to study the volcanic and seismic activity and provide guidance for the humanitarian community. This led to a better understanding of the risks, and brought some calm to a tense situation. It may be useful for OCHA to develop an ongoing relationship with volcanologists for future such situations.

  • OCHA staff quickly established a Humanitarian Information Center (HIC) in Goma; the HIC and OCHA’s broader efforts to disseminate information were widely recognized as major contributions to the management of the crisis. This experience indicates that HICs can be developed quickly and cheaply, and that even basic facilities can make a sizeable contribution to emergency management.

  • OCHA facilitated the development and operation of sectoral committees which played crucial roles in decision-making and coordination. · OCHA’s senior staff dealt with the local authorities on a vexing set of customs and border issues, thus allowing operational agencies to focus on operations.

The generally positive assessment of OCHA by its partners is attributable to the deployment of knowledgeable senior staff from Geneva and Kinshasa at the beginning of the emergency, a proactive approach to information dissemination, and the professional behavior of the humanitarian community as a whole. The Nyirangongo crisis shows that coordination can happen when the incentives to cooperate are high. OCHA provided services (the volcanologists, the HIC and intercession with the authorities) that were not available elsewhere. This mutually reinforcing set of incentives encouraged the rest of the community to participate actively in coordination, strengthening OCHA’s position.

The Nyiragongo crisis highlighted several areas where OCHA can improve its approach. First, coordination needs to go beyond information sharing and reach a more strategic, problem-solving level. While the coordination mechanisms generally worked well in Goma, OCHA needs to create suitable decision-making mechanisms to address significant issues. Second, there is a need for better public information/press relations in emergencies, and an apparent willingness in the humanitarian community for OCHA to fill this role. Third, OCHA continues to be handicapped by burdensome administrative requirements that add frustrations in already stressful situations. Fourth, internal team management should not be neglected. Good information-sharing and task delegation can improve OCHA’s overall performance. Finally, OCHA and its UN partners need to revisit resource mobilization processes when natural disasters strike countries facing complex emergencies. Too much time was spent on this issue, with little gain to anyone.

I. Introduction

On 17 January 2002 the Nyiragongo volcano, located approximately 18 kilometers north of Lake Kivu in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, erupted and released an estimated 20 million cubic meters of lava. Lava flows destroyed approximately 13% of the area of Goma town. The vast majority of the 400,000 people resident in Goma and the surrounding area fled. Approximately 300,000 went east into neighboring Rwanda; the remainder fled west and south towards the towns of Sake and Bukavu. By 19 January, however, those who had fled the town had begun to return, and within a week of the eruption, only 10,000 people remained in Rwanda.

Estimates indicate that approximately 100,000 people have been made homeless by the eruption. The local economy has been badly affected by the destruction of Goma’s business district, and continuing rifting activity has raised numerous questions about the future of the Goma area and safe resettlement options for those displaced by the eruption.

This lessons-learned study is focused on the role of OCHA in the emergency phase of the crisis, defined as the two weeks immediately following the eruption (this is also the period covered by the Flash Appeal issued on 21 January 2002). It does not evaluate the overall response of the humanitarian community, but rather attempts to examine OCHA’s role and identify key lessons learned that OCHA can utilize in future crises. Where relevant, specific targeted recommendations have also been made. The complete Terms of Reference, a list of those interviewed and a brief chronology can be found in the Annexes to the report.

II. A Natural Disaster within a Complex Emergency: Added Complications, Unexpected Benefits

The Nyiragongo eruption took place within the context of a complex emergency that has cost at least 2.5 million lives since 1998. Over two million people are displaced, access to populations in need is severely restricted in many areas, and economic, social and health indicators continue to deteriorate. As one long-time UN staff member noted, the population’s actions in response to the eruption "must be placed in the context of ten years of trauma."

Three salient issues informed the population’s reaction to the eruption:

  • the exodus of Rwandan refugees into eastern DRC in July 1994 after the genocide in Rwanda. The encampment of these refugees and the huge cholera outbreak that followed created a perception among Congolese that camps were places of disease and death, and led to a reluctance to be encamped themselves.

  • significant segments of the population of eastern DRC largely views the Rwandan Patriotic Army as an occupying force. The flight to Rwanda was a move to a hostile location; the population reversed course as soon as they judged it safe to return home.

  • the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), the Congolese rebel movement which controls the Kivus and Maniema has limited popular legitimacy and limited ability to govern.

The context had several consequences that complicated the response to the eruption. First, the behavior of the population seemed to be irrational given the volcanic activity, but as one UN staff member commented, "the decision to return [to Goma] after 24 hours was irrational in light of the information available at the time, but it was completely in line with the political situation." However, many Goma-based staff admitted that in the chaos that followed the eruption, they lost sight of the political realities and were surprised by the quick return. The heavily-politicized context is highlighted by the quick appearance of rumours among the population that had moved to Rwanda that those who left Ruhengeri and Gisenyi for the camps set up by the Rwandan authorities were jailed or disappeared.

Second, the RCD, who first told the population to remain in Goma and then told them not to return for ten days, was disregarded by the population. Some UN agencies and NGOs reported that they were concerned that having the RCD endorse particular steps, especially those related to resettlement, might lead the population to reject them out of hand.

Third, the RCD’s limited governance capacity was reflected in their response on 17 January. There were outbreaks of looting by elements of the police and the army, although some senior officials tried to bring these outbreaks under control. Many participants stated that the population’s swift return to Goma occurred because "people saw their homes being looted as they were leaving Goma."

