Lydia Poole, an independent consultant, writes a guest blog to outline the key findings from her recent report for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) – Bridging the need-based funding gap: NGO field perspectives.
With a growing burden of humanitarian needs, ensuring that those most in need receive assistance may never have been so critical. Already in the first quarter of 2014 there have been four level three emergencies (in the Central African Republic, the Philippines, South Sudan and Syria) and a record busting UN appeal of US$15.6 billion, set against a seemingly inelastic supply of financing.
The NRC recently launched a new report, which they were kind enough to let me research with them, describing some of the major contemporary challenges to achieving needs-based humanitarian financing from the perspective of front-line humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in Pakistan, Somalia and South Sudan. There are a number of old challenges and some new. Here are some of my ‘take-aways’ from the report:
We have a collective action problem
Individual donors may make rational choices based on institutional preferences and priorities, but these do not add up to coherent coverage of funding needs at the global level. Operational humanitarian organisations have responded to the need to coordinate their actions better through the cluster approach and through the ongoing reforms of programme cycle tools and processes, but no equivalent initiative to ensure efficiently coordinated donor responses has yet been tabled.
A rational division of labour among implementing agencies would require working according to the principle of subsidiarity. But humanitarian implementing agencies are in competition for limited resources and organisations have built-in survival instincts which are difficult to over-ride. Currently, size matters rather too much and the largest international NGOs appear to monopolise funding both in quantity and quality (flexible and rapid response funding). To ensure that the organisations with the greatest comparative advantage to meet needs have access to funding, international NGOs may need to adapt their modus operandi, ceding resources and influence in some cases in order to work more collaboratively and transparently in partnerships and alliances. Their roles may need to evolve from direct implementers, towards functioning as mediators, technical advisors and brokers – including sometimes being fund managers in their own right as we are starting to see with the START fund and the RAPID fund in Pakistan.
We have a problem with the facts
Robust, comparable and comprehensive evidence should underpin impartial and proportionate resource allocation. And major progress has been made to improve the evidence base for humanitarian needs. But these processes are incomplete: our analytical lenses are flawed and partial, funding for needs assessment and analysis is rarely available, and in reality some populations are extremely difficult to reach. There are still ‘black holes’ in the evidence base.
Additional investments are needed in the capacity of humanitarian actors to understand crisis context and dynamics to enable more contextualised and forward-looking judgements. And decision-makers will increasingly need to shift towards anticipatory and early-warning information, in addition to traditional needs assessments, to support early action and building resilience.
There are political challenges too: even when we have the evidence, we may not react – a condition OCHA describes in their recent flagship policy report as “knowledge without action”.
Our universe is expanding
As the scale, ambition and understanding of humanitarian action have expanded during the last 20 years, so too has our understanding of what constitutes a humanitarian need. The outer limits of the responsibility of humanitarian actors to respond have also expanded into addressing the root causes of crises, including trying to catalyse transformative change towards greater resilience to stresses and shocks.
Humanitarian needs are likely to continue to grow, and traditional donors are unlikely to be able to keep pace with demand. Humanitarian actors cannot, and many would argue should not, do it all. They will need to negotiate agreements on the limits of responsibility of humanitarian action with development, security and government counterparts based a common commitment to prioritise the needs of crisis-vulnerable populations built on a shared understanding and analysis of risk.
The NRC’s report is designed to contribute to ongoing dialogue. You can find it here. Please read it and react to it. You can also find our more about NRC’s ongoing work to enhance principled humanitarian action by visiting www.nrc.no.