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UNICEF in Emergencies & Humanitarian Action

Humanitarian policy and action

© UNICEF/ HQ97-0088/LeMoyne
Children at a UNICEF-assisted centre for unaccompanied children in the town of Goma, near the Rwandan border.

The international community, including UNICEF, is faced with increasingly complex humanitarian crises brought about as a result of chronic conflict, sudden and large-scale natural disasters such as earthquakes and droughts as well as existing and potential new pandemics (e.g. HIV/AIDS and Avian influenza).

The overall aim of UNICEF’s humanitarian response is to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect the rights of children.  UNICEF’s humanitarian response builds on international and national capacities, is collaborative and is based on best practice.  Changes in the scale, nature and complexity of humanitarian crises  - as well as a growing recognition that the collective humanitarian response to these crises has often been inadequate  - has resulted in a broad number of inter-agency, UN and UNICEF policy developments. These can be described through three areas including international law and related rights approaches, humanitarian reform and policy issues directly related crisis contexts. 

Grounded in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols, as well the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), UNICEF’s humanitarian response is based upon internationally recognized normative frameworks including the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and humanity. Therefore, UNICEF strives to ensure that all children’s rights in all situations, including emergencies, are fulfilled.  UNICEF is also committed to developing a system to ensure that violations against children are better documented and acted on.  In this context, UNICEF has been requested by the Security Council to provide leadership in the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism for child rights violations in conflict areas. Working closely with partners at the national and global levels, UNICEF will be developing a system for documenting, reporting and responding violations against children’s rights such as attacks on schools and hospitals, denial of humanitarian access, displacement, recruitment into the armed forces, sexual violence as well as maiming and killing. 

Within the broader framework of UN reform, UNICEF is collaborating with UN, NGOs and other agencies in the development and application of a number of humanitarian reform initiatives.  The overall purpose of these initiatives is to improve predictability, accountability and effectiveness of the humanitarian response.  For example, the expansion of a grant and loan facility or Central Emergency Revolving Fund (e-CERF) aims to improve the availability of timely funding for emergencies. In addition, the establishment of the new inter-agency cluster approach and the designation of cluster lead agencies in identified gaps areas, is a mechanism designed to strengthen the predictability and accountability of the humanitarian response.   Within the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) and other fora, UNICEF actively contributes to the development of a number of inter-agency policy and best practice guidelines such as the IASC Handbook on Gender in Emergencies and the Inter-agency Manual on Negotiations with Non-State Entities in Emergencies.

UNICEF is also strengthening its response capacity throughout the organization, including by creating emergency- related training opportunities and ensuring more consistent application and response to real-time evaluations. Similarly, UNICEF is working closely with each of its country offices and with the IASC to strengthen early warning and preparedness activities. UNICEF also is working to ensure it country offices are aware of new and emerging policy debates as well as innovative approaches.  UNICEF’s Core Commitments for Children (CCCs) in Emergencies, which outline critical priority actions in five programme areas: Health, Nutrition, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Child Protection and Education as well as in other sectors such as HIV/AIDS, Security, Logistics and Human Resources will be enhanced by the development of appropriate training material and performance benchmarks as described in the SPHERE project.




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