Fourth, the location of the eruption in a rebel-held area created problems for UN agencies. It must be understood that the DRC is effectively divided into several pieces, and the Government in Kinshasa has no influence on events in RCD-held areas. While the Government in Kinshasa played a generally positive role, there was a perception that it occasionally attempted to exploit the situation for political aims on several occasions. These tactics put OCHA, which was assisting the Kinshasa-based "comité de crise," in a difficult position, as exemplified by the Government’s donation to the people of Goma. The Government insisted that it be conveyed through Bukavu, not Kigali, which caused OCHA, the facilitating body, some difficulties. The donation arrived in Bukavu labeled as "don du gouvernement." This infuriated the RCD Governor of Bukavu and harmed the relations between OCHA and the RCD in Bukavu.

While these factors made the response more complex and required staff to have a sophisticated understanding of the situation and a diplomatic approach, there were also some factors related to the context that facilitated the humanitarian response. UN agencies and NGOs alike noted that they were able to build on a solid platform. They had significant operations in eastern DRC with trained staff and large stocks of supplies and equipment. As one NGO director noted, "we’ve been here since 1994. Our staff know the town and can easily do a distribution." As well, formal and informal networks and coordination mechanisms were in place to knit together individual agency responses.

It is also important to note that regional networks were a very important part of the response. The existence of other emergencies - Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania - in the region meant that agencies and NGOs could quickly draw on regional capacity such as emergency stocks, water tankers, experienced French-speaking staff, etc. However, the regional dimension is not without its complications. For example, DRC and Rwanda fall under two different WFP regional offices (Yaounde and Kampala, respectively) and it was not immediately clear which of these offices would take the lead in responding to the crisis.

Lessons learned:

All disasters occur within a political context and the response and evolution of the crisis will affect and be affected by the relationship between the population and the authorities. These affects will be heightened in a complex emergency. It is crucial for staff to remember that the disaster will not override the political situation, and that this situation needs to be factored into response planning.

Understanding and reinforcing the regional capacity to respond is crucial. The ongoing work by the OCHA Regional Support Office in Nairobi to host regional contingency planning meetings assists agencies and NGOs to better understand the situation throughout the region and build informal networks. These types of meetings should be continued. Keeping up-to-date records on regional capacities and emergency stock levels are an important part of this effort.

III. The Role of the International Volcanologists

Although volcanologists have been studying Nyiragongo and its neighbor Nyiramuragira for years, the unstable security situation in eastern DRC has restricted their research over the last decade. Few international volcanologists have been able to visit the area and much of the monitoring equipment has been looted or destroyed. Local volcanologists have continued their research, but with limited tools and little external support.

In the weeks preceding the eruption, the local volcanologists had become increasingly concerned about the possibilities for an eruption, and had brought their concerns to the attention of OCHA and others in the UN system. Although the events that preceded the eruption seem to have been the subject of considerable revisionism by some parties, it is clear that the concerns of the volcanologists made an impact on some members of the international community. MONUC security officers prepared an evacuation plan which was sent to Kinshasa on 24 December 2001 (no response was received). The local volcanologists requested funds for a research trip to the volcano, and UN agencies had begun contributing. Indeed, on the morning of 17 January, the local volcanologists were visiting the OCHA office to discuss a trip to the volcano planned for 19 January.

Within hours after the eruption began, OCHA Geneva began searching for volcanologists with expertise in the region. A volcanologist agreed to go as a volunteer (he was subsequently placed under contract) and arrived in Kigali on 20 January. A team of Italian volcanologists contracted by OCHA followed two days later. The UNDAC mechanism was also activated on 17 January. Although the volcanologists were not formally part of the UNDAC team, they were supported by the UNDAC team until its departure, when OCHA took on this responsibility.

The volcanologists were widely recognized as one of OCHA’s most important contributions to the response. Their arrival was extremely timely and their analysis helped the humanitarian community to understand what was happening and identify the likely risks. They instituted a four-color system to indicate the current risk level, which proved to be a simple way for the humanitarian community to understand and contextualize the ongoing seismic and volcanic events.

The information from the volcanologists played a major part in the creation of a "virtuous circle" that quickly reinforced OCHA’s coordination role. The first volcanologist to arrive gave his initial briefing on the evening of 21 January, the same day the OCHA opened a humanitarian information center (HIC) in the Hotel Nyira in Goma. The daily briefings of the volcanologists (a clear value-added benefit, only available through the OCHA coordination meetings) at the HIC (a fixed physical place to come together) created strong incentives for UN agencies and NGOs to participate in coordination meetings and mechanisms.

For the humanitarian community, the volcanologists’ most important contribution was to clarify and quantify risks. They quickly dispelled concerns about the affects of lava on the potability of the water in Lake Kivu and the risks of gas inversions or tidal waves in the lake. The ongoing presence of the volcanologists was as important as the information they provided. Many UN and NGO staff noted that "most of what they were saying was ‘we don’t know.’" Many also recalled that the volcanologists themselves admitted that they found the behavior of Nyiragongo "surprising" and that there were differences of opinion between them. However, the sense that "there was someone monitoring the situation" and the openness of the volcanologists to questions and discussions went a long way to calming staff who had experienced the eruption and were still experiencing the frequent earthquakes that characterized the days after the eruption. Many participants noted that the volcanologists, especially Jacques Durieux and Dario Tedesco, had excellent communications skills.

