Interview with John Ging, Director of Operations, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

John Ging, Director of Operations, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

14 January 2013 – Since his last interview with the UN News Centre in April 2012, John Ging, the Director of Operations for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has continued to spearhead relief efforts for a rising number of humanitarian crises around the world – spanning from food insecurity and political instability in the large swathe of territory that is Africa’s Sahel to the continuing conflict in Syria.

Now, with 2013 ushering in a host of new humanitarian challenges, Mr. Ging, a long time veteran of global hotspots such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo and Gaza, once again spoke with the UN News Centre to highlight the crises faced by OCHA in the New Year and how the UN was planning to address them.

In particular, he focussed on the growing need for OCHA to diversify its sources of funding for global relief efforts amid the continuing financial turmoil afflicting donor countries. He also underlined the importance of prevention efforts in vulnerable countries, adding that many of the humanitarian crises OCHA responds to could have ultimately been avoided through better development initiatives.


UN News Centre: What does the current global humanitarian situation look like?

John Ging: The current situation is that we have a multiple number of crises rising from climactic change iWe have to get new donors into this endeavour. We’re not going to get the additional monies that we need from the donors that we currently have who are maxed out in many instances.n places like Sahel right across the whole region there to the Horn of Africa. Then we have in flooding in places like the Philippines and we saw it over here in the Americas as well. And then in so many other countries you have conflict: the Sudans, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan, Yemen. In the Middle East, of course, Syria is the most visible but we shouldn’t forget places like the Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad and so on. We have so many countries around the world where conflict is raging and people are losing their lives on a daily basis in increasing number.

UN News Centre: With so many crises the world over, how is OCHA coping with supplying aid to these people?

John Ging: OCHA’s job is to coordinate the humanitarian response and the first thing in coordination is to articulate the need to communicate the plight of the people. We have just now launched the Global Appeals for 2013. This is a call for help for 51 million people worldwide who are in humanitarian need. The amount of money we’re appealing for: $8.5 billion. There are over 16 countries affected here and the aid effort involves 520 aid agencies. So, at OCHA, we are communicating the scale, the scope, and the breadth of the need, hoping that there will be a generous response because the consequence of failure is that tens of thousands will lose their lives and millions will be languishing in humanitarian despair.

Speaking at UN Headquarters in New York, John Ging briefs journalists on the humanitarian situation in Sudan and South Sudan. (January 2013) UN Photo/Mark Garten

UN News Centre: How successful were you in trying to coordinate efforts in 2012?

John Ging: In 2012, we had a Global Appeal of $5.3 billion and that was 60 per cent funded. We worked very hard with the donor community which is incredibly committed because there is a global financial crisis. The donors that are traditionally the largest donors to humanitarian action are themselves caught up in the financial crisis. So, the challenge that they face - to continue to give the aid that they give - has been tremendous and it has reflected commitment on their part. But we have not succeeded, and I have to be frank about that, in broadening the donor base to the extent that we need to. And that’s why there’s such a significant shortfall. We only got 60 per cent of the funding that was needed in 2012.

UN News Centre: What do you envisage for 2013 in terms of donor funding?

John Ging: We need more money. That’s the situation. And we’re also very clear that we have to get new donors into this endeavour. We’re not going to get the additional monies that we need from the donors that we currently have who are maxed out in many instances. Now, even if we do still get increases in funding from some of them, and we’re hugely grateful for that, the gap between what they have and are capable of giving and what is needed is too big to be bridged by this small group. So, we have to broaden it out to a wider group of countries and that’s one of our big focuses for 2013 – how to broaden the base of donor support.

In Geneva, John Ging addresses the fifth meeting of the Syria Humanitarian Forum. (November 2012) Credit: UNTV Geneva

UN News Centre: Will this be possible despite the fact that most of these countries will still be suffering from "recession hangover"?

