UN briefs international military on humanitarian operations

10 Oct 2009

UN briefs international military on humanitarian operations

10 October 2009 - The United Nations humanitarian agency has started briefing members of the international military operating in the east of Afghanistan on a coordinated response to humanitarian disasters by UN agencies and other humanitarian actors.


Kenneth Baato Rogers and Zwanieke Visser from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) gave the briefings to about a dozen members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) of the international military in the eastern Nangarhar province.

Yesterdays nearly two hour long meeting dealt with issues such as civil-military guidelines for Afghanistan, civil-military coordination and coordination while carrying out emergency humanitarian operations.

Mr Rogers, who is also the head of the UN-OCHA’s sub-office in Jalalabad, said this was the first briefing of this nature and would be extended to other provinces too.

He added that “politicization and militarization” should be avoided while carrying out humanitarian operations.

He also said humanitarian access was “one of the biggest challenges we are facing in this country”.

While briefing the military about the Civil-Military Guidelines for Afghanistan, which are issued by the Afghanistan Civil Military Working Group, OCHA emphasized that neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian actors should at all times be respected while military operations are carried out.

The guidelines deal with the use of Military and Civil Defence Assets (MCDA) in “complex emergencies”, amongst other issues.

“Military personnel must not present themselves as humanitarian workers,” said Ms Visser.

The primary responsibility of humanitarian relief lies with the Afghan National Disaster Management Authority (ANDMA), she said, adding that the use of military assets is only the “last resort”.

“Use of MCDA is allowed only if there is no comparable civilian alternative and the assets are needed to meet urgent humanitarian needs,” Ms Visser told the members of the international military, quoting the Guidelines.

In the UN, a decision on the use of military assets in emergencies can only be made by the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country or the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.

“Humanitarian assistance must not be used for the purpose of political gain, relationship-building or winning hearts and minds,” said Ms Visser.

Joy Mann, the commander of the PRT in Nangarhar, requested OCHA to give similar brieifings to other military units as well.

By Tilak Pokharel, UNAMA