Four main operational consequences emanated from the volcanologists’ inputs. First, their information allowed the humanitarian community to better understand the relative risks associated with different areas of Goma and its surroundings. Second, by indicating that another eruption was not imminent, they removed a barrier to a general food distribution (whether a general distribution was in fact necessary remains controversial in Goma, but is beyond the scope of this report). Third, they dismissed concerns about the possible health effects of volcanic ash, which allowed health agencies and NGOs to better target their actions. Fourth, their intervention allowed agencies and NGOs to understand the requirements for an effective monitoring and early warning system.

Although almost all participants offered very positive comments about the role of the volcanologists, the main caveat was that the volcanologists did not produce an analytical report covering their main findings until well after the acute phase of the crisis had ended. In a related vein, a significant number of participants indicated that the information from the volcanologists tended to be presented in a raw and unsynthesized fashion. However, this did not mean it was not comprehensible to attentive listeners.

OCHA staff, while extremely pleased with the role of the volcanologists, raised several internal management issues. They indicated that some of the volcanologists did not fully understand their positions as contractors to the UN and tended to disregard UN security rules. Some complained that the volcanologists had made commitments on behalf of the UN that the UN could never keep. They also noted that the volcanologists required a significant dedicated logistical support, and that this had been initially underestimated.

While the humanitarian community relied heavily on the information from the volcanologists, it is clear that the local population of Goma paid almost no attention to their analysis, largely because of the population’s determination to return to Goma and rebuild their lives regardless of the prognosis. However, civil society representatives also indicated that the information from the volcanologists was not been properly disseminated. They stated that not enough use had been made of local organizations who could have provided community mobilizers and animators, and expressed concern that the information from the volcanologists was not translated into local languages, thus making it difficult to disseminate beyond the urban population.

Lesson learned

In natural disaster situations, scientific information can play a crucial role in shaping the operational choices on the ground. OCHA is ideally placed to be the conduit for type of service. Because of the desire for clear information communicated in layperson’s terms, it is imperative that scientists playing this role be able to communicate effectively. Special attention must be paid to finding appropriate communications channels to reach local communities.


OCHA should develop a roster of volcanologists and put them under the same type of contractual arrangements as UNDAC team members. This will speed deployment and also allow for pre-mission training on UN procedures and security rules. OCHA should devise a logistical package for volcanology teams.

In Goma, OCHA should ensure that full use is being made of Radio Okapi and other media to provide information to the local population. Information should be translated in local languages wherever possible.

IV. OCHA as Coordinator: A Performance Assessment

While many of those interviewed for this report indicated their belief that the response to the crisis was effective and well-coordinated, credit should not be automatically ascribed to OCHA alone. In fact, the success of the coordination arrangements varied over time, and some aspects of coordination were more successful than others.

It is useful to describe the coordination structure in North Kivu before the eruption. The UNICEF head of Sub-Office in Goma was the designated Provincial Humanitarian Coordinator. The OCHA Head of Office and other OCHA staff in Goma aided him in the performance of his coordination duties. It is clear from discussions with Goma-based participants that this division of labor was unclear and confusing, and that the role of OCHA was not well-defined. Several participants specifically noted that it was not until after the eruption that they "really understood what OCHA did."

For the purpose of analysis, the assessment of coordination is divided into three periods: coordination during the evacuation on 17 January, coordination during the three days (18-20 January) when activities were concentrated with Rwanda, and coordination after 21 January when activities were re-started at the Hotel Nyira in Goma.

A. Coordination of the Evacuation

Comments from UN and NGO staff alike highlight a number of serious issues with regard to decision-making during the evacuation of Goma on 17 January, including:

  • poor transmission of information from the UN security leadership to the NGOs and donors during the morning when the initial evacuation decision was made;

  • significant gaps in information flow after the border had been closed by the RCD and UN staff and others gathered at the Hotel Nyira;

  • an insufficiently clear approach with the RCD on the need for an evacuation;

  • a lack of thorough preparation for the second evacuation attempt (i.e., preparation of "running bags," vehicle contents, etc.);

  • unclear directions as to whether the second evacuation decision was mandatory;

  • no notification of colleagues in Rwanda of events in Goma.

While it is not surprising that the evacuation was not completely smooth and flawless, these comments indicate that basic security management procedures were not followed. Indeed, the steps taken appear to have increased confusion and discomfort among staff, rather than mitigated the entirely understandable levels of tension and fear.

Lesson learned:

Security and evacuation plans are only valuable if they are living documents. OCHA can help to ensure that the entire humanitarian community is involved in a regular discussion and review of security management arrangements. Those charged with security decision-making and management responsibilities must ensure they communicate decisions clearly and unequivocally.

B. Coordination in Rwanda

By the morning of January 18, almost all of the Goma humanitarian community was in Ruhengeri, Rwanda. A "coordination" office was established that morning in the Oxfam office in Ruhengeri. The Rwanda UN Country Team (UNCT) had met and appointed WFP as the lead agency. The Rwanda UNCT began meeting with the Government of Rwanda, and WFP held a coordination meeting with the local authorities in Gisenyi. WFP also began distribution of high protein biscuits to those who had fled from Goma. The displaced were strongly encouraged to move to camps established by the Government around Ruhengeri, but most were reluctant to move. WFP continued in its coordination role until the arrival of Assistant Emergency Relief Coordinator Ross Mountain on January 20; at this time, OCHA took over. After the population returned to Goma, WFP resumed acting as coordinator in Rwanda, and also provided logistical support for goods arriving at Kigali airport.

