Humanitarian Health Action

Managing WHO Humanitarian Response in the Field - 2 The Response Planning and Management Processes


This chapter provides brief descriptions of the emergency response process within which 4 phases can usefully be recognized, the 6 principal steps involved in emergency programme planning and implementation, and the 3 main groups of internal planning & management functions. These elements provide the structure for planning and managing WHO humanitarian response.

2.1 Steps in emergency programme planning and implementation

The process of planning and implementing a WHO emergency programme in the context of a coherent, prioritized overall health sector response is shown in figure 2a.

Coordinated response from the outset, when possible

The starting point, ideally, is a joint assessment and analysis of the situation, public health risks and possibilities for response (step 1) leading to agreed, overall objectives/goals and an overall health sector response plan including the allocation of responsibilities among all health actors (step 2).

WHO, the MoH and other health actors then plan their own activities within the framework of that sector plan. For WHO, this means preparing a WHO action plan (step 3) and individual project proposals (step 4), mobilizing the necessary resources, implementing and monitoring the activities (step 5).

The implementation of the overall health sector response plan is also monitored jointly (step 6) and joint, sector-wide evaluations and lessons-learning exercises are conducted at the end. Interim evaluations and lessons exercises may also be conducted at appropriate moments during the course of a protracted operation.

In practice, the process is iterative:

  • initial objectives and response activities are developed and implemented in the first few days on the basis of preliminary information and analyses;
  • more refined plans are developed and longer-term activities implemented as more comprehensive and detailed information becomes available; and
  • activities are adjusted during implementation if/when needed on the basis of the findings of monitoring and any interim evaluations.

The step-by-step, coordinated approach of joint assessment (step 1), agreeing a sector response plan (step 2) and then, in the context of that sector plan, a WHO action plan (step 3) should be feasible from the outset in two situations:

  • in case of a slow-onset crisis; or
  • in case of a sudden-onset crisis when an inter-agency contingency plan exists – had been drawn up in advance – and the arrangements for assessment, objectives and outline sector response plan foreseen in that plan can be quickly reviewed and adopted, or adapted, for the current situation.

Improvised response initially, when necessary

In the absence of an inter-agency contingency plan, collaboration in joint assessment and planning during the first few days of a sudden-onset crisis will be difficult and action cannot be delayed while waiting for broad-based agreement on how to proceed. In such cases, steps 2 and 3 in Figure 2a will be undertaken in parallel. Specifically, WHO will have to:

  • undertake a preliminary analysis of the situation working with the MoH and a few other partners and, on that basis, draw up an initial WHO action plan taking account of what is known about the response plans of other actors; and simultaneously,
  • work to bring together as many as possible of the main health actors to share information and progressively develop a shared analysis of the situation and needs, and agreement on overall goals, response strategies and, eventually, an overall health sector response plan.

Figure 2a Process of planning and implementing an emergency programme

[The notes in italics at the bottom of each box indicate where to look for guidance]