Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia 

Brief Overview of the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia

The Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, a project of the United Nations Development Programme, is responsible for monitoring relief needs and providing humanitarian support services to the Resident Co-ordinator and specialist UN agencies. It has existed under various names and guises for more than ten years, funded through a combination of UN and bilateral donor contributions.

The Unit began life in November 1984 when the United Nations established the Office for Emergency Operations in Ethiopia (OEOE) to help co-ordinate the delivery of international famine relief to the drought affected highlands of the country. In October 1986, with the effects of the famine largely mitigated, the Secretary General decided to dismantle the OEOE and incorporate its key functions into the mandate of UNDP, thereby placing support for national disaster preparedness and prevention on a firmer footing. This led to the formation of the UN Emergency Prevention and Preparedness Group (UN-EPPG) in January 1987 as a project implemented by UNDP and reporting directly to the UN Secretary Generals' Special Representative.

In the months following the change of Government in mid-1991 the EPPG played a crucial role in formulating a programme to assist the post-war recovery process and accelerate the reintegration of more than 350,000 ex-soldiers and fighters. It also helped prepare consolidated UN appeals for Ethiopia under the SEPHA umbrella in 1992 and 1993, in addition to working with the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) in compiling a regular situation report on humanitarian needs in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa on behalf of the donor community.

To bring its title into line with those of similar UN offices in other disaster prone countries, on 1 January 1994 the EPPG was renamed the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia (UNDP-EUE). Although the project's formal terms of reference were unchanged, its modus operandi had altered considerably since the change of government with a greater emphasis on supporting the humanitarian and inter-agency co-ordination responsibilities of the UN Resident Co-ordinator and less on management support for relief operations in the field. The change of name signified this change of emphasis and also heralded the beginning of a new, more constructive, relationship with the Government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (now, the Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission - DPPC).

Emergencies Unit operational principles

As with all UN bodies, the work of the Emergencies Unit is governed by the universal principles of neutrality, impartiality, access to those in need, accountability, respect for human rights and multilateralism. During the civil war, the office actively promoted the use of relief corridors (land and air) through contested areas and was instrumental in negotiating the southern and northern line operations that took emergency supplies into rebel held areas of Welo, Tigrai and Eritrea in the latter months of the war. Today, the project promotes transparency and accountability in the work of the United Nations in Ethiopia by facilitating the free exchange of information and promoting the critical examination of relief and development practices in the field.

The need for a rapid and flexible response to emergencies has been an imperative for the United Nations ever since the 1984 famine in Ethiopia. Much of the responsibility for ensuring that an appropriate level of readiness exists within the system has been decentralized and invested in the Resident Co-ordinator system. Today, the work of the Emergencies Unit is geared to supporting the Resident Co-ordinator in meeting these responsibilities, emphasizing the management and dissemination of early warning information, assessment of relief needs, support for inter-agency collaboration, donor relations and resource mobilization.

The work of the Emergencies Unit can be split into two main categories: what are referred to as "core" and "project" activities. Core activities are those that are directly linked with the prime mandate of the Emergencies Unit. They therefore include monitoring and assessing emergency relief needs (in co-operation with donors and the DPPC), facilitating and co-ordinating the humanitarian response of the UN system in Ethiopia and providing a public information service on behalf of the both the UN and wider aid community.

Organisational structure

The Emergencies Unit is headed by a Technical Co-ordinator who also acts as the UN Resident Co-ordinators' principle adviser on humanitarian issues. Under him there is a Deputy Co-ordinator with responsibility for operations and administration and an Information Officer responsible for the documentation, public relations and information networking functions of the Unit. The operational capability of the Unit is provided by a team of national and international Field Officers recruited for their specialist skills and knowledge of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. Some are recruited on a short-term consultancy basis to undertake specific tasks while others are provided as in-kind contributions from bilateral donors.

Inter-agency collaboration

The principle executive organ of the Unit is the UN Disaster Management Team for Ethiopia - a committee chaired by the Resident Co-ordinator and comprising the heads of all the operational UN agencies active in Ethiopia. The DMT is responsible for preparing contingency plans designed to ensure a co-ordinated UN relief response, provide a strategy for resource mobilization, including the use of locally available resources and compile data on preparedness measures. The DMT is also responsible for providing early warning information and alerting the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator (Head of the Office Department of Humanitarian Affairs) and the headquarters of member agencies to signs of an impending crisis and for recommending appropriate preventative and preparedness measures.