It is difficult to form a clear overall assessment of coordination during these three days. Coordination activities were taking place in three locations - Kigali, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. The rapid evolution of the situation made it difficult to establish a real focal point, and there is a sense that information did not flow easily between the three locations. As well, the Goma-based agencies and NGOs quickly focused on their return to Goma while agencies based in Rwanda began to gear up for a crisis. OCHA played a role in these coordination activities in Rwanda, but was not clearly in the lead until the arrival of the AERC. This is perhaps not surprising in that OCHA did not have an office in Rwanda, and leadership of activities within Rwanda rested with the UNCT. Comments from participants from both the DRC and Rwandan sides of the border indicate that these days were quite chaotic. In this regard, the arrival of the AERC and the Head of Office for OCHA DRC were seen as extremely useful because they provided a focal point for coordination. Their presence also made the transition back to Goma (which began the next day) significantly easier. However, most of the Goma-based participants indicated that coordination in Rwanda was always a step behind the events on the ground.

C. Coordination in Goma

The Provincial Humanitarian Coordinator remained in his position after the eruption, but ceded almost all of his responsibilities to OCHA. While he co-chaired some general coordination meetings, it was soon understood by all participants that the OCHA Head of Office for Goma was the de facto coordinator (although a significant number of participants noted that this division of roles was confusing for the first few days). The general coordination structure was supported by eleven sectoral commissions - food, non-food, health, etc. These commissions were given the responsibility of developing the response in their particular sector. They met daily and reported to the general coordination meeting, which was also held daily. The volcanologists’ briefings were also part of the general coordination meeting.

The sectoral commissions are universally regarded as one of the strongest components of the response. The chairs of the commissions included UN agencies, international NGOs and local NGOs. In almost every case, the chair was chosen on the basis of competence, experience and capacity. Many of the crucial programming decisions were made in these forums, by all reports with a minimum of posturing and positioning. OCHA was seen as a key player in this system because it sent representatives to all sectoral meetings and ensured that reporting took place. The sectoral commissions worked because they were initially composed of a relatively small number of players, most of whom were operational in Goma before the eruption. Existing relationships and knowledge of each others’ capacities allowed them to begin working together quickly and easily. The fast and generous donor response also meant that competition for resources was not an issue in the early days. Finally, the sectoral commissions provided a logical entry point for newly arriving agencies, although the incentives to cooperate weakened over time.

The general coordination meeting receives a more mixed evaluation. In the interests of transparency, OCHA made a conscious decision open the general coordination meeting to all comers, including UN agencies, international NGOs, local NGOs and the national and international media. In the first week after the eruption, many media representatives attended the meeting. Participants are of two minds about this strategy. While OCHA staff and a few others contend that this approach was beneficial because information was disseminated as widely as possible, others contend that the meetings were unwieldy and that people often did not want to speak up on sensitive topics because they did not know who was in the room. Some claimed that it felt "like a press conference" at times.

The discussion of the general coordination meeting highlights a question that was raised by some participants: did OCHA’s coordination role extend beyond information sharing and into something more strategic? Two key shortcomings were identified:

  • The general coordination meeting was too large and inclusive a forum to allow for decision-making or the articulation of strategic directions. As a result, highly sensitive topics such as shelter were not properly dealt with by the "senior" members of the coordination structure.

  • Some of the sectoral meetings became less effective over time. Given that the sectoral commissions were identified as the backbone of the coordination system, this suggests weaknesses in the functioning of the system. OCHA stopped monitoring all of the commission meetings due to resource constraints, but this limited its ability to ensure that coordination mechanisms were working properly.

These comments suggest that OCHA should have considered creating a more effective general coordination mechanism. It may have been useful to form a smaller group of UN agencies, NGOs and donors to focus on strategic issues and problem-solving.

OCHA’s role as the focal point for information-sharing was widely recognized and applauded by participants in Kinshasa, Goma and Nairobi. The speedy establishment of the Humanitarian Information Center (HIC) at the Hotel Nyira and the associated information dissemination activities met with almost universal approval. Participants appreciated OCHA’s role in ensuring quick information dissemination, and reported few problems with the quality and accuracy of the information. There was great appreciation for the availability of computers, email, communications services and information at the HIC, and strong praise for the SRSA equipment, services and support staff.

Despite the generally positive tone, three problem areas in information-sharing were identified. Some donors and UN agencies felt that these sitreps were too OCHA-centric and did not adequately reflect the contributions of UN agencies, donors or NGOs. A review of the sitreps, which were finalized in Geneva, reveals that these comments were not unfounded. Unsurprisingly, a review of UN agency sitreps reveals similar tendencies.

NGO staff raised a second set of criticisms. They stated that OCHA was quite close-mouthed about its interactions with the RCD and did not pass on enough information about these meetings, which were ostensibly conducted on behalf of the humanitarian community. OCHA staff admit that they tended not to say much about these meetings because of their sensitive nature. The third set of criticisms came from civil society representatives, who felt that the humanitarian community as a whole had failed to adequately communicate with them.

OCHA’s other major value-added contribution came in the area of problem-solving with the RCD and the Rwandan authorities, particularly in relation to border and customs issues. Donors, UN agencies and NGOs all commended OCHA’s senior staff for investing huge amounts of time in solving problems caused by constantly changing rules and procedures and demands for taxes and fees. They noted that it freed them up to concentrate on more pressing operational issues. It was widely believed that these problems were addressed properly because of the involvement of OCHA’s senior staff.

