The UN and Disaster Management

Recognizing the need to contribute to disaster response and recovery efforts, the United Nations established in 1971 its own mechanism to provide international assistance to governments when such governments elevate a request for humanitarian assistance. All response activities within the United Nations are coordinated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team

At the request of the government affected by a disaster, OCHA may dispatch a United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination team (UNDAC) to the country within 12 to 48 hours after a sudden-onset disaster to provide technical services, principally in tasks such as damage and needs assessment, on-site coordination and information management. UNDAC teams aim to facilitate close links between country-level, regional and international response efforts. When deemed appropriate, the United Nations may also set up an On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) to help local authorities in a disaster-affected country to coordinate international relief.

Cluster System

In addition, OCHA has established a structure of clusters as a way for UN agencies to work together with non-UN agencies (f. ex. NGOs) to deliver humanitarian assistance in a coordinated fashion. There are eleven different clusters, each one focusing on a specific set of tasks or functions. Each cluster is headed by one or two UN organizations or agencies. Both the UNDAC team and the OCHA clusters coordinate their efforts with the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country affected by the disaster.

While most clusters operate during the response phase, the United Nations Development Programme UNDP has established the Early Recovery cluster that focuses on the more long-term needs related to recovery. Through this cluster, UNDP links humanitarian efforts with development work. The aim of this cluster is to gradually turn the dividends of humanitarian action into sustainable crisis recovery, resilience building and development opportunities.