The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)/Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance/Office of
U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) has the responsibility to provide foreign disaster assistance and to coordinate the response of the U.S. Government (USG) to disasters abroad. The authority to provide and coordinate USG foreign disaster assistance originates with the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of 1961, as amended. OFDA’s mandate is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and reduce the economic impact of disasters. OFDA does so by:
- Providing rapid, appropriate response to requests for assistance.
- Providing sufficient warning of natural events that cause disasters.
- Fostering self-sufficiency among disaster-prone nations by helping them achieve some measure of preparedness.
- Enhancing recovery from disasters through rehabilitation programs.
OFDA carries out these responsibilities in coordination with the government of the affected country, other donor governments, international organizations, United Nations (UN) relief agencies, and private voluntary and nongovernmental organizations. The primary responsibility for disaster relief rests with the government of the affected country. OFDA responds only when the U.S. Ambassador or Chief of Mission in an affected country has declared a disaster based on the following criteria:
- The magnitude of the disaster exceeds the affected country’s capacity to respond.
- The affected country has requested or will accept USG assistance.
- It is in the interest of the USG to provide assistance.
OFDA’s assistance is intended to supplement and support, not replace, the response, preparedness, and mitigation efforts of the government of the affected country. It is the responsibility of the U.S. Chief of Mission to ensure that USG assistance is appropriate and based on priority humanitarian needs. To ensure that the response is appropriate, timely, and cost effective, OFDA provides technical assistance through damage and needs assessments. That initial technical assistance may come in the form of an OFDA Assessment Team whose objectives are to:
- Assess the scope of the disaster’s damage.
- Assess the initial needs of victims.
- Report to the Chief of Mission and OFDA headquarters in Washington, DC (OFDA/W) on the situation and needs.
- Recommend followup USG relief actions, if any.
Assessment Team findings and recommendations must be clear, concise, timely, practical, and operational. They become the basis for USG decisionmaking and planning for disaster response activities.
Disaster relief that OFDA furnishes may include relief commodities, services, transportation support, grants to relief organizations, technical assistance, or any combination thereof.
If a large-scale, urgent, and/or extended response is necessary, OFDA will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which provides specialists trained in a variety of disaster relief skills to assist the U.S. Chief of Mission and the USAID Mission (where present) with the management of the USG response to a disaster. As with an Assessment Team, DARTs continue to assess and report on the disaster situation and recommend fol-lowup actions. In addition, DARTs can:
- Establish an operational presence on the ground capable of carrying out sustained response activities.
- Develop and, upon approval, implement OFDA’s field response strategy based on the DART mission objectives.
- Coordinate the movement and consignment of USG relief commodities.
- Coordinate USG relief efforts with the affected country, other donor countries, relief organizations, and, when present, military organizations.
- Fund relief organizations (when delegated the funding authority).
- Monitor and evaluate USG-funded relief activities.
The Team Leader reports to the U.S. Chief of Mission or his or her designee as the lead USG person in the affected country to ensure that USG disaster relief efforts are coordinated and to OFDA/W to ensure that OFDA’s mandate and mission are being carried out effectively and efficiently.
To provide the necessary support to a DART, the OFDA Director may decide to activate an OFDA/W Response Management Team (RMT). The OFDA Director, through the RMT, coordinates the USG response to a disaster from OFDA/W. The RMT serves as the primary liaison between field disaster response and OFDA/W. When the RMT is activated and in place, responsibility for decisionmaking and coordination and primary point of contact for DART(s) or other resources deployed in the field moves from the Regional Team to the RMT until these responsibilities are returned to the OFDA Director. The chief purpose of the RMT is to represent USAID, oversee Washington-based support, provide interagency coordination of the relief activities, and support DART field operations. On occasion, more than one deployed DART may be supported by the RMT.
OFDA considers long-term recovery and development activities when providing disaster relief to victims in the immediate after-math of a disaster. Disasters can provide the opportunity to reduce the vulnerability of the affected country to future disasters. Rehabilitation and reconstruction, properly formulated, can do much to introduce mitigation techniques to protect against the effects of future disasters.
OFDA stands ready to continue the American tradition of providing humanitarian relief to disaster victims worldwide.