The Emergencies Unit acts as both the secretariat and operational (albeit limited) arm of the DMT, collecting and analyzing information on relief needs in the country, providing background briefings, discussion papers and general field reports as well as advice and guidance on the use and deployment of available resources, supporting inter-agency collaboration and in providing a linkage to the NGO and donor community on humanitarian issues. In this capacity, the Emergencies Unit hopes to further enhance the already exceptionally high level of UN co-ordination and inter-agency co-operation that exists in the country and add substance to the concept of linking relief to development.

Through the UN Resident Co-ordinator, who is also the Resident Representative of UNDP and local representative for the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, the Emergencies Unit reports to the UN Emergency Co-ordinator in New York and the Emergency Response Division of the Office of UN System Support and Services - a part of UNDP headquarters. In this respect its responsibilities are to maintain a flow of information on the relief situation in the country and to alert UNDP and DHA to any particular resource requirements.

With good working relations and the free exchange of information being at the centre of inter-agency co-ordination, the Emergencies Unit recognises the importance of its continued active participation in a whole range of both regular and ad hoc committees responsible for relief and rehabilitation policy, field operations and co-ordination. It therefore works closely with a wide range of government, NGO and UN partners both in Ethiopia and elsewhere in the region.

Objectives and activities

Though the day-to-day activities of the Emergencies Unit are largely defined by a combination of prevailing circumstances in the country and the responsibilities and priority concerns of the Resident Coordinator, the Unit still adheres to two primary objectives:

Though these are viewed as fundamental goals, the broad context and scope of the work undertaken by the Unit has changed considerably in recent years. When the original terms of reference for the UN-EPPG were written in 1987, the civil war still raged and avoidance of another famine like the one in 1984/85 was uppermost in people's minds. Considerable emphasis was therefore given to detecting as early as possible the signs of impending crisis, and to the practical aspects of pre-positioning and distributing relief food. Consequently, until the beginning of 1992, the UN-EPPG /Emergencies Unit was primarily concerned with food aid issues and food security in the narrow sense of relief assistance. In more recent years, however, the Unit has taken a much broader view of its work, being more concerned with issues of co-ordination, resource mobilization and information networking. Food aid has become much less of preoccupation and there is now a greater focus on understanding and monitoring the underlying causes of food insecurity and social upheaval. This is reflected in the reports written by staff of the Unit which have become more analytical and detailed.

Regional issues

In line with the growing strategic role being played by Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa, politically, economically and socially, the Emergencies Unit also takes an active interest in regional issues. This has largely grown out of the 1993 Humanitarian Summit held in Addis Ababa which ended with a declaration highlighting the need for a more concerted regional approach to tackling the many common problems faced by countries in the Horn of Africa. Along with a number of major donors, the UN has taken up the challenge and is making efforts to improve the co-ordination and integration of its assistance in the region.  The Resident Co-ordinator for Ethiopia, who has been assigned a leadership role in the region, is actively facilitating this process, supported by the Emergencies Unit which is acting as a focal point for the exchange of information on regional issues. One sign of this interest in regional issues has been the support given by the UN to the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) whose mandate now incorporates Humanitarian and Political Affairs.

Public information and networking

The collection, analysis and dissemination of timely and accurate information on relief needs and field operations is crucial to the ability of the Emergencies Unit to influence donors and assist in the coordination of an effective emergency response. The office maintains an "open door" policy and personal contact with Government officials, NGO representatives, visiting journalists and donors are all actively sought and encouraged. Except for certain internal documents, all publications and reports produced by the office or available to it are shared with those who might be interested, either through one of a number of circulation lists maintained by the office or by means of electronic-mail and a web page.

Activities in 1997/98

During 1996, the terms of reference  for the Emergencies Unit were reviewed to reflect the direct supportive relationship between the project and the Office of the Resident Co-ordinator and defining more precisely the current scope of its operational work and responsibilities. This culminated in the approval of a new project document by UNDP headquarters New York at the end of 1996.  As in the past, the actual activities undertaken by the project will vary according to the prevailing situation in the country and the priorities set by the Resident Co-ordinator. They will, however, fall into nine general categories:


UNDP-EUE  Tel.: (251) (1) 51-10-28/29 
PO Box : 5580  Fax: (251) (1) 51-12-92 
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  E-mail: undp-eue@telecom.net.et