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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

UNICEF's Role in Humanitarian Action

In 2011 Tropical Storm Washi hit the Philippines impacting 200,000 children. In this photo, children play with UNICEF provided supplies at a child-friendly space, which offers a safe place to play, learn and regain a sense of normalcy after a disaster.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-2138/Palasi

UNICEF has a long history of working in emergencies and humanitarian contexts, both natural and man-made. Originally called the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, the organization was created to provide humanitarian assistance to children living in a world shattered by the Second World War.  Much has changed since then, but UNICEF’s fundamental mission has not.
The international community is faced with increasingly complex humanitarian crises which place children and women at significant risk. On average, UNICEF responds to more than two hundred emergencies every year, informing and shaping these interventions as a global leader for children.

The caseload for humanitarian action will continue to grow and in so doing will challenge UNICEF’s capabilities and those of the entire humanitarian system. This will be the result of a combination of old drivers of humanitarian needs such as conflict and natural disasters exacerbated by the combined effect of climate change and urbanization. The needs will also be exacerbated by the youth bulge and possible shocks related to prices, financial markets and natural resources.

At the same time, many countries have considerably strengthened national disaster management capacity and coordination of humanitarian assistance.  They have invested in systems and structures that have reduced vulnerability over time.   The number of national NGOs has grown and there has been a notable cultural/geographic diversification of international NGOs.  Much has been learnt in recent years about responding to large-scale humanitarian crises and adapting traditional approaches to effectively provide support to countries in chronic crises, in transition or those that are highly exposed to disasters risk. UNICEF adapted and simplified its emergency response procedures based on learning from its experience in recent large-scale emergencies, including systems to trigger early action. It also established permanent and dedicated capacities to fill gaps and shortcomings identified in past humanitarian situations, notably around human resources. These reforms are underway but still require dedicated attention and focus.

The humanitarian system has experienced many changes in recent years. Many countries have considerably strengthened national disaster management capacity and coordination of humanitarian assistance. The number of national NGOs has grown and their influence and there has been a notable cultural/geographic diversification of international NGOs. The Transformative Agenda pursued by The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) addressed some of the shortcomings of the systems and lessons from major disasters in 2010, resulting in the December 2012 "TA Protocols" which set the parameters for improved collective action in humanitarian emergencies. Humanitarian action is also influenced by changes in the development assistance system and trends in UN Security Council mandates, including the development of systems and tools to support transitions in line with past and new Quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR) recommendations, the peace building architecture, integrated UN missions, and the protection of civilians agenda.

UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action aims to effectively address the implications of these trends for its work and resources. In this context, the mainstreaming of humanitarian action within UNICEF’s overall programmes both at the global level and country level will be maintained because it provides unique opportunities to better link humanitarian response with development programmes to both build resilience and promote rapid recovery and transitions, especially in conflict and fragile affected sand/or disaster prone countries.



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