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Report of the Secretary-General: The transition from relief to development

+ 17 more
Publication date

General Assembly
Sixtieth session
Item 74 (a) of the preliminary list*
Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and
disaster relief assistance of the United Nations, including
special economic assistance: strengthening of the
coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of
the United Nations

Economic and Social Council
Substantive session of 2005
New York, 29 June-27 July 2005
Item 5 of the provisional agenda**
Special economic, humanitarian and
disaster relief assistance

The transition from relief to development
Report of the Secretary-General+


The present report is submitted in response to General Assembly resolution 59/141 and Economic and Social Council resolution 2004/50, in which the Assembly and the Council requested the Secretary-General to report on the issue of transition from relief to development, with the aim of improving the international community's efforts to better respond to transition situations in support of the efforts by affected States. To this end, the report draws on case studies from countries undergoing both post-disaster recovery and transition from conflict to peace to discuss the specific challenges of national ownership, coordination and financing.

I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted in accordance with General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991, in which the Assembly requested the Secretary-General to report annually to the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council on the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance. The report is also submitted in response to the requests contained in General Assembly resolution 59/141 of 15 December 2004 and Economic and Social Council resolution 2004/50 on the strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations.

II. Context

2. In the aftermath of disasters and emergencies, there is often a period between the emergency and development phases when humanitarian needs must be met and the long-term benefits of rehabilitation and reconstruction have yet to be fully realized. While in the past such transitions were largely regarded as a sequential progression from relief to development, it is now recognized that there are various aspects of transition processes that must be addressed simultaneously.

3. All transition situations are unique and therefore require flexible responses adapted to the specific context and circumstances of the country. However, all types of transition processes have one common feature: national ownership of the transition process, whether it be in response to natural disaster, economic transformation or conflict, is the key to successful and sustainable recovery and development efforts and to lasting peace.

4. In post-disaster transitions, recovery tends to be broad in scope, as disasters can affect several countries simultaneously. Post-disaster transitions also occur soon after the crisis phase, often beginning within weeks of the initial disaster and leaving little time for post-crisis planning. Post-disaster transitions also typically take place in the context of a functioning State. Therefore, they usually feature a relatively straightforward relationship between national and international actors and institutions. Nonetheless, disasters often wipe out critical infrastructure, government capacity and hard-won development gains, requiring that post-disaster transition phases also include sustained support for the immediate restoration of livelihoods and basic social services, as well as for preparedness measures and activities that reduce future disaster vulnerability. It is critical that disaster-recovery programming be developed together with affected Governments and communities and with an awareness of the existing socio-economic situation.

5. Recovery from drought poses a set of unique challenges. Although like most disasters the impact of drought depends on the interplay between a natural event and socio-economic policies, drought differs from most disasters in that it is slow in onset and may continue in cycles or for a prolonged period of time. If the effects of drought are left unchecked, the fight over scarce resources that could ensue could aggravate existing tensions and political instability and lead to violence. The United Nations approach to drought has therefore sought to simultaneously address humanitarian concerns, while working with Governments to identify and address the underlying social and environmental factors that may increase the impact of drought and increase food insecurity.

6. Post-conflict transition situations are complex and are characterized by the close interplay of political, security, human rights, humanitarian and development imperatives. Conflict-related emergencies rarely end neatly. Insecurity may persist to varying degrees, government structures may be incapacitated or destroyed, and the root causes of the conflict may not be adequately addressed by negotiated political solutions that have yet to take root, often causing conflicts to resurface. Post-conflict transition operations, in particular, involve a complex web of political, peacekeeping, human rights, humanitarian and development activities geared towards consolidating peace, supporting restoration of State and government institutions and reinforcing human security. Such activities may need to occur simultaneously, at varying levels of intensity, and would be constantly susceptible to both setbacks and opportunities. As with post-disaster transitions, however, it is critical that the desired goal of all these efforts, or the vision of the post-recovery end state, be developed by and with affected Governments, civil society and communities.

