When and how does the UN Declare a Humanitarian Crisis?



There are of course many types of crisis in the world, however, the most talked about is the crisis that affects the wellbeing of mankind and this is humanitarian crisis. Read what is humanitarian crisis and the various types here.

While as a student of political science in the university, I fell in love with international Relations and took keen interest in studying the functionalism of international organizations.

With increasing life-threatening challenges plaguing the world spanning terrorism, migration, civil wars, nationalistic movements, natural disasters etc. I was interested to know even on personal basis how supranational bodies like the UN, AU manage crisis of such caliber.

Now as a socio-political blogger I have thought it wise to always throw more light on some salient but neglect issues to the understanding of my readers.

One of this is understanding how the UN intervenes in a Humanitarian crisis

Following recent developments in Cameroon, the giant of Central Africa that has since 2014 been struggling with insecurity issues in the North caused by Boko Haram and worst of all the advent of Anglophone nationalism which started in October 2016 as a corporate strike but has now morphed to the struggle for Ambazonia Independence.

The Anglophone crisis changed to an armed struggle and gained momentum since the president of Cameroon Paul Biya declared war on separatists on November 30, 2017

The “Federal Republic of Ambazonia” has since strategized declaring an era of self-defense and forming the self-defense wing known as the Ambazonia self-defense council (ASC). This has seen an increase in self-defense groups where internally displaced, frustrated and jobless youths in the two English speaking regions now find refuge.

As a consequence, serious and sporadic fighting between the Cameroon military and Ambozonia fighters have increased leading to an official casualty on the part of the military of over 400 soldiers killed as declared by the ministry of defense.

Civilian casualty is terrific though the government hasn’t provided official figures. The Cameroonian military has been accused of targeted killings and summary executions by the US Ambassador to Cameroon Peter Henry Balerin while human rights defender Barrister Agbor Balla has revealed more than 50 villages burned down by the Cameroon military in the North West and South West regions.

This has translated to hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes to the bushes, Nigeria and in nearby francophone towns and villages.

While the government remains Adamant in looking for lasting solutions to the conflict amidst a possible escalation to a civil war as feared by Barrister Agbor Balla, the international community has started raising alarm of humanitarian crisis in Cameroon.

This is the case with the recent report by the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs which reveals the need of US$15M to reach 160,000 internally displaced people in the next three months in the North West and south regions of Cameroon.

This recent outing from a UN agency of which Africaninfolook did publish has left many pondering about the implication on the ongoing crisis in Cameroon.

Some say this outing is an indication that finally, the UN has decided to directly intervene and solve the Anglophone crisis, others say it is direct declaration of a humanitarian crisis in Cameroon which will have negative implication on the government while others just see the report as an ordinary emergency relief plan but are confused on the diplomatic semantics.

Well, as a comparative analysis blog, Africainfolook.com has dug out sources and has thought it wise to make you understand when and how the UN will declare a humanitarian crisis in a country.

Possibly after reading the facts you will understand the diplomatic implication on such an official declaration on the affected country and its citizens.

When and how does the UN declare a Humanitarian crisis in a country?

The procedure to declare a humanitarian crisis by the UN is well outlined by the UNHCR in conjunction with the IASC policy paper, definition and procedure (2012)

The UN declares humanitarian crisis based on the IASC  Humanitarian Programme Cycle. Though the UN will declare a crisis humanitarian when it reaches the L3 Emergency crisis level like that of Yemen, South Sudan, the IASC Transformative Agenda (TA) permits a system-wide Level 3 emergency to be activated for slow onset emergencies in exceptional circumstances where the gravity of the situation justifies it. And this is the case of the ongoing crisis in Cameroon.

The purpose and relevance of emergency operations by the UN is done under the guide of the Transformative Agenda (TA) that was adopted in December 2012.

This Transformative Agenda is designed in a cluster approach accepted of being the most appropriate coordination model for non-refugee inter-agency humanitarian responses.

How does this work

The Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) declares an L3 emergency based on five criteria:

  1. Scale
  2. Complexity
  3. Urgency
  4. Capacity
  5. Reputational risk

Within 18 hours of a crisis, the ERC receives an initial assessment from the Resident Coordinator (RC) or Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) of the affected country and disseminates this information to IASC members.