Lessons learned

A central coordination task is to ensure that key issues are addressed in a timely way. This requires the establishment of appropriate fora for decision-making. Good meeting management can also contribute to effective decision-making.

Sectoral commissions are an extremely useful part of coordination mechanisms. OCHA needs to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made to maximize their contributions to the overall coordination system.

Timely information is crucial to the effective management of emergencies. HICs can be established quickly, simply and cheaply. A relatively simple set of services - "pigeon holes" for NGOs and UN agencies, the provision of a few computers, and the distribution of telephone contact lists - can improve the response to a crisis and create a positive feedback dynamic around coordination mechanisms. It is not necessary to provide a sophisticated set of services to make a significant impact.

Emergency response often requires convincing local authorities to respond quickly to bureaucratic and administrative problems. It is not effective for agencies and NGOs to individually address these problems. OCHA can play a useful role by acting as the interlocutor, but this will require good communications with those affected by OCHA’s interventions.

The DRC Government responded to the eruption by forming a "comité de crise" under the coordination of the Minister of Health, comprised of Government ministries and UN agencies. The OCHA team received strong praise from committee members and other Kinshasa-based actors for quickly and professionally taking on the role of secretariat to the committee. Participants were universally pleased with the speed and quality of information provided by OCHA. It appears that OCHA’s role of keeping the committee properly informed limited the number of problems that developed in Kinshasa.

Lesson learned:

On-site coordination should always be complemented with high-quality capital-level activities to ensure that all levels of authority are kept up to speed.

V. Dealing with the Media

The role of the media was a hot-button issue for many participants. There was a widespread sense that the media pressure had been "overwhelming" during the first week after the eruption and had been poorly managed by the humanitarian community. UN and NGO staff indicated that the media had misrepresented the situation by over-dramatizing the plight of the population, fixating on the question of the food distribution and ignoring other aspects of the humanitarian response. WFP thus became the focal point (and target) of media attention. WFP was the only agency with a spokesperson, and opinion is divided as to whether or not she attempted to assist the other parts of the UN. It is clear that some agencies felt they were left to fend for themselves.

Within the OCHA team, responsibility for liaising with the media was never clarified. Various team members ascribed it to the AERC, the UNDAC team leader, and an IRIN staff member deputized from Nairobi. Although this issue was raised several times by OCHA Geneva and New York, it was not resolved.

There is strong agreement that a single media focal point would have been very useful. The focal point could have served as the recipient of media queries and provided a consistent message on behalf of the humanitarian community. As well, the focal point would have complemented the WFP spokesperson by providing a comprehensive view of the humanitarian situation. This was seen as a role OCHA could play, either through an OCHA staff member or a media relations/public information person in the UNDAC team. It is noteworthy that several participants indicated that their organizations also needed a media specialist, and intended to make this recommendation to their own organization.


In major crises, OCHA should ensure a media specialist is deployed, either as part of the UNDAC team or from within OCHA. This person would complement, rather than compete with, individual agency media representatives.

VI. The Flash Appeal and Donor Update

The Flash Appeal and the Donor Update caused a degree of controversy, and it is clear that some UN agencies still harbor resentments about the process. The Flash Appeal was written during the weekend immediately after the eruption (19 and 20 January) and released in Geneva on 21 January. The two main operational agencies, WFP and UNICEF, stated that they were not sufficiently consulted about the Flash Appeal. WFP believes that OCHA unilaterally changed its request for $14 million to $3 million, and that OCHA used the wrong beneficiary population (250,000). UNICEF representatives indicated that their specific needs were not addressed in the sectoral division, hampering their ability to benefit from the Appeal.

These problems affected the subsequent Donor Update. Although some UN agencies had expended considerable funds, they had not received enough contributions to replace these expenditures. Therefore, they argued that the Donor Update should be used to recover these funds, and argued against a CAP revision. After considerable discussion, the Donor Update was structured to recover funds. It was launched on 12 February and received almost no response. Some UN agency staff blamed OCHA for this, contending that the Donor Update came out too late to attraction donor attention. They further complain that the donations to the crisis, including through the Appeal and the Update, have never been properly complied and reported.

OCHA staff contend that the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) Technical Guidelines indicate that when a natural disaster occurs in a CAP country, the proper response should be a CAP revision. While a close reading of the Technical Guidelines does not explicitly bear this out, it can easily be read into the spirit of the document. However, a review of similar situations over the past year indicates that there is no consistent approach.

In some ways, this discussion is moot as DRC-based donor representatives report that they paid little attention to the Flash Appeal and the Donor Update while making funding decisions in the field, although they were not sure how these documents had been used by their headquarters. Donor representatives explained that their presence on the ground allowed them to assess the needs directly. They made funding decisions based on their own observations and existing relationships with NGOs and UN agencies. It was not necessary for OCHA to advocate on behalf of particular NGOs or agencies. It is thus unclear whether the Appeal and the Update had any significant impact on the decision-making processes of major donors in this situation. Donor representatives also indicated that the Nyiragongo crisis reaffirmed their belief that a highly visible natural disaster will always attract significant funds.