7. The key challenges in post-disaster, drought and post-conflict transitions will be further elaborated in the present report. Case studies that highlight lessons learned and best practices are provided for each challenge. In the case of the sections on post-disaster and post-conflict situations, a discussion is included of additional measures that should be taken or have been taken by the United Nations system and others to strengthen response. The report concludes with a series of implications for future action.

III. Post-disaster recovery

A. National and local ownership and participation

8. National ownership of and participation in the design and implementation of recovery programmes are essential not only to achieve the desired impact of recovery efforts and their sustainability, but also to strengthen capacities on the ground. The participation of local disaster-management experts and technicians will help to ensure that recovery programming considers the needs and capacities of the affected population. The involvement of national decision makers is critical to building a consensus around recovery priorities, roles, responsibilities and resources. To ensure that such ownership by national actors takes hold, external support must empower local actors and strengthen institutions through the transfer of technology and know-how and through public education. Such an approach should include assistance in mapping hazards and risks and the formulation and/or revision of risk-reduction measures. International investment is also needed at the local community, national and regional levels in preparedness, response capabilities and disaster mitigation, including advocacy and awareness campaigns, and the development of early warning capacities and training exercises.

9. In situations where local government capacity has been weakened by a disaster, targeted support to help the authorities coordinate the disaster response becomes vital. In Grenada, which suffered loss of life and material damage following the 2004 hurricane season, the United Nations has supported the Government in formulating a national reconstruction plan, which includes guidelines for the construction of hurricane-resistant housing, strengthening government capacity in public information and communications and disaster risk reduction. The Government, with the support of the United Nations, also established the Agency for Reconstruction and Development in December 2004 to assist in the social, economic and physical recovery of Grenada through the application of specialist expertise; effective collaboration with Government ministries, development partners and other stakeholders; and the transparent stewardship of local and international resources. It is essential that the very close relationship that has been established with the Agency be continued. Although faced with start-up challenges of its own, a strong technical entity such as the Agency can push ahead with a focused reconstruction programme and priorities, one of which must include the implementation of the coordination and reporting mechanism that has been developed and discussed.

10. Equally important to an effective and smooth transition is support to local and community structures. Local involvement in the recovery effort following the earthquake in December 2003 in the city of Bam, Islamic Republic of Iran, has been critical both for the smooth progress of the transition and as a mechanism for building and strengthening local capacity. Immediately following the earthquake, emergency response efforts were led by the Government and the Iranian Red Crescent, which has significant technical capacity in all aspects of disaster risk reduction and management. However, at the time, the strong institutional arrangements at the national level were not matched at the local and intermediate levels. In the recovery phase, the United Nations and its partners have promoted participatory approaches and decentralized planning and programming, involving direct consultation with the affected communities, and have supported the Government in adopting and implementing community-centred approaches. This has included the provision of support to local authorities in promoting, supervising and guiding planning and construction processes, in line with local codes and practices.

11. Similarly, early recovery efforts in the Indian Ocean region following the tsunami of December 2004 were driven by the need to respond urgently, and were focused on providing technical and financial support to government actors and institutions. With support from United Nations agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and civil society, decentralized capacities that promote participatory approaches to recovery are now being strengthened. National Governments are taking ownership and becoming involved in all recovery processes. In this way, it is hoped that sensitive issues, such as land rights or the special vulnerabilities of minorities and migrant populations, can be addressed.

12. Effective communication with local populations about recovery activities is another means of reducing confusion and distress in a post-disaster community and better involving them in the recovery process. Following the relief effort in Bam, the momentum created by promises to reconstruct the city quickly was transformed into a variety of proposals and schemes that raised local expectations and resulted in a growing sense of confusion and unrest. It was clear that a strategy was needed to address and respond to community expectations, to inform the affected population of their rights and to highlight both the potential benefits and limitations of the reconstruction process. The United Nations launched a community-based information management programme that now issues a biweekly newsletter and mobilizes volunteers for dissemination of information on reconstruction strategies and plans and on people's entitlements and needs. A similar newsletter is currently being produced in Sri Lanka. Community-based information management programmes have also been crucial in addressing regional disparities to ensure that all regions benefit from the reconstruction efforts and are better off than they were before. Community mobilization and self-help form a cornerstone and a key organizing principle for demand-driven local recovery programmes, and strengthen the capacity of the community to play its role effectively.

