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UNICEF’s perspective on cluster coordination and programme response in Haiti 2010

This postscript is a consolidated response by Nutrition cluster coordination team and UNICEF Nutrition programme staff involved in the Haiti humanitarian response, to some of the issues raised in the field article.

UNICEF's response to emergencies is built largely around two strategies. First, the Core Commitments for Children in Emergencies (CCCs) which outline the vital, life-saving interventions that should be undertaken immediately in the first six to eight weeks of a crisis - and secondly the broader spectrum of activities that are often needed once the initial response has been undertaken. A recent revision of the CCCs incorporates the cluster approach where UNICEF's role as a cluster lead agency as a part of the humanitarian reform is clearly outlined. The CCCs outline new modes of partnership, collaboration, and accountability linked to UNICEFs role in coordination among humanitarian actors. Essential to fulfilling this crucial mandate is the capacity to identify and address technical and operational gaps for nutrition preparedness, response and recovery within the context of UNICEFs Cluster Coordination role and its emergency nutrition response.

UNICEF appreciates the efforts of the two consultants in documenting and highlighting lessons learnt during the initial implementation of the Nutrition Cluster approach in Haiti, based on their own experiences and views. The article captures a part of the initial four weeks of the humanitarian response in Haiti. It also offers the authors' views about certain aspects of UNICEF's internal procedures that touched on the areas in which the consultants were working but were outside their remit. UNICEF is providing additional information on how it approached the issues raised by the two consultants and how UNICEF plans to continue its efforts in improving the functions of Nutrition Cluster coordination.

Human resource mobilisation

The challenges faced in human resource (HR) surge capacity during the Haiti response reinforced the need for UNICEF to bolster its HR capacity for emergencies, including by improving our global roster of external candidates. This action has been taken on by Division of Human Resources (DHR) and the special DHR Emergency Unit has been strengthened and restructured. One problem we faced in Haiti is a general shortage of qualified nutritionists globally, and we know of far too few who are fluent in French and can be deployed on short notice. Whenever there is an emergency, UNICEF finds itself competing for those with the right skill sets with other United Nations (UN) agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and where properly qualified and equipped people are in short supply, we sometimes struggle to meet our needs as quickly as we would want. The Nutrition Cluster is trying to promote in-country capacity building via pre-service training linked to universities in developing countries where the Global Nutrition Cluster Harmonised Training Package (HTP) is being used. However, attaining funding for such an initiative has been difficult, thus there is a need for resources to prioritise this as well as other capacity building initiatives.

Understanding of UNICEF's programme and cluster responsibilities

There were initially some misunderstandings about the links between UNICEF's emergency response/programme and cluster responsibilities. The Nutrition Cluster Coordinator 's job description is very clear and UNICEF acknowledges that any confusion in this area could have originated from the fact that, long before the cluster approach was initiated in 2006, some responsibilities of what the Nutrition Cluster Coordinators currently do today were already part of the job descriptions of UNICEF programme staff. The Haiti experience has highlighted the need for UNICEF to systematically review the two roles and to ensure that the differences and the complementary aspects of the roles become clearer at country level. This task has already been undertaken and terms of reference for UNICEF programme staff have been revised. The next step is to work closely with other humanitarian actors to ensure that all roles, responsibilities and accountabilities are understood by everyone, and preferably in advance of the next crisis we collectively face. This search for clarity forms part of ongoing, wider inter-agency discussions.

UNICEF management understanding of the cluster approach

In parallel with the need to clarify cluster and coordination roles, UNICEF is also engaged in building a clearer understanding within the organization about what clusters do. Information on the cluster approach is part of the induction package for new UNICEF representatives. Working with our cluster partners, we are putting in place a systematic induction for nutrition staff about Nutrition Cluster roles, and regional and country based training targeting cluster coordinators and partners as well as senior UN, NGO and government officials is in preparation. Cluster countries and corresponding regions are being targeted in 2010-2011 and training will include orientation on the cluster approach, nutrition in emergency and cluster coordination.

Clarity on the responsibilities and the accountabilities is not only a pre-requisite for the Cluster Lead Agency on Nutrition (UNICEF) but also the partners who are being coordinated. The Haiti experience has brought to light an urgent need to develop the respective accountability structures not only within UNICEF and but also for the partners. UNICEF's CCCs in emergencies have already incorporated the cluster approach and UNICEF has embarked on mainstreaming these commitments through the process of developing guidance on how cluster accountabilities can be reflected in all job descriptions for its country representatives, their deputies and other programme staff. We will ask cluster partners to adopt similar processes. The accountability framework will be accompanied by indicators that can track achievements relating to these accountabilities.

