United Nations

UN's humanitarian affairs office aims to prevent waste of funds

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 January, 2011, 12:00am

I refer to your editorial ('Every dollar donated to the UN has to count', January 21).

United Nations-bashing is easy. So is recycling old stories.

I came to Hong Kong earlier this month for preliminary discussions on fund-raising for my office, the UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and for the humanitarian cause.

While I cannot speak for the whole of the UN, whose vast family of organisations is created and mandated by member states, I cannot leave unchallenged your message that money given will be ill-spent.

OCHA was created precisely because it was understood that without any co-ordination between the humanitarian actors there would be waste, duplication, gaps and ill-placed efforts.

A signature product of OCHA in a major disaster is a 'consolidated appeal', which is the co-ordinated action plan of the entire responding humanitarian community with needs-based, prioritised and costed projects. For donor governments using it, they:

Do not have to send their own assessment teams and trip over each other on site;

Be approached by multiple agencies with funding appeals; and

Have confidence that all projects are peer reviewed, prioritised, well co-ordinated and feasible.

Financial contributions to OCHA, therefore, help increase the overall efficiency in humanitarian response.

The budget of OCHA accounts for only 2 per cent of the total appeals we publish on behalf of the whole humanitarian system, which includes hundreds of non-governmental organisations. Incidentally, OCHA did not spend US$15 billion last year as you claimed. This is the amount of global humanitarian funding we were able to track. Our budget in 2010 was only US$260 million.

As for OCHA's own organisational efficiency, the UN General Assembly, with member states including China, allows us to charge up to 13 per cent for 'programme support', that is, our administrative overhead costs.

Yet, despite OCHA's global presence with field offices in such highly insecure and inaccessible operating environments as Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq, we regularly underspend our administrative costs, with programme support expenditures recorded at 8 to 10 per cent in recent years.

At that level, we compare extremely favourably against any efficiency benchmarking.

In conclusion, I found the Hong Kong community to be very welcoming during my visit this month. I hope to help OCHA embark on a long-term engagement with its private sector and philanthropic organisations, and I am confident that they will find OCHA's demonstration of efficiency and effectiveness highly persuasive.

Catherine Bragg, assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and deputy emergency relief co-ordinator, United Nations