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Inter Agency Coordination and Unified Response Strategy


The Sphere India Unified Response Strategy (URS) as an action-based project was launched with this rational to build common understanding among different stakeholders for an organized and coordinated response. The vision is to bring stakeholders at state level (implementation level) on a common platform, map the resources, capacities and vulnerabilities to identify gaps and overlaps and gradually build a common understanding for common assessments, common response planning and common monitoring & evaluation processes.

The need for building local capacities for coordination has been a key learning from the response to some of the mega disasters in last decade. Orissa disaster mitigation mission for Orissa super cyclone in 1999, Kutch Nav Nirman Abhiyaan for Gujarat earthquake in 2002, Tamil Nadu Tsunami Resource Centre in for Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004/05 and Sphere coordination in Indian Kashmir for South Asian earthquake in 2005 emerged as local innovations for humanitarian coordination in India. These early experiences inspired the initiation of an inter agency collaborative program called “Unified Response Strategy” with long term perspective to build local capacities for humanitarian coordination and create a continuous process to develop a common approach to emergency response by all humanitarian actors.

The URS experience of 2007 (Floods in Bihar, Assam, and Orissa), 2008 (floods in Kosi, Orissa and Assam), 2009 (Cyclone Aila in West Bengal and south India floods) and 2010 (Ladakh flash floods, Floods in western UP and Drought in West Bengal) have been a mix of achievements and learning

With the above context, it was year 2003 when the Sphere Project initiated the Sphere process in India as a country pilot following an inclusive consultative process. Since then the Sphere India process has evolved gradually with a broad mission of promoting quality and accountability in humanitarian interventions in India through a collaborative process.

Initially the process focused towards promotion and institutionalization of Humanitarian Charter and Sphere Standards in India, but soon the issues of common concerns of lack of coordination, inter agency action and unified response led the coalition to initiate the process of Inter-Agency Coordination and Unified Response Strategy.

Gradually, the need of collaborative process for the capacity building of humanitarian sector in India on various themes of Sphere, DRR and response mechanism led to initiate the Training and Capacity Building Programme.

The lack of collated & contextualized information, research and documentation in DRR led to the initiation of Information and Knowledge Management theme.

Influencing the policy development, guidelines and other key advocacy issues required a collaborative action of various agencies which led to emergence of the Collaborative Advocacy theme of Sphere India.

All these four themes collectively lead towards promoting quality and accountability in humanitarian sector in India.

1.1 Sphere India URS Concept:

The Government of India emphasized more on self reliance and building local capacities for response and coordination in India. Toward this direction, the government introduced legislation, The National Disaster Management Act, 2005 supported by National disaster management policy and the adoption of Incident Response System and institutional framework at national, state and district levels. While these capacities are being developed the humanitarian agencies came together to pilot URS as an inter agency program for emergency coordination in India. The URS has two broad objectives:

Objective 1: Building local and decentralized capacities for coordination and collaboration: The URS in practice led to emergence of local coordination groups called IAGs (Inter Agency Groups) at state and district levels in India. In the last four years, 15 state level IAGs and 9 district level IAGs have emerged. These groups also act as advisory bodies/task forces for authorities at different levels. The mechanism varies from state to state. Some states like West Bengal, the government joins the IAGs as one of the members while in other states like Orissa, the IAGs coordinates with the government. The URS provides technical support to the IAGs, however IAGs are autonomous with their own mechanisms as per local consensus. Some of the IAGs like Orissa, West Bengal, UP and Bihar have emerged as strong platforms with their own long term program plans and funding.

The process also has a bottom up approach. The community based disaster management programs of the member agencies are linked upwards with the district and state level IAGs. The vision is to empower local communities to coordinate and collaborate at all levels for a speedy, timely and effective response.

Objective 2: Developing a continuous and common process for collaborative response by all actors:

The following are the important stages in the URS process:
  • URS in preparedness: The member agencies share their preparedness plans and pre positioning as preparedness exercise. The resources are mapped for gap analysis.
  • EW detection and dissemination: The URS team maintains liaisons with forecasting, monitoring systems and agencies for early detection and dissemination.
  • URS activation: URS is activated as required at district, state or national level.
  • Multi-Sectoral Assessments: A common assessment format has been developed with consensus of all agencies. The URS team collates the information from different agencies and if required coordinate for multi sectoral multi agency assessment missions.
  • Coordination at all levels: As required, the coordination meetings are organized at different levels: National (strategic), State (operational), District (field).
  • Sectoral and thematic subcommittees: The sectoral (WASH, Shelter, Health, Food etc) and thematic (advocacy, information and knowledge management, Vulnerable groups, Protection etc) are activated as required.
  • Sector Strategies: The sectoral and thematic subcommittees develop the strategies and the standards for collaborative response.
  • Common M&E: The URS subcommittee meets periodically for common monitoring and evaluation.
  • URS deactivation: The URS is deactivated at the closure of response phase.
  • The community consultation and participation are the non negotiable principles cross cutting across all stages of the URS.

