UN to close humanitarian affairs office in Sri Lanka by year end

Wednesday, 1 July 2015 00:26 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The United Nations, planning to downsize its operations in Asia, would close the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sri Lanka by the end of the year, a top UN official has said.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will close in Papua New Guinea this month and Sri Lanka by the end of the year, while ‘radically downsizing’ in Indonesia, Oliver Lacey-Hall, the outgoing head of OCHA’s Asia-Pacific office in Bangkok has told Reuters in an interview.

The United Nations is downsizing its humanitarian staff in some Asian countries where governments have stepped up with funds and manpower after a decade of massive floods, storms and earthquakes, according to the official.

OCHA had boosted its presence in Indonesia after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami – which killed about 127,000 in Aceh province – to 130 people in six offices around the country, and is now scaling back to about six people in Jakarta.

Lacey-Hall explained that about a decade ago, before the tsunami, many countries in the region did not have natural disaster management authorities and OCHA used to go into disaster-hit countries and coordinate humanitarian aid themselves.

But major disasters such as floods in Thailand and Pakistan, and the Indian Ocean and Japan tsunamis, galvanised governments and civil society groups to make their countries more resilient.

“We’re seeing this kind of changing regional environment, which means there is less requirement for OCHA to be ‘on the ground’ in those countries,” Lacey-Hall said.

He said the region’s success in setting up disaster management authorities stemmed in part from the 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action, guidelines adopted by governments to reduce disaster risk and cope better with catastrophes.

OCHA will maintain its regional office in Bangkok to help governments to prepare for disasters and support coordination of assistance after disaster strikes.

With a regional budget of more than $ 16 million, OCHA is aiming to help improve the region’s response to disasters, said Lacey-Hall, working with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Centre.