UNICEF's emergency response capacity for programme and cluster response

The Haiti emergency occurred at a time when the Global Nutrition Cluster Coordinator position (an established post with internal UNICEF funding) was vacant. One position within the GNC and one post within the Nutrition in Emergency unit were also vacant. UNICEF has since then filled the position of the GNC, and is in the process of recruiting the two additional positions. We had undertaken two recruitment processes in one year for the Cluster position and had great difficulty to find suitably qualified candidates willing to take on this challenging position. In order to mobilise human resource quickly, UNICEF normally deploys existing staff from HQ, regional and country offices to fill a capacity gap in the aftermath of a significant emergency. This is what was done during the initial stages of the very complex Haiti response, and the new search for suitable staff for Haiti was initiated simultaneously. The acting Global Cluster Coordinator arrived in New York HQ within a reasonable time frame and the recruitment of both the Country Cluster Coordinator and Information Manager positions for Haiti were achieved as quickly as possible. Internal temporary redeployment, which results in decreased capacity in other countries or offices, causes us challenges but it is likely to continue to be an essential response to complex large emergencies as long as local capacity is limited and all emergency requirements cannot be met by the surge human resource capacity. At the same time, greater emphasis is now being placed by UNICEF on filling key cluster positions at regional and country level on a sustainable funding basis. For this to happen, donor support and close collaboration with partners is essential.

Breastfeeding counselling in a 'baby tent'

Supply and logistics management

Unfortunately, the damage caused by the earthquake severely compromised UNICEF's existing logistics capacity in Haiti. In terms of the assessment of the supply pipeline management, a critical underlying issue that UNICEF has acknowledged is the need for greater clarity on the accountabilities of the Country Office and the Regional Office. A regional hub in the Dominican Republic was created to manage supply issues in the short term, with responsibility shifted to the country office as its capacity increased. In this process, there were occasional communication gaps and some further complications caused by the logistical challenges of having a supply-logistics hub in Dominican Republic. Despite the logistics problems, essential nutrition supplies did arrive in time and the emergency nutrition programme did not face a major shortfall in stock of essential commodities.

UNICEF's capacity to act as Provider of Last Resort (PoLR)

Effective response must be a shared responsibility of clusters, including both lead agencies and members, and further discussion on this is needed within the Nutrition Cluster. UNICEF normally provides 50 to 90% of the nutrition supplies for emergency programmes. Therefore, UNICEF is a major cluster partner, but not the only one, in the emergency nutrition response. It is important to note that in the Haiti response, UNICEF did provide a significant supply component as a Cluster partner. It is also clear, that cluster members and partners faced significant capacity challenges which affected entire sectors of response and programme scale up. As an emergency response is not the responsibility of the cluster lead agency alone but rather of all members, it was felt that the supply of Ready to Use Infant Formula (RUIF) by a donor through an NGO was a good example of cluster coordination and the Nutrition Cluster 's ability to draw on cluster partner resources in response to a need. However, UNICEF acknowledges that further discussion is needed on the issue of provision of RUIF, and how UNICEF would meet its cluster lead agency accountability as the provider of last resort (PoLR) if required in future emergency situations. The PoLR responsibility has significant implications on UNICEFs ability to ensure good coordination, provision of the right supplies, logistics, operations and human resource capacity at the right time to meet the organisation's own programming needs and while ensuring gaps of the sector are filled. To fulfil this major accountability, we highlight the need for increased resource availability to enable UNICEF to have the capacity to truly fulfil PoLR responsibilities. UNICEF implements programmes through governments and NGOs, and given the magnitude and context of the Haiti humanitarian crisis, both the government and NGOs have experienced challenges.

It is however worth mentioning that, UNICEFs pre-existing country office presence facilitated understanding of the situation and contributed to better relationships with government. Before the earthquake, UNICEF's support for Nutrition to the Ministry of Health in Haiti focused around development of tools and guidelines, and the availability of these guidelines facilitated consensus building, ownership and mutual interest among all partners working together, and even with less traditional nutrition partners. Capacity building initiatives by UNICEF and the cluster have contributed to improved programme quality and emergency preparedness and response, and this is worth noting.

For more information, contact: Josephine Ippe, Global Nutrition Coordinator, email: jippe@unicef.org

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UNICEF’s perspective on cluster coordination and programme response in Haiti 2010. Field Exchange 39, September 2010. p7. www.ennonline.net/fex/39/postscript