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OCHA - Geneva Natural Disaster Highlights No. 7

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Date de publication



Arjun Katoch

International disaster managers responding to earthquakes bemoan the multiplicity and wide range of professional capability, amongst responders professing to be USAR teams. In Bam, Iran during the 2003 earthquake approximately 1300 responders from 34 countries had arrived by day three. Normally the Government of the affected country has limited knowledge of the operational capabilities of teams that arrive. Coordination, which is difficult in a disaster, is made more so by numerous 'teams' that arrive with scarcely any capability to assist. INSARAG, implementing UN General Assembly Resolution 57/150 of 16 Dec 2002 on "Strengthening the effectiveness and coordination of international urban search and rescue assistance", addressed this situation by classifying USAR teams by operational capability in the INSARAG Guidelines as:

  • Light USAR teams - Teams that have the capability to assist with surface search and rescue. Light teams should not deploy internationally as they lack any additional operational capability to that available locally.

  • Medium USAR teams - Teams that have the operational capability to operate in collapsed buildings composed of materials other than reinforced concrete.

  • Heavy USAR teams - Teams that have the operational capability for difficult, technical search and rescue operations in collapsed multiple reinforced concrete structures.

    INSARAG then established an independent, verifiable, voluntary, process to establish operational capability of USAR teams. Each international USAR team can now request the UN's INSARAG Secretariat (FCSS/OCHA) for an external team of USAR experts to classify its operational capability. This external classification has already been requested by their Governments and completed for Hungary (2005), UK and US Fairfax County USAR teams (2006) and the US Los Angeles County USAR team in 2007 with others scheduled for later in 2007 by FCSS.

    INSARAG has thereby created a system of verifiable global operational standards of international urban search and rescue teams. This will enable disaster-affected countries to accept and support emergency response only from those who can add proven value to their domestic capacity.

    Arjun Katoch is the Chief of the Field Coordination Support Section and the Secretary of INSARAG, both part of the Emergency Services Branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


    Southern Africa

    Earlier and heavier rains than usual coupled with an unprecedented series of cyclones and tropical storms caused extensive flooding in several countries across the region. Countries affected included Angola, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

    More than a million people were affected, losing their homes, crops and other assets as well as extensive damage to infrastructure. Humanitarian partners and local authorities quickly mobilized to jointly assess the needs and deliver urgent assistance to the most affected populations.

    Despite increased disaster emergency preparedness and response plans, the sheer magnitude of this year's early rainy season stretched local authorities and humanitarian partners' capacity to the limit.

    Cumulatively these natural disasters exhausted in-country resources and more than US$56 million was requested through the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Flash Appeal to provide immediate life saving emergency supplies to the affected populations in Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia.

    Given this region's propensity for natural disasters combined with the extensive caseload of chronically vulnerable people, OCHA Regional Office South Africa will continue to focus on building the capacity of the region to respond quickly to rapid onset emergencies.

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