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Emergency priorities and related indicators

Key points
  • Track emergency protection priorities using protection-specific indicators and sectoral indicators that are proxy indicators for protection.
  • Apply UNHCR's standard indicators, adapting them to your context.
  • Ensure that protection priorities are captured in the protection and solutions strategy as well as in your performance and impact monitoring.
  • Collect and analyse data on health problems and risks with the aim of targeting major causes of excess mortality and morbidity.
  • Prioritize and implement appropriate, feasible and effective health services, to reduce excess morbidity and mortality.


Emergency priorities assist UNHCR and its partners to frame the humanitarian response provided to refugees and other persons of concern, including during assessment, planning and monitoring. Emergency priorities are guided by UNHCRs Protection and Solutions Strategy articulated in the first few months of an emergency response. Emergency priorities reflect key principles of international refugee law and international human rights law as well as recognized humanitarian standards such as SPHERE standards. They are also informed by UNHCR's Global Strategic Priorities (GSP) and UNHCR's experience that these areas need concerted attention from the start of an emergency if the rights of persons of concern are to be fulfilled.

Emergency priority indicators are also a measurement tool that

  • Establishes the gravity of a crisis (scope and prevalence).
  • Monitors UNHCR's response and protection outcomes in an emergency.

Main guidance

Emergency standard

Favourable protection environment.

Ensuring safe access to territory, asylum protection, and protection against return.

  • Establish presence in border areas; undertake border monitoring and protection monitoring.
  • Establish links with law enforcement agencies.
  • Ensure access to territory.
  • Establish links with government entities on asylum.
  • Ensure coordination on protection.
  • Define protection strategies (for UNHCR, the response or a protection cluster, depending on context)

Basic Needs and services.

Reducing mortality and contributing to the fulfilment of international standards for shelter, nutrition, water, sanitation, health and education.

  • Ensure access to primary health care
  • Provide health care services if needed (identify needs, partner, resources)
  • Ensure access to maternal and newborn care are part of essential health care
  • Ensure timely referral and access to confidential and private medical care including PEP treatment
  • Implement appropriate screening and programming for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition
  • Establish WASH infrastructure to provide sufficient quantity and quality of water and sanitation facilities
  • Conduct proper site assessment and site planning and set up shelter priorities and strategies.


Overview: Emergency priorities, priority indicators and related interventions
Protection priorities Priority indicators Standards:
Related priority interventions
Access to asylum facilitated. Standard: yes
Border is open (to all categories; to some categories; to no categories). Standard: yes
Distance of settlement from border of origin. To be determined.
Civilian character of asylum maintained. Standard: yes
Number of cases of refoulement. Standard: 0
Number of persons of concern detained for illegal entry/stay. Standard: 0
Incidents of threat to life, security and safety. Standard: 0
Documentation and registration.

Securing registration, civil documentation and birth registration.
Percentage of persons of concern registered individually. (Global Strategic Priorities, GSP.) Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-79%
  • Do level 1/2 registration (including IDPs).
  • Do profiling and movement tracking (IDPs).
  • Do status determination, if not prima facie recognition.
  • Facilitate issue of civil documentation.
  • Establish link between registration and birth registration.
  • As part of registration and/or profiling identify persons who have specific needs or are at risk.

The extent to which reception conditions meet minimum standards. Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-39%
The extent to which persons of concern can obtain identity documentation. Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-30%
Security from violence and exploitation.

Reducing protection risks of women, men, boys and girls, notably risks related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and specific risks faced by children.
Known survivors of SGBV receive appropriate support(GSP). Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-40%
  • Identify service providers and implement referral pathways for access to services.
  • Coordinate information dissemination about services; include sub-working groups.
  • Provide or facilitate child protection (CP) and SGBV case management.
  • Facilitate/ put in place family tracing and prevention of family separation.
  • Facilitate identification and screening/Identify and screen children who have specific needs or who are at risk.

Percentage of unaccompanied and separated children(UASC) for whom a best interest process has been initiated or completed.
Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-29%
Percentage of identified children of concern with specific needs who are assisted. Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-74%
Crude mortality rate (per 10,000/day). <1
  • Ensure access to primary health care
  • Communicable disease surveillance and disease control
  • Monitoring of nutrition situation and ensuring of timely response.
Under-five mortality rate (per 10,000/day) <2

Consultations per clinician per day

< 50
Deliveries attended by skilled birth attendants. 100%
Proportion of eligible rape survivors receive PEP within 72 hours 100%
Global Acute Malnutrition rate (GAM) <10%
Severe acute malnutrition rate (SAM) <2%
Litres of water/person/day. (GSP) >15
Number of persons/latrine. <50
Covered shelter space per person (m2). >3.5
Percentage of women with sanitary supplies.
Standard: 100%
Critical: 0-39%
Percentage of children of primary school age enrolled in primary education. (GSP) Standard:100%
Critical: 0-59%
  • Ensure access to education and learning facilities (formal and non-formal).
  • Provide material support to schools.
  • Coordinate with all partners, especially national ones.

Community based protection.

Promoting participation of people of concern in the emergency response.
The extent to which persons of concern are represented in the leadership of management structures. Standard: 95%
Critical: 0-30%
  • Involve persons of concern when identifying needs, capacities and priorities.
  • Support persons of concern to establish leadership and management structures.
  • Undertake participatory assessments, set up feedback and complaints mechanisms).
  • Support peaceful co-existence.
  • Strengthen self-protection mechanisms.

