UN-HABITAT this week joined the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) putting the agency on a new footing in global humanitarian operations. The IASC was established in 1992 to shape humanitarian policy and ensure coordinated and effective response to humanitarian crisis.
UN-HABITAT’s role within the community of humanitarian organizations, involves human settlements recovery in shelter, land and property related issues. In recent years, UN-HABITAT has worked and continues to work in many areas devastated by conflict such Afghanistan, Iraq, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and in places afflicted by natural disasters, such as the Indian ocean rim countries recovering from a tsunami killer wave, or countries in Africa and Latin America picking up the pieces after floods or other disasters.
UN-HABITAT’s accession to the IASC committee came at the invitation of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Sir John Holmes. UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka pledged to continue to strengthen the agency’s humanitarian capacity and announced the launch of a new Geneva-based UN-HABITAT Humanitarian Affairs Office:
“This office will have as its primary function, support to IASC operations both at a global level, and through UN-HABITAT’s field operations, at the national, and in particular local levels wherever a humanitarian crisis debilitates the government’s capacity to support its people,” Mrs. Tibaijuka said. “The office will be further strengthened by an internal surge capacity system now in place.”
"The principals,” Sir John added, “agreed to include UN-HABITAT among the Members of the IASC, and noted UN-HABITAT’s operational involvement on several crucial issues such as land property rights, and shelter related activities and the contribution it would bring to increase diversity and representation from the South in the IASC".
With several decades supporting human settlements in crisis, UN-HABITAT’s functional engagement with the humanitarian community, marks the importance given to the need to engage the range of recovery specialists at the earliest possible post-crisis opportunity. This is the cornerstone of UN-HABITAT’s sustainable relief and reconstruction process, and the basis of policy recently endorsed by the Governing Council, the body of governments that oversee the agency’s budget and work programme.
Under the leadership of the Emergency Relief Coordinator, the IASC develops humanitarian policies, agrees on a clear division of responsibility for the various aspects of humanitarian assistance, identifies and addresses gaps in response, and advocates for effective application of humanitarian principles.
Together with Executive Committee for Humanitarian Affairs (ECHA), the IASC forms the key strategic coordination mechanism among major humanitarian actors. Its main objectives after a disaster or conflict are to develop and agree on system-wide humanitarian policies; to allocate responsibilities among agencies in humanitarian programmes; develop and agree on a common ethical framework for all humanitarian activities; advocate for common humanitarian principles to parties outside the IASC;
identify areas where gaps in mandates or lack of operational capacity exist; and to help resolve disputes or disagreement about and between humanitarian agencies on system-wide humanitarian issues.