AID POLICY: Needs, gaps and resilience

Aid arriving in Democratic Republic of Congo (file photo)/IRIN
Global humanitarian needs declined in 2011 but funding shortfalls continued to widen, according to a report by the UK-based NGO, Development Initiatives. And resilience is the new buzzword in aid response as people across the sector give more thought – but not yet enough action – to helping vulnerable people better withstand shocks, rather than waiting until disaster strikes.

Asia 728x90

The number of people estimated by UN agencies to be in need of aid fell from 74 million in 2010 to 62 million in 2011 (the figure for 2012 as of June was 61 million), while financial commitments by governments slid 9 percent from their $13 billion historic peak in 2010 for the Haiti and Pakistan disasters.

Although UN Consolidated Appeals (CAPs) shrank by 21 percent in 2011, they were on average 38 percent underfunded – the largest percentage of unmet need for a decade. This is “concerning”, said Lydia Poole, head of Global Humanitarian Assistance at Development Initiatives (DI), and author of the 2012 report. It is difficult to explain this paradox, said Poole – it could be that these needs are being met outside of the CAP system, given CAPs represented just $5.5billion of a $17 billion aid total in 2011.

Large amounts of private funding to NGOs for instance, fall outside of CAPs and several prominent emergency aid recipients such as Ethiopia, Colombia, Iraq and Nepal do not always participate in CAP appeals . But analysing non-CAP emergency aid is still hard to do, given the poor quality of financial reporting. “What we can see, is that there is more strain in the system,” Poole concluded.

Widening funding gaps can also be seen in UN non-CAP appeals and emergency funding requests by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Aid is down across the board, partly linked to financial woes in donor states. Official development assistance from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) fell by 3 percent in 2011, while humanitarian aid from these donors fell by 2 percent.

The contraction could be worse, said Poole. Over the past decade aid spend has spiked after big sudden-onset disasters such as the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami or the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and then continued at the higher level. This is still more or less the trend – aid grew by 23 percent in 2010 and has not significantly dropped in 2011.

“Overall, the collective response has proved resilient to the financial crisis, which is quite surprising…We can take heart from this,” Poole told IRIN. But the future is uncertain as more donors announce cuts in official development assistance (ODA). “There has been a lag between the financial crisis hitting and then manifesting itself in austerity measures that affect aid budgets. We are just starting to see some of the effects of that filtering through,” Poole warned.

Fair distribution?

Conflict-affected states received the overwhelming majority of international assistance in 2011. Humanitarian assistance is usually spent in the same countries for many years, an indication that the root causes of vulnerability are not being tackled.

The top 10 aid recipients have not changed much in the past decade – the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sudan and Afghanistan are the top three – but distribution has become more concentrated, with the top three getting 49 percent of all humanitarian funding in 2010, according to the report.

It is difficult to gauge whether or not this is fair, said Poole. “There is still no comprehensive and
comparative means of assessing and measuring [humanitarian] need.”

Measuring the extent to which CAPs are funded gives some indication, as they are now based on more accurate vulnerability data, but it is still a relatively blunt tool, and doesn’t take into account significant non-CAP sources such as private funding – for instance, NGO Médecins sans Frontières
received US$613 million in private funding in 2011.

More donors (14 so far) and aid agencies, including the UN Office for Project Services, are signing up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative to become more open about funding flows.

Various assessment tools are being developed, including guidance on coordinated assessments by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) of UN and non-UN partners, and “humanitarian dashboards” that assess the coverage and gaps in a UN emergency response.

In Colombia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Universidad Santo Tomas created a humanitarian risk index to help decision-makers prioritize their response activities. Many countries now compile appeals using the Online Project system, which maps projects by the location and number of people targeted.

Other barriers to donor funding include a narrow definition of needs, with many still more likely to fund fast-onset Haiti-type disasters than slow-burning crises. UN appeals for the Horn of Africa drought, despite warnings from USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET), did not reflect the urgency or scale of the crisis, and donors responded with too little too late. Donors are slower to response to chronic crises “because they cannot see the final impact or the gravity of the situation in its early stages,” said Noel Tsekouras, deputy head of OCHA in West Africa.

Rather than repeating the cycle, the perspective needs to shift to building up vulnerable people’s resilience so they can withstand crises – like the doubling of food prices now happening in the Sahel.


Resilience is the new buzzword in aid circles, says Peter Gubbels, author of the Sahel
Working Group’s latest report, “Ending the Everyday Emergency: children and resilience in the Sahel”. But a lack of common understanding of how to build resilience and little coherent leadership on it means progress has been slow, he noted.

“Serious efforts” are being made to map out what resilience means, but there is still confusion at the
international level, says Poole. In the Sahel, where some 18million people face acute crisis and one million children are being treated for acute malnutrition, the Sahel Working Group says resilience would involve support to small-scale agriculture, better basic healthcare and education services, stronger governance, and social protection schemes such as cash transfers. Cash transfers are on
the rise, with six donors funding them in 2006, and 21 in2011, according to the GHA.

Relief-to-development “outmoded”

Gubbels calls for an entire reconceptualization of aid. “The relief-to-development continuum is outmoded for chronic crises,” he told IRIN from New York. Aid agencies and national governments
must develop resilience-boosting models to help the most vulnerable families in the long term.

Disaster risk reduction (DRR) received just 4 percent of overall aid funds from 2006 to 2011 according to DI, rather than the 10 percent recommended by prevention experts. The aid sector is still trying to work out what DDR means in terms of programming, but Gubbels and Poole said more funding is not the only answer.

“Resilience is about livelihoods and social protection systems, which go beyond the remit of humanitarian actors. Governments must be involved,” said Poole. There is a “perplexing emphasis” on humanitarians, rather than seeing DRR as a shared responsibility, Development Initiatives noted.

Some national governments are taking a lead – Ethiopia has tried to protect its hunger-prone citizens by providing cash or food transfers to as many as 8 million households for six months of each year to bridge the hunger period. The scheme has been running since 2005 and was scaled up during the crisis in the Horn of Africa in August 2011, with a view to reducing hunger and helping recipients with their livelihoods in the long term, according to its funder, the World Bank.

More examples like this are needed said Tsekouras. “If we do not start building resilience today – and
it will take a long time – then we will just continue to send emergency aid to areas like the Sahel for decades to come.”



Theme (s): Aid Policy, Economy, Governance,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]