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LONDON, May 23 2016 (IPS) - The UN World Humanitarian Summit takes place in Istanbul, 23-24 May. So what hopes do the humanitarian organisations, which deliver aid on the ground, have for the outcomes?
The UN report One Humanity: shared responsibility, produced ahead of the Summit describes the international community as “in a state of constant crisis management”. The report emphasises that conflict and fragility remain the biggest threats to human development, with 11 major civil wars in 2014, and nearly 1.4 billion people living in fragile situations. By 2030 62 percent of the world’s poor are likely to be living in fragile situations.
Just a case of more resources?
The increase in humanitarian disasters has brought with it an unbridgeable funding gap, with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) relief agencies appealing for an extra $US16.4 billion in 2015.
Kathrin Schick, Director of VOICE (Voluntary Organizations in Cooperation in Emergencies), the European network of non government organisations (NGOs) involved in humanitarian aid, says while money is scarce, it is a case of “how much can we do with what we have –making aid use not only more effective, but also more efficient”.
Gareth Price-Jones, Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International, agrees there is a massive case for more resources, and points out that “the total humanitarian aid bill could be covered by the profits of the big six tobacco companies. However, the problem is less the supply of humanitarian aid, and more the failure to prepare for disasters, to address conflict and increasingly a failure to address climate change”.
Will a Grand Bargain between donors and the UN alleviate the funding crisis?
The High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing has also produced a report for the meeting Too important to fail. The report suggests that the funding crisis can be alleviated through striking a ‘Grand Bargain’, between donors and the UN. This would involve more engagement with the private sector, greater emphasis on crisis prevention and disaster risk reduction and bridging the humanitarian/development divide.
Schick describes this as “possibly the one concrete proposal to come out of the Summit”, whereas for Price-Jones it is “an efficiency drive – a first step in convincing donors and taxpayers that making aid as efficient as possible won’t address the funding gap”.
Réiseal Ni Chéilleachair, Trocaire’s Humanitarian Advocacy and Policy Adviser, believes that UN reform could make humanitarian action more effective by reducing the bureaucracy for getting funds, shortening time delays between securing funding and implementation, making UN agencies collaborate more, strengthening UNOCHA’s role and streamlining reporting requirements across donors.
For Alex Jacobs Director of Programme Quality, Plan International, there should be more predictable long-term funding and some of the conditions for getting funding should be removed. He also wants a mechanism in which recipients of humanitarian aid can give feedback on how aid was delivered and used.
However, some NGOs remain sceptical about how much the WHS will achieve, as evidenced by Medecins Sans Frontiers’ withdrawal from the Summit, saying “We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response”.
More work with local partners
In preparation for the Summit humanitarian organisations have produced the ‘Charter for Change’ (so far signed by 23 international NGOS). The Charter urges International NGOs (INGOs) to change the way they work, passing more power and resources to local ‘Southern-based’ partners.
The emphasis on localisation runs through One Humanity. Schick believes that “we have to talk about first responders since national and international NGOs have to work in partnership and more attention has to be given to capacity building of national NGOs who are often the first on the scene”. However, Ni Chéilleachair feels more needs to be done before this can work: “Funding systems need to be adapted to support local actors and new partners, rather than their expending limited resources trying to navigate the existing ones”.
Relying more on governments, and business is another thread running through the report, which NGOs applaud. Alex Jacobs believes that host governments are becoming “more muscular” in taking the lead in providing support after natural disasters, as happened after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
Business is increasingly being used to supply essential international services, with credit card companies working with PLAN to carry out cash transfers. Business is useful in setting up systems for long-term prevention for natural disasters, and often prefers to work at arms’ length, rather than putting their staff into high-risk situations.
Invest in stability – linking development with humanitarian aid
The UN report notes that “a shift from perpetual crisis management towards effectively managing prevention and early action is urgently needed”, and INGOs agree that greater collaboration between humanitarian and development NGOs, is crucial in preventing disasters.
Schick says linking humanitarian action with measures where NGOs help local communities prepare for natural disasters is an obvious move. Ni Chéilleachair adds that organisations and donors need to be more agile and responsive if this development-humanitarian complementarity is going to be successful.
However, the difficulties of combining development and humanitarian do not present problems for ‘multi-mandate’ organisations, like CARE, which can combine funding “from different pots and multiply the impact, building resilience, so when disaster hits your aid solves immediate problems and addresses long-term issues”, says Price-Jones.
Humanitarian actors are concerned when aid is used to mitigate the effects of the conflicts, as in Syria or South Sudan, and where their staff are most at risk. One positive outcome in the run-up to the Summit is the acknowledgement that solving conflict is the precursor of humanitarian work.
All the NGOs consulted agreed that the only way to resolve the humanitarian crisis was for the most powerful member states to show the political will to solve it. As Schick put it: ”We want UN Member States to take the political will to solve conflicts, which will reduce humanitarian needs”.
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