It is important to note that donors expressed some annoyance with OCHA’s performance as a potential grant recipient. One donor representative indicated that his organization had reserved funds for OCHA but that OCHA’s proposal had been so weak that a positive recommendation could not be given. A representative of a different donor agency indicated that OCHA was extremely slow in producing a proposal for funds already allocated.

Finally, OCHA field staff indicated that they felt overburdened by the need to prepare the Flash Appeal and Donor Update. They found the arguments over the Donor Update to be extremely time-consuming and counter-productive.


The IASC should review the Technical Guidelines to clarify the process to be followed when a natural disaster strikes a CAP country.

OCHA should develop a generic coordination proposal that can be taken off the shelf in an emergency. This would avoid overburdening the coordination team with yet another task.

OCHA should develop better methods of supporting field teams in the production of Flash Appeals and Donor Updates. This would allow for a better balance of responsibilities between resource mobilization activities and field coordination.

VII. Contingency Planning

According to the "Inter-Agency Contingency Planning Guidelines for Humanitarian Assistance," "contingency planning is the process of (a) analyzing potential emergencies and their humanitarian impact; (b) prioritizing potential emergencies; (c) developing appropriate plans . . . to deal with prioritized potential emergencies; and (d) ensuring necessary preparedness measures and follow-up actions are taken."

Contingency planning was understood in two ways in Goma: first, as an evacuation plan, and second, as a set of likely scenarios with a general outline of a response (this is close to the IASC definition). It is clear that neither definition was satisfactorily met. Almost all agencies and NGOs agreed that their security and evacuation plans were inadequate. None had factored a natural disaster into their plans. This is surprising given the quality of the agencies and NGOs present in Goma. Most appear to have become complacent about the volcano; as one NGO staff member ruefully noted, "it was a normal discussion over dinner, we would laugh about it."

No local contingency planning exercise had been done. OCHA sponsors an annual regional contingency planning session in Nairobi, with a semi-annual review session. However, countries are only analyzed in light of the most likely scenario. While this is useful, it does not really meet the IASC definition of contingency planning. On the other hand, the benefits of the regional contingency planning were that information on stocks and programs was widely shared, and that key regional players knew one another. Everyone knew where the pieces of the puzzle were, but not how they would fit together. There is no evidence that this specifically affected the response, but it is clear that not thinking the issue through caused unnecessary confusion at the beginning of the crisis.

Lesson learned:

Contingency planning exercises should examine all possible and probable scenarios. Natural disasters should be incorporated wherever the risks are judged to be significant. (N.B. A Contingency Plan now exists for Goma/Gisenyi)

VIII. OCHA Internal Management Issues

Although not specifically included in the Terms of Reference, the field research has highlighted a number of internal management issues that need to be addressed.

OCHA team members in Kinshasa and Goma, while justifiably pleased with their work, highlighted some internal management issues that had hampered their work and led to frustration. National and international staff alike indicated that internal information sharing did not receive enough attention. There were no team meetings. There was a lack of attention to the stress team members were experiencing. The division of labor was often unclear, resulting in some staff members being overloaded and others feeling left out of the loop. Some staff brought in from outside OCHA DRC indicated that they did not receive proper Terms of Reference. In sum, OCHA did not organize itself to get full value from all staff.

Almost all team members indicated that OCHA had faced significant administrative constraints during the crisis. As one succinctly summarized, "OCHA’s mandate and its administrative structure are totally incompatible." It was difficult for the Goma team to quickly scale up and acquire the necessary vehicles and equipment. As well, getting adequate administrative support from UNDP Rwanda, especially cash transfers, required the physical presence of an OCHA staff member. Finally, there are a number of issues related to the Goma national staff, which are covered in more detail in the Nairobi report.1

Lesson learned

Good team management is an essential part of emergency management. It will allow OCHA to maximize its contribution and make the best use of available resources. Training in team building and management is a necessary component of a manager’s tool kit.


Leaving aside the broader constraints faced by OCHA as a UN Secretariat organ, it is clear that OCHA needs more flexible tools in the early stages of an emergency. DFID staff have found it extremely useful to arrive in emergencies with a significant amount of cash in hand; OCHA may want to investigate a similar mechanism to address this problem (obviously, adequate financial controls would still apply). As well, all "surge" staff should arrive with the necessary equipment to start working immediately.


The role of the UNDAC team is also not part of the Terms of Reference. However, it is important to indicate that there is a strong consensus that the team composition should have been better attuned to the needs on the ground. By the time the UNDAC team arrived in Rwanda, six OCHA international staff members including the Head of Office for the DRC and the Head of the Goma Sub-Office were present. The UNDAC team should have included a logistics expert and a public information expert, rather than general coordination specialists. Appropriate language skills are crucial if all UNDAC team members are to fully contribute.

Lesson learned

Tailor the composition of the UNDAC team to the reality on the ground. In places where there is a strong OCHA presence, specialists will be more useful than generalists.

Draft: 6 March 2002

The Role of OCHA in Emergency UN Operations following the Eruption of Volcano Nyiragongo in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

Lesson Learning Review

1. Background:

The DRC has been affected by years of protracted conflict. Goma, which has a population of around 400,000 people, is itself controlled by the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), a Rwandan-backed rebel group that has been fighting the Kinshasa government since 1998.

