Programme Criticality workshop, Opening remarks by Eugene Owusu, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

Aug 25, 2015

Dear Colleagues,

I welcome you all to this workshop on Programme Criticality. I am delighted that so many of you have made the time to participate. I am even more pleased that a number of our colleagues from UNMISS are here with us. This is truly a reflection of the UN ‘Delivering as One’.

You are all aware of the volatile environment in which our work takes place, and the risks we encounter in providing humanitarian and development assistance to the people of South Sudan. Those risks cannot be wished away, but can, and must be carefully managed.

The Programme Criticality exercise is a vital part of managing those risks in a way that balances the important and life-saving nature of our work with the inevitable possibility that things could go wrong if we place UN personnel in harm’s way in delivering on our mandate.

The current United Nations paradigm emphasizes the need to “stay and deliver” when a crisis breaks out or when operating in a high risk environment. A case in point is our very own experience here in South Sudan when at the onset of the crisis in December 2013 thousands run for safety to the UN protection of civilian sites around the country. We opened our doors to receive and protect those who needed our protection.

With this welcoming posture has come the requirement and responsibility to provide security, food, water and shelter. We could not have said - because the risks were extremely high, we had to leave! It is all about staying and delivering even when the risks are high, because that is when our “duty of care” and our primary responsibility as the UN is greatest.


What we set out to do in this workshop is to have an honest, deep discussion on how best we can attain that inherently difficult balance between ensuring that the highest priority activities are implemented in accordance with agreed strategic results, but at the same time that we do not take unnecessarily high risks during periods of crises.

I expect that all participants present today will formulate our choices in a clear programme criticality matrix, assigning Programme Criticality levels to all activities the UNCT   is   pursuing   in   South   Sudan.      As Resident Coordinator, I am proud of the team spirit and the collective action and shared responsibility that has characterized the process to-date. We have had two meetings prior to this workshop to try and harmonise our activities and ratings. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the agencies for their commitment, their active participation thus far, and for ensuring that the burden of coordination is equally shared.

In this workshop, we must show that we are an integral part of the UN, a unique organization that works for the greater good; and that we keep that greater good as our focus, and that it is not about agency-specific interests. But don’t get me wrong: I am looking forward to an open debate, where good solutions emerge from the interplay of clearly formulated, professionally presented ideas and opinions.


This workshop is indeed timely. The last programme criticality exercise was undertaken in January 2014, following the outbreak of conflict in December 2013. The period of its validity was 12 months. Now, more than 18 months later, we are - with the help of our facilitators - updating the original analysis in the light of the significant changes that have taken place in the country context since then, and in compliance with established and mandatory UN Policies.

In doing so, we shall be guided in our analysis by the programme criticality framework and tools endorsed by the Programme Criticality Working Group of the High- Level Committee on Management. The framework defines  4  levels  of  programme  criticality,  and  it  has 8 steps, which many of you are already familiar with. In addition, as you are all aware, we have invested considerable time and effort over the past months to complete the first three steps – defining  geographic scope and time-frames, defining 6 UN strategic results, and identifying agency-level activities involving UN personnel. Thus have a strong basis for successfully completing the exercise during this workshop.

I look forward to the results, which may be key for strategic level decision-making in the future and one that may have a crucial bearing on the implementation of the UN and agency-specific programmes.

Because life is always dynamic, and the situation could evolve over time, the resulting matrix with assigned programme criticality levels may need to be periodically refreshed. This thus implies that we need to capture lessons learned and the approaches that worked well in preparing this matrix, so that subsequent similar exercises can be done efficiently and effectively. I am asking the Resident Coordinator’s Office to ensure that this will be done.

As we finalise our Programme Criticality, allow me to take this opportunity to emphasize the importance that we must attach to our development work, even in the midst of the current crisis. And as a Country Team, we need to do better at investing in building resilience.

I am looking especially at the development agencies, and would like to encourage you, as you develop your new programming frameworks, to really think about how you can build capacity and put in place longer term   solutions in humanitarian hotspots around the country. We must address the underlying causes of the humanitarian challenges this country faces.

We are launching the Interim Cooperation Framework in December 2015 and it is critical that as we acknowledge the challenges, mitigate risks and set priorities in this exercise, we are also mindful of the importance of the UN being fit for purpose in a context such as ours.

So we rely on all of you here today to commit to ensuring this exercise is completed successfully and I look forward to a very productive workshop.

Thank you again for being here.

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