Improving conditions for staff in humanitarian relief operations

Geneva, 18 November 2014

Noreps and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) organized «Technology in Action» in Geneva 18 and 19 November 2014, with focus on improvement of working and living conditions for field staff in difficult international humanitarian operations. Ambassador Steffen Kongstad held the opening statement.

Ladies and gentlemen, 
Dear friends and colleagues in the humanitarian community,

Some 20 years ago, the Norwegian Emergency Response System, Noreps, was established as a partnership between the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Red Cross, major Norwegian humanitarian NGOs, the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning and selected Norwegian suppliers of relief goods and services. 

The purpose of Noreps has always been to strengthen and support the UN system and other international organizations in humanitarian relief operations. For more than two decades, this has been carried out through a combination of standby personnel, ready-to-deploy stocks of relief goods and life-saving equipment, as well as effective logistics. The Noreps network is administered by Innovation Norway, a public entity under the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry. 

We are facing a large number of humanitarian crises, many would argue of unprecedented magnitude and complexity. There are more people displaced as 2014 draws towards the end than we have seen since the end of the Second World War. The need for additional resources and increased response capacity is growing dramatically. 

Without going into what needs to be done on prevention and resilience, it is clear that resources to address the desperate needs of the populations in disaster and conflict-stricken areas are far from sufficient. In addition, the ability to stay and deliver is challenged by issues of security, access and capacity as the humanitarian organisations are overstretched in trying to respond. In addition to continue to mobilise resources, we also have to find smarter solutions.

The focus of our response is of course to reach the beneficiaries, and to assist the affected populations with their basic needs, both in the emergency phase and in a longer-term perspective. To be able to facilitate this, the organisations rely on experienced and dedicated staff for implementation, and personnel willing to deploy on short notice and work in chaotic and stressful environments.

Need to improve working conditions

UNHCR has identified a need to improve the quality of living and working conditions for their international and national staff, to ensure that certain minimum standards are met. This is supported by findings of operational reviews across the humanitarian sector, and we commend UNHCR for understanding the importance of improving the safety, working and living conditions of their staff in the often very harsh realities of the field. This is certainly the responsibility of any employer, and experience proves that if we take better care of staff members they are also able to deliver better. We need UNHCR to send the best people to the most difficult places; this is only possible if we support UNHCR in policies that ensure staff welfare and a conducive work-environment. We see this as part of our humanitarian responsibility and our responsibility as a large donor.

To improve the efficiency of emergency operations and the conditions for beneficiaries and relief staff, it is essential to be innovative and find new, simpler and more effective solutions. There needs to be a close cooperation between the practitioners and the developers of equipment and solutions.

Norway strongly welcomes that UNHCR, in cooperation with Noreps, are in the process of designing an easy and quick deployable ‘staff accommodation arrangement’, based on high-quality products in all areas, from shelter to hybrid energy solutions, sanitary facilities, filtered water and waste disposal.

Noreps is in a unique position to partner with the UN to identify and develop new technology and innovative solutions. The Noreps network includes suppliers that have long experience in serving the humanitarian market. These suppliers are at the forefront in developing innovative and sustainable solutions.

The exhibition “Technology in Action” will showcase new technologies that have been developed to overcome difficulties experienced by humanitarian staff when deploying on emergency missions, or living and working in protracted humanitarian operations.

The exhibition will demonstrate solutions to different needs in the field, such as: 

  • Renewable energy, use of solar power for lighting. As well as hybrid energy solutions to reduce the diesel consumption and use of diesel generators.
  • Improved conditions also for beneficiaries with solar powered lanterns for domestic use, and solar powered security lighting.
  • Water treatment and water filtering instead of shipping bottled water to remote locations.
  • Sanitary treatment to reduce the risk of contaminating drinking water from sanitary waste.
  • Easy-to-erect tents and pre-fabricated living and office solutions, which allow for quick installation of staff compounds in remote locations. A tent is not necessarily just a tent, and as you will see today, improved designed tents offer better conditions for living, office, kitchen and recreational area.
  • Field catering. Hopefully, you get the chance to taste samples of lightweight, nutritious and tasty field meals during the lunch break.  

I wish to thank UNHCR, the Staff Health and Welfare Service (Dr Sergio Arena and Mr Harry Leefe), the Division of Human Resources Management (Director Karen Farkas) and the Division for External Relations (Director Daniel Endres) for making this event possible.