1.2 Sphere India URS in practice:
URS process started with all stakeholder consultations including community representation to develop a broad consensus on the program for humanitarian coordination in India. The program started in 2006 with initial support from Unicef and was led by SEEDS India. Oxfam, EHA, UNDP, Save the children, EFICOR, CARE and DCA formed the URS subcommittee, a strategic body for reviewing and guiding the program as required.

URS Phase 1, 2007: URS in its phase 1, focussed on the most vulnerable states of Bihar, Assam and Orissa. The key achievements included the establishment, strengthening, acceptance and recognition of state level IAGs in these states and a consensus on common assessment format. The IAGs coordinated the response to 2007 floods in Bihar, Assam and Orissa, while the URS coordinated at the National level. There was good general coordination between state and national level agencies. However, it could not make much headway with sectoral coordination; mapping etc due to gaps in the stakeholders understanding of the URS.

URS phase II, 2008: In the phase II, URS initiated the IAGs in three more states of UP, West Bengal and J&K. In the preparedness phase Sphere India training and capacity building program organised a series of trainings to build understanding of URS processes at all level among different stakeholders. During the response to Kosi floods in Bihar, Assam and Orissa Floods, URS made considerable progress with activation, sitreps, introducing district level groups in Bihar, sectoral coordination, collation of information from common assessment formats, inter agency multisectoral assessments and the mapping of agencies. However, some gaps were felt in multi agency assessments, joint strategies and collaborations for response and there was a perceived lack of role clarity between national and state level structures.

URS phase II report

URS phase III, 2009: The phase III of URS in 2009, initiated IAGs in AP, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The coordination of response to cyclone Aila in West Bengal made a good progress with activation; inter agency assessments, sectoral strategies and joint evaluation. It also emerged as a good example of GO-NGO coordination and humanitarian advocacy. The learnings included the need for role clarity between state, district and national level structures, taking coordination to field levels (village and camp levels) and the logistics coordination.

URS phase III report:

URS phase IV, 2010: The phase IV of the URS in 2010, coordinated the flash floods in Leh and achieved completion of full cycle of URS processes, sectoral coordination and Inter Agency Group in Leh. The community participation has been the highlight of the URS process in Leh and some of the Gobas (village heads in Ladakh) were elected as members of governing council of Ladakh IAG. At the same time, the IAGs in UP coordinated the response to floods in western UP without much involvement of National level group. However, as a humanitarian collective, the group failed to mobilise response to flash floods in Uttarakhand as most of the agencies had already stretched their capacities with disasters elsewhere.

URS phase IV report: Thus the URS has been an evolving experience mix of achievement and learning. It’s a work in progress and needed to be reviewed with experiences from elsewhere in the world. A common learning mission and reflective exercise is being planned in December 2010 to reflect on the learning and give shape to next five year strategy.

1.3 Inter Agency Groups

1.4 NGO Database (Page Under development)

1.5 Sphere India URS subcommittee:

(Page Under development) 1.6 Meeting Minutes (Page Under development)

1.7 Documents

Common assessment format (Rapid)
Common assessment format (detailed)
Revision of Formats
Common learning Mission (Ladakh)

1.8 URS 2011-2015

Sphere India revisited URS in 2010 through an exercise for Sphere India organisation evolution and initiating the long term strategic planning for 2011-2015. The core components of URS Visioning and strategy for 2015 include:



Strategic Objectives

SO1: To develop/strengthen inter-agency collaborative processes for multi stakeholder coordination during, after and before emergencies (as per agreed principles) at the national, state and district levels across the country.
Core components and activities:
Strengthening URS as a mutli stakeholder National platform for emergency coordination. Provide leadership and support for similar platforms at state and district levels. Developing infrastructure of a common facility for Emergency Operations Coordination Center. SO2: To conduct an annual multi stakeholder lessons learnt exercise and developing a common plan of action for emergency preparedness and Unfied Response action for the year.
Core components and activities:
Annual evaluation (internal and external) of the program
Lesson learnt workshop
Annual planning exercise along with IAGs and other stakeholders to develop Annual Plan of Action

SO3: To insititutionalise URS process for EW activation, sitreps, common assessments (rapid and detailed), common response planning and implementation, multi - sectoral coordination, common monitoring, common learning, deactivation and enabling coordination for early recovery.
Core components and activities
Developing consensus on URS protocols, SOPs etc.
understanding of roles and responsibilities of different actors (Sphere India, IAGs, subcommittees, relationships with NDMA, SDMA, DDMA etc.

Establishing multi sectoral coordination committees at all levels.

SO4: To develop a database of agencies and stakeholders at all levels, map their capacities, prepositioning, gap analysis etc.
Core components and activities
Mapping of agencies, Developing NGO Database, Prepositioning matrix, Gap Analysis etc.

SO5: To initiate the processes for early recovery coordination
Core components and activities:
Developing processes, protocols and SOPs for early recovery coordination