Within 18-48 hours of the crisis, the IASC Emergency Directors Group (EDG), composed of representatives from each agency, recommends to the ERC whether the crisis should be considered an L3 emergency.

Within 48 hours of the crisis, IASC Principals meet the ERC to discuss the EDG’s recommendations. If it is agreed to declare a system-wide L3 emergency, they also discuss (1) the most appropriate leadership model, (2) composition of the Inter-Agency Rapid Response Mechanism (IARRM), (3) the duration of the L3 (up to three months), and (4) common advocacy priorities.

No later than 48 hours from the onset of the crisis, the ERC’s decision on L3 activation is communicated to all the IASC Principals and shared with the crisis affected country. Based on agreed common advocacy priorities, the ERC’s message defines the L3’s (1) geographic coverage, (2) duration, and (3) leadership and coordination arrangements.

Based on its proposed duration, an exit strategy is prepared in the 3rd week after activation. Three months after L3 activation, IASC Principals decide if the L3 should be extended.

The IASC Principals make a first evaluation within 7-10 days of L3 activation. A real-time Operational Peer Review (OPR) takes place within three months of activation. IASC Principals meet at the end of the third month to review the situation and determine the way forward.

UNHCR’s role and accountabilities

When it is considered whether to declare a system-wide L3 emergency, UNHCR will:

Actively contribute to the initial assessment in the UN Country Team (UNCT) or Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), because this will affect UNHCR involvement later in the process.

If the crisis involves refugees, UNHCR will lead discussion of refugee aspects.
In its internal communications with HQ, the UNHCR office will:

Feed the outcomes of UNCT/HCT discussions to the Director of the concerned bureau and to DESS, focusing especially on the five criteria on which the decision to declare an L3 are based.

Mobilize internal response capacity and prepare to receive additional staff for clusters deployed under the IARRM, if a system-wide L3 is declared.

Considerations for UNHCR’s engagement at country level

IDP situations
In a system-wide L3 declaration, all or some of the three clusters that UNHCR (co) leads at global level (Protection, Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM), and Shelter) may be activated at country-level. This decision is made by the ERC, in consultation with the IASC Principals, based on recommendations by the RC and/or HC.

At country level, the UNHCR office should be involved in discussions of cluster activation and should keep the bureau, DESS, DIP, DPSM and other relevant HQ entities informed.

Once clusters are activated, UNHCR must be ready to lead the clusters for which it is responsible. It should provide dedicated staff for coordination and information management (IM). For both functions, it may need to have dedicated personnel at national and local level.

Mixed situations
if a new emergency also affects refugee populations, UNHCR should lead discussion of refugee aspects of the crisis and determine the coordination arrangements for an effective response (in accordance with the Refugee Coordination Model and the Joint UNHCR-OCHA Note on Mixed Situations; Coordination in Practice).

Great! You got the facts,

By and large, once the system-wide L3 declaration is made which indicates the highest level of Humanitarian crisis, the UN expects the conflicting parties to obey Humanitarian Law and protocols.

At this stage the rebellion Group, in this case, the Ambazonia fighters will be declared a belligerent or an insurgency depending on their mission and modus operandi. You can better understand this paragraph by reading: What is a military retreat? Cameroon military retreats from Belo after severe attacks from Ambazonia fighters

The belligerent party and the state party, in this case, Cameroon will be called from time to time for a cease-fire to permit NGOs and UN Agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected civilian population. (God forbid the crisis reaches this level). what is your thought?

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2 thoughts on “When and how does the UN Declare a Humanitarian Crisis?”

  1. can ambazonia archive their goals of separation before this last level? since ambazonia want nothing but separation, when UN disagree with the view of separation and Ambazonia insists, then what will UN do? because we will never live together with those beasts call LA republic

    1. thanks for the coming by Vicky. well in matter of principle following how the UN has been responding to such situations like the case of southern Cameroon struggle for independence, the UN will directly intervene when it realizes the situation is above the internal actors to handle. however, like the UNOCHA which is a UN agency has stated the ongoing crisis is still primarily a political and human right crisis it means the UN cannot directly take any political decision, for now, that will end the crisis and bring a tangible solution to the southern Cameroons plight. as you have put it the UN can only make the demand for independence legal through a referendum which may only come if the crisis continues to be worst for the UN member state Cameroon to handle

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