Global support

What is the global architecture of UNICEF’s humanitarian action?

Humanitarian action is firmly established as core to UNICEF’s programming and is central to UNICEF’s Strategic Plan 2014-2017. UNICEF delivers results for children in some of the most challenging environments in the world. In 2014, the organization committed to achieving even more effective responses to crises and to building stronger links between humanitarian and development programming through investing in risk-informed programming, resilience building and strengthening humanitarian preparedness. In line with this, UNICEF invested in a Strengthening Humanitarian Action initiative with aims to adapt humanitarian action to emerging operational contexts, to strengthen and expand humanitarian partnerships, and to further simplify business processes in order to be a more predictable and effective humanitarian partner.

The burden of humanitarian crises in 2014 was unprecedented in the history of the organization. The year started with ongoing responses to four major emergencies that required a mobilization of the entire humanitarian system: the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the continuation of conflicts in both the Central African Republic and in Syria with resulting refugee crises, and the eruption of violence in South Sudan. At the end of October 2014, UNICEF and partners were undertaking humanitarian action in 40 countries, including responding to new crises in connection to the conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq, the escalation of hostilities in Gaza, and the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. Support to country-level humanitarian action is provided by UNICEF’s seven regional offices and headquarters divisions. Together these offices provide the core infrastructure to support field preparedness and response in order to save lives and protect rights; systematically reduce vulnerability to disasters and conflicts; facilitate sector and cluster coordination and humanitarian partnerships; and contribute to the strategic response plans of humanitarian country teams.

Headquarters divisions provide overall strategic direction and guidance, and are responsible for strategic planning, advocacy and oversight for the entire organization. Headquarters also leads the development of UNICEF’s global response strategy, based on experiences and contributions from all parts of the organization, to inform planning, policy and guidelines for effective humanitarian action. Global support is coordinated by a dedicated team in UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes (EMOPS), including a global security team and a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week Operations Centre (OPSCEN). UNICEF’s Programme Division provides sectoral technical support, as well as a team that coordinates support to resilience and recovery. The organization is also prioritizing and investing in strengthening the resilience of children, communities and systems to multiple shocks and stresses.

The recently created Field Results Group in Headquarters will be working closely with the regional offices and country offices to review and explore options for flexible and improved modalities of implementation for greater impact in various humanitarian contexts.

Regional offices are the first port of call to provide support to a crisis. Dedicated technical and cross-sector advisers provide direct programme and operational support, with increased capacity in emergency-prone regions. This includes strengthening country-level capacity, providing quality assurance and facilitating surge deployment. Regional office capacity is also critical during significant regional emergencies, as seen in the crises in the Syrian Arab Republic and in responding to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

What does the global architecture cost?

UNICEF’s 2015 global humanitarian appeal is for US$3.1 billion. Over 98 per cent of requirements will directly support a wide range of humanitarian actions by UNICEF field offices around the world. The global support for this response costs US$40.6 million1, approximately one per cent of the overall appeal. Nearly half of this support budget (US$18.6 million) will be covered through core or regular resources. Another US$12.8 million will be raised by early 2015.

Global architecture of UNICEF's humanitarian action
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How do investments in UNICEF’s global architecture translate into action?

In order to fulfill UNICEF’s commitments to children in emergencies it must have in place emergency preparedness measures before a crisis begins. Headquarters divisions and regional offices are working to support investments in emergency preparedness at all levels of the organization, so that response can be quick and effective. Investments in strengthening UNICEF’s flexible financial modalities, such as its Emergency Programme Fund, for use by country offices in the first days of a response, have proven critical to UNICEF’s ability to rapidly respond. Over the past few years, UNICEF has significantly increased its investment in strengthening its capacity to rapidly deploy staff with specialized skills in emergency coordination, programming and operations. This includes the expansion of the Emergency Response Team to fill existing gaps in both programmatic areas as well as operations, reinforcement of the Immediate Response Teams and other measures that support timely and predictable deployments.

UNICEF continues to actively engage collaborative approaches to humanitarian action by leading the nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) global clusters and co-leading the education global cluster. The organization also co-leads the child protection and gender-based violence areas of responsibility within the protection cluster. Global cluster capacity, including for information management, is ready to be deployed upon activation of an inter-agency ‘Level 3 emergency response’.

Also critical to UNICEF’s emergency response is its supply function, which is led from Copenhagen, with supply hubs located in Dubai, Panama and Shanghai for the rapid mobilization and shipment of essential life-saving supplies during the first 24 to 72 hours of a crisis. This complements locally prepositioned supplies. A significant milestone for UNICEF’s supply operations took place during 2014, with the delivery of a record-setting 6,000 tons of life-saving supplies – enough to fill more than 75 cargo jumbo jets – to the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Supply Dashboard, which captures real time information of supply requirements, stock items, pending orders and commodities sent or en route, was rolled out to all Level 3 emergency countries. In addition to direct emergency response, UNICEF’s efforts in influencing markets, product innovation and supporting governments in supply chain strengthening is vital to ensuring that quality and affordable supplies reach children and communities. The implementation of a supply and logistics roster in 2014 allows for the identification and deployment of surge support staff, such as emergency specialists, logisticians, data analysts and warehouse staff, to emergencies in a more timely and efficient way.

In terms of UNICEF’s overall emergency human resource needs, a dedicated emergency human resources unit coordinates surge deployment and recruitment for emergency countries, alongside global standby partnerships. Focal points in evaluation, communication, resource mobilization, finance and administration, and information and communication technology provide further support.

Looking ahead

UNICEF will continue to invest in its humanitarian action agenda, with a focus on providing staff with specific training and skills development and continued focus on staff welfare – particularly for those working in difficult circumstances. The organization will expand humanitarian partnerships to take fuller advantage of horizontal and South-South cooperation, and build a more predictable set of relationships to enhance operational capacity. Finally, UNICEF recognizes the need for and seeks data-driven analysis that produces a blueprint for humanitarian architecture and resources and helps to leverage capacities and pool expertise. This will enable UNICEF to deploy human and financial resources to the best advantage, in the locations and sectors where needs are most critical.


1 This does not include additional requirements in regional chapters of Humanitarian Action for Children 2015.