Policy & Principles


What is an Emergency?

A humanitarian emergency is a situation in which affected people, due to man-made or natural disasters, no longer have access to the most basic resources for survival or protection but depend on others for their survival or protection.

An emergency is also a state where the response required to address the severe threat to life exceeds existing operational capacity. In such grave situations, a different way of operating is required which entails something above and beyond the standard ways of working.

A humanitarian emergency relates to the concept of acute crisis. An Acute crisis is one of three displacement scenarios presented in DRC’s response framework. In the acute crisis displacement scenario people’s lives and dignity are at risk. In consequence, when an acute strikes, we  adopt to an emergency mode and deliver an emergency response.

An emergency response is the rapid implementation of extraordinary measures that aims to save lives and alleviate immediate suffering of the people affected by the humanitarian emergency.

Our Emergency Response includes all actions that DRC undertakes in support of saving lives and upholding the dignity and access to basic rights, for people and communities affected by forced displacement during acute crises.

An Emergency response is therefore by its nature time-limited.


Objective in emergency response

The primary objective for DRC’s emergency response is to: Save lives, alleviate immediate suffering and enhance dignity of people affected by the humanitarian emergency.


Core Principles for Emergency Response

These principles are valid for DRC’s emergency response and further complement the 15 Operational Principles.


1. The humanitarian principles guide our emergency response

Humanity” means that in a situation where lives are at risk, DRC will prioritize lifesaving activities over other activities. When a humanitarian crisis occurs in an area within reach from an existing DRC operation, it is the obligation of the Country or Regional Director to initiate a Situation Analysis and engage in the response drawing on DRC’s capacities at country, regional and global.

Neutrality” means that DRC will never take sides in hostilities. On the contrary – if needs are there, DRC will seek to confirm neutrality by working on both sides of a conflict line.

Impartiality” means that DRC will work based on needs alone, delivering assistance regardless of nationality, race, gender, religion, class or political opinion.

Independence” means that DRC will act independently from political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor (including donors) may hold with regard to areas where DRC implements humanitarian action.


2. We respond to displacement due to conflict – and natural disasters /epidemics and other humanitarian crises (when we are already there)

DRC’s mandate is to provide direct assistance to conflict-affected and displaced populations. However DRC can also respond to natural disasters, serious health emergencies or other humanitarian crises, should they occur in places where DRC is already present and where the organisation can add value. In these circumstances DRC is considered to have a moral obligation to respond.


3.We apply a protection-centred multisector emergency response

DRC will always seek to combine several sectors in an integrated emergency response. Protection is mainstreamed in all sectors and protection activities will always be part of the response. The choice of other sectors is contextually defined and reflects a combination of relevance in emergency operations (needs and gaps) and DRC’s capacities and experience in country.

DRCs emergency sectors follow the cluster system and include:

  • Protection
  • Shelter & NFIs
  • Food Security
  • WASH
  • Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM)
  • Humanitarian Mine Action

Based on the context, cash should be applied as implementation modality where feasible (See DRC’s Cash Global Position Paper)


4. We prefer to work with people where they are, and consider camps to be the last resort

DRC should not actively encourage encampment by only delivering services in the camps if the displaced are equally safe and protected with host communities or in urban areas. On the contrary DRC should encourage non-camp solutions as these are more likely to reinforce existing protection and coping mechanisms and will strengthen resilience of both displaced and hosts. It is DRC’s observation that non-camp temporary solutions work better than camps in terms of preparing the displaced for solutions after displacement.


5. We work in government and non-government controlled areas and assist people based on needs.

To deliver assistance based on needs to people where they are, DRC can discuss, negotiate or advocate for access with anyone in control of the area, be it government or non-state-actors.


6. Our first priority in an emergency is the delivery of life saving assistance and not policy development and branding

In the emergency phase beneficiaries are at the centre of DRC’s focus. All activities should be oriented towards ensuring outreach and tangible support towards the affected population as quick as possible.

While implementing emergency activities DRC should be cautious of not doing harm, and should ensure that activities are well coordinated within the larger humanitarian response, including engagement with local authorities and the displaced themselves.

Do no harm. DRC often has a strong advantage over other actors as we are frequently present in the affected areas and can reduce the risk of doing harm by involving national staff / local knowledge and by engaging known stakeholders. In new operational contexts a protection analysis should be done as part of starting up.

Coordination. In the emergency phase DRC should engage in coordination fora and with national stakeholders to ensure activities are well coordinated with other humanitarian actors. DRCs presence in central coordination fora should be used to push for effective operational coordination rather than policy discussions and branding – as is unfortunately often the case.


7. We start up with emergency response in new countries when there are large scale unmet humanitarian needs and prospects to sustain the operation

One or more of the following criteria should be met before DRC can consider starting up in a new country:

  • Large scale unmet humanitarian needs exist or are very likely to occur in the near future.
  • DRC should have comparative advantages compared to other actors already in place to respond to the particular crisis. These can include previous experience from the country in question, needed sector expertise, or current presence in a neighbouring country that will facilitate access.
  • DRC is asked by UNHCR to activate the Refugee Emergency Response Agreement (RERA) signed with UNHCR
  • Other donors encourage DRC to establish a presence.


8. From Day 1, we will let the vision of solutions inform the activities under the emergency response

DRC will from the outset apply a solution-oriented perspective, starting with an assessment of the duration of the crisis/displacement. In some situations a short term response (tents, water trucking, food distribution etc.) can be the right response – in others it may be more cost effective, supportive of relations between hosts and displaced, and preferred by beneficiaries to apply a longer term perspective (transitional shelters, expansion of existing water distribution systems, or support income generating activities) from the outset.


9. Safety Advisors and Access Advisors/Officers should be involved from early stages of planning

Humanitarian actors including DRC are increasingly directly or indirectly targeted and exposed to risk. In situations of armed conflict or generalized violence as well as in health emergencies, such as the Ebola epidemics in West Africa during 2015, DRC must continuously analyze and map risks and key stakeholders to ensure access to beneficiaries where they are, while keeping DRC staff safe while delivering the emergency response.