B. Coordination

13. The primary responsibility for coordination in a post-disaster setting rests with the national authorities. Experience demonstrates, however, that national capacities are frequently overwhelmed by the volume and speed of response by a multiplicity of actors. External actors can facilitate the Government's coordination role by recognizing that their level of commitment to coordination and coherence has a direct impact on a Government's effectiveness, particularly in countries with less developed systems that require additional capacity strengthening.

14. The coordination challenges in any disaster recovery effort are often complex. Coordination of operations is labour intensive, in both traditional sectors, such as shelter and camp management, and in information management, resource mobilization and financial tracking. Coordination among local, national, regional and international response teams is essential, as the inevitable convergence of multiple-response actors can complicate, rather than strengthen, the overall recovery effort if field coordination structures are weak and roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined from the outset. Finally, because post-disaster transitions take place at an accelerated and sometimes uneven pace (both within and across countries), coordination and planning mechanisms must be in place and operational within a relatively short time and must be tailored to the country-specific context.

15. While the United Nations system has well-developed capacities for the coordination of response to disasters and humanitarian assistance, mechanisms for the coordination of post-disaster recovery activities need to be further strengthened. Progress has been made in ensuring greater capacity for recovery activities. Within 24 hours of the Indian Ocean tsunami, recovery advisers were deployed to support the Resident Coordinators. In addition, the Special Coordinator for Humanitarian Response was accompanied by a representative from the United Nations Development Group to strengthen the link between relief and development. Recovery teams were also at full capacity in affected countries within two weeks. Nevertheless, coordination gaps remain, and the tsunami response has highlighted the need to conduct assessments of early recovery needs, to set up predictable mechanisms for the deployment of technical experts to support recovery planning and to better coordinate post-crisis funding. Moreover, while the system of leadership accountability for emergency response is well defined at both the headquarters and field levels, similar systems for disaster recovery still require strengthening.

16. It is widely accepted that disaster recovery programmes that emphasize physical reconstruction and the restoration of basic services are insufficient to address the complete range of recovery needs. Rather, post-disaster recovery must contribute to improving the living conditions of the affected population through the revival of production, trade and services and the creation of income-generating and employment opportunities. Lessons emerging from the recovery effort in Bam suggest that shortcomings in the planning and coordination of recovery efforts led to key revitalization efforts being overlooked. More than one year after the tragedy, the reconstruction process is slow. Most of the city's inhabitants are still living in tents and provisional shelters and many lack access to basic medical care.

17. Coordination challenges are also apparent in those countries affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami. Although expert recovery teams were dispatched by the United Nations within two weeks of the crisis to compile information on disaster damage and recovery needs and to begin supporting national authorities in recovery planning, the pace of recovery since then has been relatively slow. This is due in part to an overall gap in recovery planning that has left key national entities and some United Nations country teams overstretched. In addition, there have been delays in the provision of recovery assistance in critical sectors, such as the construction of permanent housing and water and sanitation facilities, or the recovery or replacement of boats and reconstruction of commercial premises to jump start local economies. In some countries that have drawn up national reconstruction plans, there could have been better coordination of national and international recovery priorities among government actors, United Nations agencies and international financial institutions. While United Nations leadership accountability and reporting lines are clear in the disaster emergency phase, such structures are not as strong for the recovery period.

18. Senior coordination advisers for recovery have been deployed to the three most affected countries, namely, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives, to support the role played by Resident Coordinators. In each case, the Resident Coordinator recognized the need for senior-level support to the United Nations country team in the development and coordination of a United Nations strategic plan that would respond to the priorities included within a national recovery plan while also providing support to established funding mechanisms in the countries. The senior coordination advisers for recovery have played that role.


* A/60/50 and Corr.1.

** E/2005/100.

+ The report was delayed for technical reasons.

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