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Through leadership in developing humanitarian policy, OCHA helps set the agenda for humanitarian sector reform and effectiveness in response to a shifting global landscape, new global frameworks, and increased capacities of national Governments and local actors. OCHA also promotes and advances the normative framework for international humanitarian action while developing, strengthening and advancing this framework.

Policy development aims to support effective and principled humanitarian action, saving lives and reducing suffering. It also underpins the role of the Under-Secretary-General/Emergency Relief Coordinator as principal advisor to the Secretary-General on humanitarian issues.

  • OCHA sets an evidence-based and forward-looking humanitarian policy agenda to identify emerging trends and develop common or harmonized policy and advocacy positions among relief organizations. This is based on humanitarian principles, human rights and public international law
  • OCHA provides policy guidance and clarity on pressing issues to humanitarian practitioners and policy-makers, to help strengthen effective and timely response
  • OCHA identifies best practices and lessons learned through the evaluation of humanitarian action to enhance effectiveness and the accountability of those involved

Key policy areas                              

OCHA’s policy work promotes normative standards for humanitarian work and addresses a range of challenges and contexts. To most effectively align resources and relief efforts with people’s needs, humanitarian policy is increasingly based on evidence gathered at every stage of an operation, such as the Pakistan flood crisis in 2010.
The large numbers of humanitarian, military and political actors, such as in Afghanistan, and the blur of local perceptions of their work and motives, highlights the importance of clear policy guidance on humanitarian space issues. This includes integrated United Nations presence and operations in complex security environments.
In places such as Somalia, protecting civilians in armed conflict from harm and ensuring their access to humanitarian assistance remains a core humanitarian concern. Assisting people displaced by natural disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake, requires immediate relief and sustainable recovery efforts.
More frequent slow-onset and mega disasters, such as the Sahel’s recurring droughts, call for increased cooperation among national governments, humanitarian and development actors to respond to people’s underlying vulnerability and build national capacities. Policy guidance includes areas such as transition from crisis to recovery and peacebuilding.
OCHA raises Member States’ awareness of these key issues. It advances humanitarian norms within the principal United Nations organs through inter-governmental processes.

These include briefings to the General Assembly and the Security Council, and the annual Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) humanitarian affairs segment.