Mount Nyiragongo, situated some 10 kilometres north of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), erupted at 5:00 am on 17 January 2002. The lava flow, which continued until 20 January, destroyed around 80% of the economic infrastructure of Goma and led to an initial displacement of between 350-500,000 people. Up to two-thirds of Goma's population immediately fled to the town of Gisenyi, across the Rwandan border. The rest fled into other villages and cities in the DRC, particularly Sake. However, as early as 20 January, thousands of people who had fled their homes in Goma, began streaming back home, ignoring continued tremors from Mt. Nyiragongo and warnings by UN officials.

In the evening of 17 January, the Ministry of Health requested the UN agencies in Kinshasa to provide immediate assistance to the population in Goma. Following consultations between the Secretary General and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, the OCHA Assistant Emergency Relief Co-ordinator left for the DRC to support the UN country team. In addition, he deployed a five-member United Nations Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Team (UNDACT) in order to support inter-agency assessment and co-ordination measures as well as a team of four volcanologists with information on the special characteristics of Nyiragongo.

2. Purpose and Scope of the Review:

The purpose of the proposed review is to analyse OCHA’s role in the emergency phase of the response to the volcanic eruption. A review of OCHA’s performance in the emergency response is deemed especially useful in light of the fact that the natural disaster occurred in a very complex emergency situation. It is hoped that the study may cast some light on the modus operandi when responding to natural disasters in complex emergency environments and provide some guidelines to OCHA staff who find themselves in such situations.

The Study will be limited to the emergency phase of the response to the volcanic eruption.

3. Key Issues to be addressed:

1. In what way has the complex emergency environment in the DRC impacted on the humanitarian operation following the eruption of Volcano Nyiragongo?

2. What has been the role of the vulcanologists in the aftermath of the eruption, with special focus on how have their recommendations impacted on the conduct of humanitarian operations and on the availability and adequacy of early warning systems?

3. What has been OCHA’s overall performance in co-ordinating the overall international response?

4. To what extent has OCHA successfully facilitated the work of partner agencies?

5. To what extent has OCHA provided value-added to the international response?

6. What has been OCHA’s performance regarding the provision of timely and accurate information on the disaster? To what extent had OCHA dealt effectively with the media?

7. What has been OCHA’s effectiveness in playing an advocacy role vis-à-vis the donor community and appealing for funding to meet the urgent needs arising from the disaster?

8. Had there been any contingency planning? If so, by whom and how did this effect the quality of the response provided?

9. What worked and what did not work? What can be learned for future responses of this type?

10. What specific recommendations can be made to OCHA and its partners regarding improvements for future emergency operations responding to natural disasters in complex emergency situations?

4. Methodology:

As defined by OCHA’s evaluation framework, the lesson learning review is an internal review and as such will focus on contributing to and facilitating organizational learning. The main method used will be semi-structured interviews of key informants as well as a lessons workshop with partners held in the field:

a) A desk review of information/documentation provided by OCHA Geneva

b) Semi-structured interviews of relevant units within OCHA headquarters;

c) Semi-structured Interviews of representatives of the UN country teams in the DRC and in Rwanda;

d) Semi-structured interviews of other partners on the ground in Goma, e.g. 1. NGOs, 2. Red Cross, 3. Bilateral donor Governments, 4. Multilateral donors, 5. Media.

e) Semi-structured interviews with representatives of the Government of the DRC, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD) and the prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri in neighbouring Rwanda.

f) A lessons workshop in Goma with partners including Government representatives on the ground in Goma (half day).

In addition, annex 1 provides a list of relevant performance indicators to assess coordination. This list will be systematically used by the team in its semi-structured interviews.

5. Reporting Requirements and Processes:

A first draft report should be submitted at the latest three weeks after return of the team from the field. The report should be no longer than 5,000 words, including a succinct 500 word summary and will be written in English. The first draft will be shared with key stakeholders in the field and in agency HQ and comments and inputs will be reflected in the final report to be submitted three weeks after receipt of the first draft.

6. Team Composition:

The review team will consist of a Senior Policy Development Officer.

7. Timeframe:

The overall duration of this review will be six weeks, including 10 days in DRC: 14 - 23 March (three days Kinshasa, 6 days in Goma), one week for the desk review, one week for HQ interviews and interviews of key informants no longer in DRC and two weeks for report writing.

8. Management and Organization:

a) Overall co-ordination for the study, as well as administrative support, lies with the OCHA’s Policy Development and Studies Branch/ Evaluation and Studies Unit.

b) Relevant units of OCHA Geneva, especially the Africa I & Middle East Section of the Response Co-ordination Branch and the Office of the Director, as well as OCHA’s field offices in the DRC, Kenya and Rwanda, will provide the Study team with background information and documentation as required, as well as guidance in the practical conduct of the Study (partners on the ground to be interviewed, advice on the OCHA’s standard procedures for Disaster Response, etc.).

Annex 2: Methodology and Participants


The information in this report was gathered through in-person one-on-one and group interviews in Goma, Nairobi and Kinshasa. Telephone interviews were conducted with those participants who were unavailable for in-person interviews. Interviews were conducted between March 12 and April 29, 2002.




Valerie Julliand (Head, OCHA Regional Support Office)

Belinda Holdsworth (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA Regional Support Office)

Sylvie Dossou (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA Regional Support Office)

Craig Williams (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA Asmara)

Claire McEvoy (Information Officer, IRIN)

Lily Adhiambo (Information Officer, IRIN)

Matthew Conway (Information Officer, IRIN)


Johan Heffinck (General Coordinator, ECHO Regional Office)



Professor Mampunza (Director of Cabinet, Ministry of Health)


Michel Kassa (Head of Office, OCHA)

Hélène Daubelcour (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA)

Maarten Thomas (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA)

Noel Tsekouras (Programme/Administrative Officer, OCHA)

Olivier Eyenga (Humanitarian Affairs Assistant, OCHA)

UN Agencies

Bouri Sanhouidi (Resident Coordinator)

Ad Spijkers (Country Representative, FAO, and Resident Coordinator a.i.)