Percentage of active female participants in leadership and management structures. Standard: 50%
Critical: 0-19%

Laying the foundation for solutions at the onset of the emergency
Out of camp criteria applied. Standard: yes
  • Ensure links to and integration in local, national and existing services.
  • Facilitate emergency resettlement.
  • Identify opportunities for self-reliance.
  • In situations of internal displacement, involve early recovery actors (including Government and civil society) in developing a solutions perspective from the onset of an emergency.

Access to national and existing social and administrative services. Standard: yes
Percentage of persons of concern submitted for emergency resettlement' who have been accepted for resettlement. Standard:100%

Key considerations

Emergency priorities
Emergency priorities set overall priorities for the response framework that UNHCR applies in an emergency. They can be operationalized via processes associated with needs assessment, planning, programming and monitoring.

  • Needs assessment. Emergency priorities can be set on the basis of needs assessments. Needs assessments may also be shaped by response priorities where evident priorities have been defined before a full needs assessment can occur.
  • Strategic planning. Emergency priorities should be guided by an initial protection and solutions strategy developed within two weeks of an emergency. (See Protection and solutions strategy.) They are confirmed in a protection and solutions strategy produced 3 to 6 months later, which lays out the overall protection priorities of the emergency response and forms the foundation of key inter-agency planning documents (such as the Strategic Response Plan or Refugee Response Plan).
  • Programming. Emergency priorities should be included in UNHCR's programming cycle and reflected practically in objectives, outputs and allocation of resources.
  • Monitoring. Emergency priority indicators should be used to monitor the progress of emergency response priorities, over time and in different areas of the response.
  • Evaluation. Emergency priorities, as reflected in strategic planning documents, are evaluated during UNHCR or inter-agency evaluations.

Emergency priority indicators
Emergency priority indicators are the primary measurement tool used to identify and track progress towards achieving protection and assistance priorities. They also indicate the scope and gravity of displacement and the situation in specific sectoral areas. To the extent possible, emergency priority indicators should always be used to measure both the gravity of an emergency and the response to it, reflecting UNHCR's focus on response and results.

Priority indicators in an emergency should be directly linked to response priorities, to ensure that data collection and analysis inform response planning and implementation. When selecting from among the list of suggested indicators below (see table), take account of your context and your response priorities. Emergency priority indicators should be linked to your performance and impact monitoring, in order to facilitate data collection and reporting and ensure that data collection and performance measurement are consistent.

Indicators in the table may also need to be contextualised to take account of the specific urban or IDP situations in which you are working.

Priority interventions
The priority interventions listed in the table are complemented by technical guidance elsewhere in the Emergency Handbook. They focus on actions that should be taken by UNHCR in the first six months of a humanitarian response, should be adapted to the specific context, and developed in accordance with key programme principles.

  • Programme design, implementation and monitoring should take into account age, gender and diversity, and address specific inequalities and vulnerabilities.
  • Men, women, girls and boys of concern should participate throughout the programme cycle.
  • Programmes should complement and build on the capacities of Government authorities at central and local level, as well as those of local NGOs and community-based organizations.

Centrality of protection
Priorities and priority indicators in an emergency response need to reflect the centrality of protection. This commitment can be operationalised by:

  • Programming and resourcing specific protection interventions and services.
  • Mainstreaming protection in all sectors.
  • Ensuring that programmes do not harm inadvertently.
  • Ensuring that the overall vision and purpose of the response is based on and guided by clear protection and solutions outcomes.

If protection priorities and priority indicators need to be context-specific, the overarching emergency priorities help guide the response of UNHCR and partners towards core areas of protection and support in the course of coordinating sectors and clusters. They recognize that the rights of refugees and other persons of concern can only be met by well-integrated action in a range of operational areas, including shelter, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, education, and protection.

Priority emergency indicators therefore include protection-specific indicators, while sectoral indicators are used as proxies to measure overall protection outcomes.

Ownership and partnership
While emergency priorities are designed to assist UNHCR operations to take reliable and prompt action to further the protection and wellbeing of refugees and others of concern, their realization can only be achieved by collaborating and engaging with a wide range of actors, and depends on many factors including the availability of resources and the operating environment. UNHCR's engagement is developed taking these external realities into account, notably the capacities of others, including Government, other local actors, civil society, UN agencies, NGOs, and persons of concern themselves, in line with UNHCR's responsibilities for leadership, coordination and partnership.

UNHCR Representatives are responsible for putting in place a framework for developing UNHCR's engagement in priority areas, from the onset of an emergency and in collaboration with partners. Representatives must also ensure that data collection and monitoring systems are established early on in an emergency, to facilitate tracking and reporting on UNHCR's progress towards its priorities, including the collection of age- and gender-disaggregated data.


Main contacts


  • The Senior Protection Officer in your operation.
  • As first port of call, the UNHCR Dep. Representative (Protection), UNHCR Asst. Rep. (Protection), and/or Snr Protection Officer in the country; or The UNHCR Regional Asst./Dep Rep (Protection) and/or Snr. Regional Protection Officer at the regional office (if applicable); or The Snr. Regional Legal Advisor in the respective UNHCR regional bureau, covering the respective country region, who in turn will liaise as required with the parent unit at UNHCR DIP. Your country Public Health Officer (if available in your operation.
  • Your country, regional and headquarters technical experts, as appropriate (public health, nutrition, WASH).
  • The Department of Programme Support and Management (DPSM), Public Health Section (PHS). At unit mailbox: [email protected].

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