13.15 WHO’s response, and role as the health cluster lead, in meeting the growing demands of health in humanitarian emergencies

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The issues before the Assembly

The Assembly has before it a report from the Secretariat on WHO’s role as the health cluster lead in humanitarian emergencies (Doc A65/25) and is invited to adopt the resolution EB130.R14 forwarded by the EB.  

The report provides the background (disasters, WHO’s mandate, WHO’s role within the UN system); the role of Cluster Lead within the UN system; some of the challenges experienced by WHO in responding effectively to humanitarian emergencies; and some suggestions about improving WHO’s performance.

The resolution sets out some principles, calls for more funding and mandates the DG to undertake a number of steps required to improve WHO’s performance.

PHM’s comment, pre-debate

WHO  has focused on twin objectives: to build national capacities for emergency and disaster risk- management and integrate the latter into national health policies, strategies and plans; and to support acute and protracted emergency response activities.

One of the big challenges in emergency disaster relief is the lack of accountability of humanitarian actors. This is not addressed in the resolution.  

Another key issue is the involvement of affected populations in managing the disaster response rather than being displaced by fly in fly out ex-patriates.  This has not been addressed in the report.

We appreciate the call for member states to “ensure that humanitarian activities are carried out in consultation with the country concerned for an efficient response to the humanitarian needs, and to encourage all humanitarian partners, including nongovernmental organizations, to participate actively in the health cluster coordination and urge WHO to increase efforts in this regard”.

However, it is concerning that the “Organization’s structure does not allow it to implement major field-level operations, particularly for the direct delivery of life-saving interventions” in nations still lacking basic infrastructure to respond to emergencies.

We want to stress the need for a humanitarianism that goes beyond the relief of human suffering to include the prevention human suffering. This includes not only strengthening of national capacity and building resilient health systems, but also addressing the root causes of conflict and ensuring sustainable development.

Watchers' Report on Discussion at WHA65

All Member States agreed with the document "Strengthening WHO response to humanitarian emergencies" reaffirming the importance of the leading role of WHO as part of Inter-Agency Standing Committee in the Global Health Cluster. These are main outcomes of the discussion.

WHO needs:

  1. to become faster, more effective and more predictable in delivering high-quality action, with clear benchmarks for measuring performance.
  2. to develop a new, cross-organizational approach to improve the speed, consistency and predictability of WHO’s response to both humanitarian and public health emergencies.
  3. a clear statement of WHO core commitments in acute emergencies, for which the Organization will be accountable, emphasizing the Organization’s central role in respect to partner coordination, expert policy and technical advice, information, and communicable disease surveillance and control;
  4. further investments for the full application of a new WHO corporate approach to emergencies.


At the end of the discussion the Secretariat declared to share the same concerns expressed by Member States affirming that the framework document still has to be finalized, accountability has to increase, the gaps in policies and process must be addressed and a key part of the reform will focus on country outcomes. AFRO also expressed concern for the difficulty of consensus building among all the humanitarian actors working in the region causing loss of effectivity.

The resolution at the end was approved as amended

Watchers' post-debate comment

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