UNICEF in Emergencies
Since its inception, UNICEF’s mandate has involved a rapid response to humanitarian crises.
Originally called the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund, the organisation was created to provide humanitarian assistance to children living in a world shattered by the Second World War.
Though emergencies have grown increasingly complex and their impacts ever more devastating, UNICEF remains dedicated to providing life-saving assistance to children affected by disasters, and to protecting their rights.
UNICEF is guided in its emergency response by its Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies (CCCs), which build on our experiences in recent crises and outline the core responses at all levels of the organisation.
These include our initial response when an emergency breaks out as well as the timeframe for a sustained response in communities affected by an emergency.
The first guiding principle of UNICEF’s humanitarian emergency response is that children in the midst of conflict or natural disaster have the same needs and rights as children in stable areas.
Emergencies in India
Over the last two decades, India has borne the brunt of several major natural disasters including the Latur Earthquake in 1993; the Orissa super-cyclone in October 1999, the Bhuj earthquake in January 2001, the Tsunami in December 2004, the earthquake in Jammu & Kashmir in October 2005, major flooding in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Orissa, West Bengal and other states in 2007 and 2008, and major avian flu outbreak in West Bengal in 2008.
In addition, a number of relatively smaller-scale emergencies, primarily floods, but also droughts, landslides, cholera and avian flu outbreaks have occurred.
Tens of millions people are affected annually in India, most of them from the poorest strata of the population, a high proportion of whom are children.
UNICEF has been able to effectively respond to emergencies in India by complementing the government’s efforts.
Notably, in recent years UNICEF has consistently been a major humanitarian player, providing immediate response to each crisis and assuming a great responsibility for the well-being of the affected.
UNICEF’s role has been highly appreciated by the Government of India and other partners.
Most importantly, UNICEF’s interventions have contributed to the prevention of epidemics and to alleviating the adverse impact of disasters on the well-being of the most vulnerable among the communities affected, particularly the children.
Uniting for Children in Emergencies
UNICEF works in collaboration with local and international partners, including governments, UN agencies, and civil society.
These partnerships are crucial to ensuring comprehensive and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance.
Key partners for UNICEF India include the Union Government’s National Disaster Management Authority, Sphere India, RedR India, and the Indian Red Cross Society.
Additionally, UNICEF is an active member of the UN Disaster Management Team (UNDMT) in India.
With it’s network of 13 field offices covering 16 states in India – UNICEF has played a critical role in times of crisis by gathering information, conducting rapid assessments and providing a platform for the UNDMT to coordinate the UN system’s response in areas where it has a presence.
While UNICEF is ready to respond to a humanitarian crisis anywhere in India, emergency preparedness efforts are primarily focused on disaster-prone states.
Preparing for Emergencies
The principal goal of UNICEF’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Programme in India has been to ensure the fulfilment of the rights of children and women in humanitarian crises.
UNICEF’s current response capacity owes a great deal to its preparedness arrangements which include Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans (EPRPs) in each office; pre-positioning of essential emergency items in disaster-prone states; institutional partnerships with key organisations which allows for improved coordination, emergency training and capacity building, and rapid deployment of pre-screened consultants, etc.
In line with the government’s strategic policy shift from response to preparedness, UNICEF has also adopted a gradual shift in its programme priorities.
While maintaining its readiness to ensure fulfilment of its responsibilities as per the Core Commitments for Children, UNICEF has initiated various disaster management interventions. The key concept is promotion of Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) activities in selected vulnerable areas of West Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
Limited in scope, but successful experiences in CBDRR interventions in several states have proven to help build the capacities of vulnerable communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of disasters.
Based on best practices and lessons learned from earlier experiences, UNICEF has planned to expand CBDP across the country, including in urban areas.
In the News
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Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies