I was really pleased to be able to take part in France’s Conférence nationale humanitaire (CNH) at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris last Wednesday 16 November – an event that gathered senior representatives of both French and EU administrations, NGOs, CSOs and the UN to discuss major policy proposals to enhance France’s humanitarian engagement. (Agenda)
The main policy recommendations to emerge from a three-year consultation process, and clearly articulated in the report « Analyses et propositions sur l’action humanitaire dans les situations de crise et de post-crise » commissioned by Bernard Kouchner, and written by Alain Boinet (Solidarités International) and Benoit Miribel (Action Contre La Faim (ACF)), centre on adopting and promoting the EU consensus on humanitarian aid and on developing a national humanitarian policy framework.
Money-wise, the emphasis is to be on: post crisis reconstruction and preparedness (specifically, a proposal to spend EUR50 million a year on reconstruction programmes); partnerships with NGOs (target to spend EUR160 million through French NGOs by 2012); public information; bolstering France’s research/academic capacity; and engagement in the UN reform process.
I was asked to talk about: how France is currently situated in comparison with other donors in terms of financial flows (and in relation to development aid) – trends and main partners, comparisons with OECD DAC donors and other government donors; recipient countries; principal partners (NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, United Nations); trends in types of crises (DRR, post conflict). I was also asked to reflect on the ‘financial crisis’ and its implications. That was a lot to try and get through within 15 minutes … especially since I also wanted to use the time to talk about the value, impact and transparency of resources for people in crises.
The fact that France’s bilateral humanitarian contributions are ‘modest’ (a word that features in the report, p30), is not news. Since 2000, it has spent between US$15 million and US$55 million a year on bilateral humanitarian aid (i.e. specified or ‘earmarked’ funding for specific programmes or projects) with very little channelled through its own national NGOs. At US$344.7 million over the 10-year period 2001-2010 (US$310.7 million 2000-2009), that’s less than Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (US$793 million) and 16 OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) governments (19th, Finland, gave US$751 million), and more than Kuwait, Russian Federation and five other DAC governments (Luxembourg, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Greece). It’s interesting for people to be able to place their national expenditure alongside others’ of course, but the headline numbers are too broad, too sweeping to show us the true value of contributions and activities, which might not be comparable: what was the money spent on? where? who for? how long for? through which partners? with what impact?
We should also consider the extent of France’s contributions to humanitarian activities through its funding of the EU budget. The graphs in the slides and Excel clearly show the extent of this funding, together with multilateral ODA contributions to UNHCR, UNRWA and WFP. Some 25%-30% of France’s official development assistance (ODA) is provided in the form of ‘multilateral’ (i.e. totally unspecified) contributions to EU institutions each year. (It provides the second largest contribution after Germany.) And I learned at the conference that the EU spends 23% of its budget through French NGOs! With these multilateral elements taken into account, France is propelled to 9th largest donor over 10 years.
To meet the many demands placed on humanitarian delivery, which is pulled in so many directions, we need to be able to see all the resources available to address the needs – not just those in the ‘emergency response’ envelopes of OECD DAC governments (which happen to be the only ones we can get consistent and comparable data on). To meet the demands effectively, we need to put all resources available on the table so that we can make informed choices based on comparative advantage.
Humanitarian aid financing is but one resource that can be applied to promoting resilience to risk and addressing the consequences of poverty. It can work alongside local private and government resources; other aid and aid-like flows from a variety of government donors; private sector investments and donations; foreign security and peacekeeping investments. In order to harness the potential of all of these contributions, we need to be able to see them; and a precondition for that is transparency. Our generation is ideally placed to make the most of convergence in information, communications and technology to make that happen.