John Ging: There are many countries that have capacity to give and they’re not part of our collective international endeavour. They support in other ways, for sure, but we’re trying to mobilize them also to be supportive of these consolidated appeals that we have put out there. It is a world where there are lots of financial challenges, there’s no question about that. But we’re also confident that if we can get at this broader base, that if we can get all the Member States to give what they’re capable of giving, then we will actually have what we need. We’re sure of that.

UN News Centre: Turning to Syria, the situation there appears to be deteriorating. How much of an impact do you think OCHA can have there?

On a visit to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, John Ging meets with displaced children in Kitsumbiro, located in the province of North Kivu. (October 2012) Photo: OCHA/Imane Cherif

John Ging: The humanitarian community in Syria is struggling. The needs continue to grow. They have gone from 2.5 million people in need to over 4 million people in need in the last couple of months. The refugee numbers have doubled. We’re now well over 500,000 refugees in the neighbouring countries. And, sadly, the situation continues to deteriorate.

The number of internally displaced within Syria has gone from 1.2 million to 2 million. This is just a reflection of the scale of the problem that people are having to survive inside Syria. They have to move from these areas of conflict which are ever-growing. Now, as they move, they leave behind their lives and their livelihoods. This is putting a huge burden on the communities in Syria who are supporting the humanitarian agencies that are trying to do their best. And all the time the conflict is raging. It’s becoming more and more difficult just to do the basic things to help people survive and, sadly, people are losing hope. They just see more violence on the horizon. They just see further deterioration in the situation.

UN News Centre: How difficult is it to convince those countries that have been receiving the Syrian displaced to keep taking in more refugees?

Mothers waiting to have their children assessed and weighed at the Bargadja theraputic feeding centre in Niger's Maradai Region. Photo: WFP/Phil Behan

John Ging: In the first instance, these countries don’t have to be convinced by us. They have generously opened their borders in spite of all of the challenges that they face. These countries are a model for humanitarian commitment because it is costing them hugely to allow these people to flee into their countries. But they have prioritized, giving people safe refuge, and then dealing with the consequences. What we’re focussed on is mobilizing financial support for these refugees because, if we don’t, then they become an even bigger burden on these countries who are hosting them.

So, from our perspective as humanitarians, we do not have to spend our time convincing countries to open their borders because these countries have taken that responsibility upon themselves and we have to applaud them for that. But, internationally, the burden-sharing is not there. They’re not getting the support that they deserve from the rest of the international community who are only being asked to give funding support, and not being asked to host refugees in anything like the numbers that these neighbouring countries are doing.

UN News Centre: Africa's Sahel region is facing a range of challenges from insecurity to political instability, which have led to humanitarian problems. How is OCHA responding to these?

In Afghanistan, John Ging meets with a district governor and village elders in areas affected by riverbank erosion. Topics discussed included the impact of the erosion on villagers and the need for urgent preventive measures. (April 2012) Photo: OCHA

John Ging: The biggest challenge across the Sahel is the food insecurity arising from the drought. That affects all these countries. So, there is a huge effort underway not just in terms of a humanitarian response but also development, building resilience in these communities to be better able to cope with drought – better water management, better irrigation, better crop selection, better animal husbandry. All of these add up to communities being able to better cope. There is very good cooperation between national governments and international organizations. We agree on the priorities. We agree on the approach. And we’re making progress.

Mali, of course, is in the middle, here. The conflict there and the spilling out of refugees into the neighbouring countries has added to the challenge to be faced. Also, with over 200,000 internally displaced within Mali that’s an additional challenge for a country which was already caught up in a food insecurity crisis. And we mustn’t forget that the Sahel is also affected by transnational crime, criminality, weapons trafficking, human trafficking. There are a whole range of issues that are undermining the development and the stability of the Sahel region and we also have to point to these issues as well.

UN News Centre: Does OCHA see a bright spot in 2013?

John Ging: We hope that there will be a better mobilization of interventions to prevent rather than having to respond. In too many places we find ourselves involved in humanitarian response that could’ve been prevented. So there has to be more focus on development and helping people to cope and survive and build their lives and their livelihoods rather than allowing them to become so fragile that any shock causes them to become dependent on aid.