Panel discussion: strengthening preparedness for humanitarian emergencies and the coordinated provision of humanitarian assistance.
“We need data”
We attended an excellent panel discussion at the annual ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment in New York last week. Peter Walker, Feinstein International Centre, stressed that the actions and policies of the humanitarian community are not currently driven by evidence. Peter discussed how we are currently fairly good at collecting financial data for humanitarian aid (although GHA would argue that this data must be more comprehensive, comparable and timely – we still have a long way to go!). Peters’ concern was that we do not know whether this financial data is addressing need – we know the outputs but not the inputs – “the system is driven by the financial data and not the human data”. In addition Peter argued that the relief-development distinction was no longer useful. 30% of aid is given to recipients who have been receiving aid for more than 8 years. We now have a third state, protracted crisis, and we must look for ways to allow people to recover from humanitarian crisis and progress towards sustainable livelihoods. Sir John Holmes added that “we need to find a balance between what we are doing in an emergency situation and what we are doing long term”. Peter concluded that if we are going tackle future humanitarian trends then we must find ways to evolve the humanitarian system. For the humanitarian system to evolve we must be driven by data, be evidence based not anecdotal and we must understand and respect the whole humanitarian community which includes both local and international actors.
“Poverty is the greatest vulnerability multiplier”
Saroj Jha from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) also gave a very insightful presentation. Saroj argued that a third of all extremely poor people live in multiple hazard hotspots and are more vulnerable to disasters. Saroj supported Peter’s comments that the relief-development divide did not reflect real realities on the ground and argued that “natural hazards become ‘unnatural’ disasters when vulnerabilities are not managed as integral to the development process”. Humanitarian aid and response cannot be seen in isolation, in protracted situations longer term measures must be adopted.
“Open source data systems are going to be the future”
The session closed by focusing on data and the potential for data to help contribute to poverty reduction. Actors, agencies and mechanisms within the humanitarian system need to be better at linking up systems with information exchanged in a timely and coherent manner. The session concluded that there is the potential to have much more open sources of communication in today’s world however the methods need to improve and information/data needs to advance. For example, developments should include more geospatial data (open street mapping, geocoding etc), SMS (a new way to connect the response system to those who need response) and feedback loops.