Humanitarian Affairs

Tropical Storm Jeanne Devastates Haiti - UN Photo/Sophia Paris

Whenever there is a disaster or a humanitarian catastrophe, the United Nations is on the ground providing relief, support and assistance.

From the population displacements caused by war, weather and natural disasters, to the impact of such disruptions on health, hygiene, education, nutrition and even basic shelter, the UN through its vast system of specialized agencies, funds and programmes is there, making a difference.

Thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), food is made available to those who might otherwise starve. Thanks to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), camps and other facilities are set up and maintained for those who have been forced to leave their homes.

The World Health Organization (WHO) helps protect those displaced by natural and man-made disasters from the ravages of disease. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), with the aid of such bodies as the International Save the Children Alliance, provides education for children who have been uprooted by calamity. And when it is time to begin rebuilding, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is there to ensure that the recovery process has a firm and stable footing.

When men, women and children are trapped in the midst of war, the Secretary-General and his representatives help negotiate "zones of peace" for the delivery of humanitarian aid. And UN peacekeepers protect the delivery of that aid .

The humanitarian and disaster-relief efforts of the UN system are overseen and facilitated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), led by the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator. Among its many activities, OCHA provides the latest information on emergencies worldwide, and launches international "consolidated appeals" to mobilize financing for the provision of emergency assistance in specific situations.

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is a humanitarian fund established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2006 to enable more timely and reliable humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts. The fund is replenished annually through contributions from governments, the private sector, foundations and individuals and constitutes a pool of reserve funding to support humanitarian action.

World Humanitarian Day is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, and to rally support for people affected by crises around the world.

Beyond all this, the UN system works to prevent disasters whenever possible, whether natural or man-made. A major man-made cause of human pain is war and conflict, and the UN works on the diplomatic front to prevent and resolve the human tragedy of war. It helps country's set up early warning systems to give them time to prepare for an expected assault by the elements. And the UN is in the forefront of addressing the perils of climate change, which has already begun to increase the number and intensity of "natural" disaster situations worldwide.