Fritz Lherrison (Special Envoy, UNICEF)

Gian Franco Rotigliano (Country Representative, UNICEF)

Jean-Ludovic Méténier (Emergency Programmes Administrator, UNICEF)

Jan Sholten (Logistical Officer, UNICEF)

Felix Bamezon (Country Director, WFP)

José Pita-Gros (Deputy Country Director, WFP)


Tony Gambino (Director, USAID)

Miriam Lutz (Emergency Coordinator, OFDA)

Jay Nash (Emergency Coordinator, OFDA)

Nancy Bolan (OFDA)

François Goemans (ECHO Representative)


Local Authorities

Emmanuel Kambali (Humanitarian Coordinator, RCD)


Jean Charles Dupin (Senior Humanitarian Advisor, OCHA)

Dominic Garcin (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA)

Muthoni Njogu (Administrative Officer, OCHA)

Megan Scott (Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA)

Vicky Prekabo (Telecoms Officer, OCHA)

Dieudonné Ntangano (Adminstrative Clerk, OCHA)

Edo Kazembe (Adminstrative Clerk, OCHA)

UN Agencies

Mohktar Younous (Logistician and OIC, WHO)

Mahamane Cisse-Gouro (Head of Office, Eastern DRC, UNHCHR)

Barry Sesnan (Provincial Humanitarian Coordinator, North Kivu, and Head of Sub-Office, UNICEF)


Mamadou Toure (OIC, Goma Logbase)

Lohic D’almeida (Humanitarian Affairs Officer)

Christopher Gakehmi Leba (Security Officer)


Gilles Collard (Technical Assistant, ECHO)

Red Cross Movement

Walter Stocker (Head of Sub-Delegation, ICRC)

Delphin Elwa (President, Congolese Red Cross - North Kivu Branch)

Civil Society

Saanane Nziavake Edos (Comité de crise Nyiragongo 2002)

Kubuya Nuhangi (Reseau EPER-SUISSE et Chaine du Bonheur Eglise du Christ au Congo)

Kahindo Syuga Leghana (Comité de crise Nyiragongo 2002)

Katindi Musanda (President a.i. Coordination Societe Civil - North Kivu/Goma)

Kimbere Kithaka (Operation Goma Solidarité)

Kabera Butubiea (President du Carrefor Congolais des Multimedias and Member de la Committee Information au sein du Comite de crise Nyiragongo 2002)

Brigitte Ngegoyo (Comité d’assistance du Nyiragongo)

Victor Ngezayo (SCNK)

Kambale Benoit (Comité d’assistance du Nyiragongo)

Bakendga Anglinoli (Comité d’assistance du Nyiragongo et porte parole de la commission education de la societe civile)


Erna van Goor (Head of Mission, MSF Holland)

Jannes van der Wijk (Health Advisor, ASRAMES)

Baganda Fakage (Chief of Health Department, ASRAMES)

James Mathenge (Finance Director/Acting Programme Director, World Vision)

Jos Koster (Head of Programmes, Eastern DRC, OXFAM)

Alain Lapierre (Programme Manager, Eastern DRC, SCF)


Naomi Miyashita, (Special Assistant to the Resident Coordinator)

Josephine Mahiga (Program Officer, WFP)


Bob Turner (Senior Emergency Response Officer, OCHA)

Piero Calvi-Parisetti (UNDAC Team Leader)

Annex 3: Brief Chronology

January 17:

-eruption of volcano begins around 0500 hours

-evacuation of UN and NGO staff

-movement of population towards Rwanda, Sake and Bukavu

-RC requests deployment of UNDAC team with volcano expertise

-first OCHA sitrep posted on Reliefweb

-first crisis committee meeting in Kinshasa

January 18:

-arrival of OCHA Head of Office in Kigali

-coordination room established at OXFAM office in Ruhengiri

January 19:

-arrival of UNDAC team in Kigali and transfer to Gisenyi

-Rwandan government announces that 26 camps will be established

-reports of some population movements back to Goma from Rwanda

January 20:

-arrival of AERC in Kigali

-OCHA holds first coordination meeting in Gisenyi; six sectoral commissions established

-population movements back to Goma from Rwanda in full flow

-sectoral coordination meetings begin in Goma

-first volcanologist arrives

January 21:

-general coordination meetings begin at the Hotel Nyira in Goma

-volcanologist makes initial public report

-Flash Appeal released in Geneva

-RC/HC and UNCT visit eastern DRC

-AERC estimates that approximately 10,000 people remain on the Rwandan side

January 22:

-WFP begins food distributions at Sake

January 23:

-WFP begins food distributions in Goma, Masisi and Rutshuru

-NFI distributions also begin

January 27:

-UNSECOORD clears national staff to return to Goma

February 12:

-Donor Update released in Geneva

1 This very useful and comprehensive report, entitled "Review of Response to Volcano Nyiragongo, Goma" was produced by the Regional Support Office in Nairobi after a meeting with a number of agencies and NGOs on 21 February 2002. The discussion of local staff issues can be found on page 5.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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