Part three: Delivering Better

Jalalabad, Afghanistan

A humanitarian worker talks with a woman displaced to the Surkh Rod area in Nangahar Province. The community will receive core relief items to help them during the winter. Implementing partner IMC is delivering the aid, supported by the Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund. OCHA/Charlotte Cans

Accountability to affected people (AAP) and protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) must remain firmly embedded in every humanitarian response. Humanitarian action is accountable to the women, men, girls, and boys – of all ages and abilities – affected by humanitarian crises. It is critical that their voices are heard and that they have active participation in all areas of response that affects their lives and well-being.

New or escalating humanitarian crises in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Haiti, and persisting crises in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and DRC have reinforced the need for robust community engagement and accountability in 2021. Strong measures are required to prevent, respond to and mitigate the risks of sexual exploitation and abuse to ensure that humanitarian operations are safe and effectively respond to the needs and priorities of all affected people.

Health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic cause vulnerabilities to grow and the risks of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation and abuse increase. As the COVID-19 crisis persisted in 2021, adding to the needs and challenges of 2020, risks of SEA were further compounded and are likely to continue into 2022.

Developments in policy and operations

AAP is vital to realign the asymmetry of power that currently defines the relationship between humanitarian agencies and communities. It is essential to meet long-standing organizational and collective standards and commitments, including through the work of the Grand Bargain. In 2021, the IASC Principals agreed to issue a statement on the centrality of collective AAP to principled humanitarian action, based on the recommendations to strengthen system-wide accountability produced by the IASC Operational Policy and Advocacy Group (OPAG). Throughout 2021, the Results Group 2 on Accountability and Inclusion provided technical support, guidance and tools to humanitarian leaders and responders through the Portal and Service Directory, which strengthens AAP at the country level, including in the HPC.

During 2021, an increased proportion (32 per cent) of HCTs have reported having a collective AAP strategy or framework in place. Forty per cent have either a framework, working group or coordination mechanism. Three regional inter-agency AAP coordinators are working as AAP/PSEA focal points in OCHA offices in Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia Pacific, and Southern and Eastern Africa. Each coordinator supports countries and operations by providing strategic and technical support. AAP is included in 27 HRPs.

PSEA is a core part of the humanitarian system’s commitment to AAP and the ‘do no harm’ approach. It should be integrated as a priority cross-cutting component of every humanitarian response.

The IASC Plan for Accelerating PSEA in Humanitarian Response calls for strengthened collective action at the country level. PSEA networks are required to produce joint annual UNCT/HCT PSEA action plans to strengthen SEA prevention and response at the country level. The percentage of PSEA networks with an action plan in place has increased from 58 per cent in 2019 to 76 per cent in 2021. In 2021, inter-agency PSEA coordinators provided technical and strategic support in more than 20 countries. In complex emergencies, such as Ethiopia and DRC, PSEA coordinators are also deployed to operational hubs to strengthen collective actions at the front line of response. The percentage of PSEA networks led by a PSEA Coordinator has increased to 73 per cent in 2021. However, due to funding limitations, PSEA coordinator deployments often remain short term and unsustainable.

PSEA has been increasingly integrated into the HPC, with country-level PSEA priorities, coordination and activities reflected in 24 HRPs in 2021. The percentage of PSEA networks that have integrated PSEA into HRPs has increased to 70 per cent in 2021. Despite this, there is still limited consideration of funding for PSEA activities, with only eight countries including PSEA funding through HRPs in 2021. PSEA actions were also supported through humanitarian pooled funds in CAR, DRC, Ethiopia and Lebanon, while CERF funds were used for Ethiopia, Haiti, Mali, Somalia and Nigeria. Other operations obtained funding from donors or UN agencies. The IASC PSEA Field Support Team, comprised of UN entities and NGOs, continues to provide dedicated technical support and advice to strengthen PSEA programmes in priority-country contexts.

Gaps in funding

AAP and PSEA approaches still struggle to secure predictable, multi-year, flexible funding across the HPC even though few resources are required to lead to the more effective and accountable programming needed to adapt to feedback and allow for more iteration, learning and time to build trust within communities. AAP and PSEA coordinator deployments are predominantly reliant on short-term funding, which makes planning and implementation unsustainable.

Ways forward

If humanitarian actors are to meet individual agency- and system-wide PSEA and AAP commitments, three areas require immediate action:

  • An enhanced and more accountable response leadership of HCs and HCTs that is adequately supported and prioritizes collective AAP and PSEA in HCT compacts and performance appraisals.

  • A more inclusive architecture that builds on existing coordination structures, supports more area-based coordination approaches, and includes and supports local leadership (particularly national women-led and women’s rights organizations), including within the HCT.

  • Adequate quality funding for in-country collective approaches and for the creation of dedicated PSEA and AAP capacity to support United Nations Resident Coordinators/Humanitarian Coordinators (RC/HCs), and to further develop available technical capacity through collective inter-agency mechanisms.


  1. AAP is co-chaired by OCHA and Plan International; PSEA is co-chaired by IOM, UNFPA and UNICEF.
  2. See Note on IASC coordination structures at country level in 2020
  3. Calculation is based on an average of 33 countries with humanitarian crises reporting to the IASC PSEAH Dashboard on key indicators annually.
  4. The number of PSEA coordinators deployed varies throughout the year due to funding availability, contract modalities and other factors.
  5. Calculation is based on an average of 33 countries with humanitarian crises reporting to the IASC PSEAH Dashboard on key indicators annually.
  6. Ibid