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Strengthening humanitarian information systems essential to the coordination of humanitarian assistance through thematic support to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

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Location of operation: Global

Amount of decision: EUR 3,000,000

Decision reference number: ECHO/THM/BUD/2006/02000

Explanatory Memorandum

1. Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. Rationale

In times of conflict or major disasters, the need for accurate and timely information is as crucial as is a rapid and coherent coordination among the international humanitarian community. Effective humanitarian information systems that provide timely access to comprehensive, relevant and reliable information are critical to humanitarian operations. As it has been demonstrated recently in the emergency responses in Darfur, the Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster or the South Asia Earthquake, access to information is crucial for a coherent strategic response. The faster the humanitarian community is able to collect, analyse, disseminate and act on key information, the more effective will be the response, the better needs will be met and the greater the benefit to affected populations.

In protracted, complex emergencies, a constant flow of updated and relevant information is essential to enable informed decisions to be made by those providing assistance and by the victims of these emergencies alike. The lack of access to independent information in conflict situations can easily fuel existing tensions. In a sudden-onset emergency the quick assessment of needs, the creation of emergency maps and the matching of needs with available resources improve the transparency, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the response, thus avoiding under spending and overspending alike.

Mobilizing the support of the international humanitarian community is often dependent upon providing a complete overview of an emergency as it unfolds, including the provision of information on all of the activities of the humanitarian actors and agencies involved in the response. Comprehensive and reliable information and data, integrated and analysed, and packaged in usable formats, enables decision makers in the field to avoid duplication of effort and to better coordinate response among operational agencies. Thus a repository of all relevant emergency documentation, including situation reports, geographic and thematic maps, Who is doing What Where (3W) activity tracking systems for each sector, assessment and funding information, updated on a continual basis, becomes a critical tool for agency and donor decision making during the response phase, both in and outside the country concerned.

Tracking of humanitarian finance is not merely used for retrospective analysis, but is a pivotal tool for ongoing humanitarian response. By identifying unmet needs and uneven allocations, it allows implementing agencies and donors to work together to determine the best use of humanitarian resources.

A regular flow of information and analyses of events in high-risk countries is a crucial component in early warning. Such timely early warning information enables proactive rather than reactive decision-making and policy development. By alerting the humanitarian community to an impending crisis, early warning analysis can facilitate timely preventive interventions and preparedness planning, which may minimize or avert a crisis.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was established in 1991 with a specific mandate to work with operational relief agencies to ensure that there are no gaps in the response and that duplication of effort is avoided. OCHA serves as a catalyst in the multilateral system for principled humanitarian action from the moment a crisis is anticipated until rehabilitation and reconstruction are under way. OCHA's gathering of information management extends from the gathering and collection of information and data, to its integration, analysis, synthesis, and dissemination via the Internet and other means.

OCHA information systems are pivotal for the humanitarian community including for DG ECHO as a major humanitarian donor and its decision making procedure. DG ECHO is an important user of OCHA's information systems for its day to day management of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, DG ECHO is strongly committed to the Principles and Good Practices of Humanitarian Donorship adopted at the 2003 Stockholm Conference. This funding decision is a concrete follow up to the commitment undertaken by Donors to enhance the coherence and effectiveness of its actions as well as accountability to beneficiaries.

Consequently and after the positive results achieved during these two years of thematic support to OCHA, DG ECHO envisages to continue to support, for the last year, measures designed to enhance the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance and the related information management systems. It will do so by funding OCHA, an experienced partner with a unique mandate and a global outreach in that domain. DG ECHO will maximize this investment by ensuring technical coordination, availability and interoperability with similar services developed for DG ECHO and other Commission Services by the Joint Research Centre.

Thematic funding has enabled OCHA to make significant progress in the important area of information management by the creation of Information Management Units in OCHA field offices and the deployment of Humanitarian Information Centers to emergencies like Darfur or in response to natural disasters like the Indian Ocean Tsunami last year or the recent South Asia Earthquake. After 3 years of thematic funding and the full implementation of these programmes, DG ECHO is planning to phase out its support by the end of this funding decision.