Australia and the Region Discuss Enhancing Civil-Military Coordination in Humanitarian Response

20 Apr 2015

ACMC supported the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Defence in jointly representing Australia at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) Global Forum on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination 13-15 April. Singapore Ministry of Defence and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) hosted the forum at the Changi Command and Control Centre.

The Global Forum helped shape discussions and an agenda ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul in May 2016. The WHS aims to present a forward-looking agenda for addressing future humanitarian challenges. The Global Forum was part of a series of regional consultations to ensure inclusive dialogue leading up to the WHS.

More than 100 subject matter experts representing UN agencies, government, militaries, regional organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from more than 25 countries considered two main themes:

  • Improving the effectiveness of humanitarian responses in disaster
  • Better serving the needs of people caught up in a complex emergency (armed conflict)

Singapore Minister of Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen opened the Forum and called on regional militaries to evolve doctrine for dealing with non-traditional security threats, and to improve military-to-military coordination across the Asia-Pacific.

UN Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang urged participants to engage in “a productive debate on how to make civil-military coordination work better”, and to “develop a vision for the future of humanitarian action that is fit for our times”.

Ambassador Toni Frisch, Chairman of the Global Consultative Group on Civil-Military Coordination noted the importance of information sharing in developing a common level of situational awareness in crises.

Participants noted emerging shifts in the humanitarian sector, including: from a responsive to a more anticipatory approach; from a supply-driven to a more needs-based enterprise; and from a global approach towards a more regional one.

Subject matter experts presented best practice and lessons learned from a range of recent case studies, including Typhoons Haiyan and Hagupit in the Philippines, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, the Ebola response, and complex emergencies in Africa and the Middle East.

Discussions included principles of civil-military coordination and ‘interoperability’, measures to improve the awareness and application of UNOCHA guidelines and International Humanitarian Law, preparedness and exercises, understanding how new actors (private sector, local communities, and diasporas) and new technologies (including social media) might leverage comparative advantage.

National presentations canvassed different approaches for dealing with crises, including from the UK, Canada, Philippines and the USA. Dr Andy Robertson, Director, Disaster Management, West Australian Department of Health presented on ‘The Civil-Military Dimension of Pandemic Response’.

UNOCHA accepted a series of draft recommendations to take forward through further consultation for the WHS forum in 2016.

At the conclusion of the Global Forum, most participants stayed on to hold an Introductory Session of the Regional Consultative Group (RCG) on Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination for Asia and the Pacific. The RCG will in effect franchise OCHA’s Geneva-based Civil-Military Coordination Section (CMCS) through a Bangkok office to address the specific needs of the Asia-Pacific in humanitarian civil-military coordination. Terms of Reference were formulated for the anticipated launch in October, which will enable development of regional strategies to enhance response capacity and preparedness through guidelines, training, workshops, conferences and simulation exercises.

Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, UNOCHA Deputy Head of the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP), stated his intent that the RCG provide a ‘community of practice’ for regional civil-military coordination.

Greg Elliott, Jonathan Ball and Andy Robertson
(L to R) The Australian team is shown represented by Mr Greg Elliott (Deputy Executive Director ACMC), Mr Jonathan Ball (Director Civ-Mil and Stabilisation Policy DFAT) and Dr Andy Robertson (Director, Disaster Management, WA Health).

Greg Elliott at the WHS Forum
Mr Greg Elliott presents to plenary on draft recommendations for improving awareness of civil-military guidelines and legal frameworks for use in complex emergencies.