Funding according to need lies at the heart of humanitarian intervention. The justification for treating humanitarian situations as a special case rests on the concept that need and need alone should determine the response. People living through crises shoule be able to expect that all of their needs up to a certain threshold are being taken into account – not just those in a single sector like food, or education, or protection. Yet if the aspiration to ensure that basic humanitarian needs are met transparently on a global basis is to be more than just rhetoric, then a scale of need based on accepted standards and thresholds seems essential. The principal of delivering humanitarian assistance on an impartial and needs driven basis rests on the assumption that it is in fact possible to assess and measure needs in a comprehensive and comparable way. Making informed decisions and allocating resources in accordance with needs requires a global and holistic measurement of humanitarian needs referenced against comparable standards as well as an indication of how much it would reasonably cost to meet those needs.
The most consistently used and accessible measure of humanitarian needs remains the UN Consolidated Appeal Process, which many donors use to guide their prioritisation of finite humanitarian funds across the many competing global humanitarian crises. CAP requirements individually are taken as an assessment of need for each situation and collectively the requirements can be taken as a proxy for global humanitarian need. However, while the CAP continues to evolve and improve in its analysis and articulation of needs, it was never designed as a global comparable measure of needs. It is a coordination and planning tool for a particular crisis with a budget attached. An appeal document typically describes what humanitarian programmes are possible and with what priority within the existing capacity and ambition of humanitarian response actors. It does not actually articulate the full scale and range of needs but rather the activities to meet needs that the actors in the CAP believe they could implement.
Until 2006, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) was the archetypal protracted and consistently underfunded emergency. But as the country readied itself for elections, the UN country team developed a unique humanitarian action plan (HAP) that marked a radical departure from the established UN CAP. 2006 was not only a politically historic year for DRC. A groundswell of donor and UN reform shaped the way in which humanitarian needs were measured and articulated and both of these factors drove a dramatic change in the volumes and ways in which donors funded humanitarian needs. The country had been selected to pilot the application of the 2003
Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) principles and was subject to a range of UN reforms in leadership, coordination, needs assessment and funding. The total amount of funds requested to meet this comprehensive survey of needs and concomitant proposed humanitarian responses was three times that requested in 2005. Although the appeal was only 51% funded, the amount of money that was received was more than double that of the previous year, demonstrating the powerful influence of a comprehensive assessment and articulation of humanitarian need.
A large part of the picture of humanitarian need, however, is outside of the purview of the UN appeals process. After the 12 January 2010 Haiti earthquake the UN appealed for US$1.5 billion of humanitarian aid and the country has received more than US$2.8 billion, but only US$800 million has been allocated to the appeal needs. Are contributions to the disaster not being properly directed to priority needs? Were the appeal requirements simply wrong? Is the money given outside the appeal not needed? That is unlikely. The answer here lies partly in the partial nature of the CAP. Firstly, although NGO participation in the CAP increased from 4 in 2000 to 389 in 2009, the CAP remains a part of the centralised system that falls under UN coordination. There are many organisations, including significant actors such the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), that choose to carry out their own needs assessment and fundraising independently of the UN process. The funds raised by these two organisations alone in 2008 amounted to more than US$1.8 billion, all of which were for activities that were outside the needs defined as priorities within the CAP. Governments and affected communities are also only minor partners in the needs identification and prioritisation process. These needs, and the projects designed to meet them, do not therefore appear in the CAP.
Caveats notwithstanding, the UN CAP offers a useful tool to consider patterns in donor funding in relation to the needs presented within the appeal. Funding levels for the CAP over the last eight years have been remarkably consistent with the combined CAP requirements funded to between 64.3% and 72.3%. However, while the proportion of needs funded has remained consistent, the total amounts of unmet requirements vary significantly, ranging from US$1.4 billion to over US$2.7 billion. Flash and consolidated appeals show very different patterns in terms of average requirements. While consolidated appeals follow a steadily increasing curve over the 2000-2010 period independently of the number of appeals in each year, fl ash appeals vary greatly from one year to the next. Consolidated appeals have had an average share of 88.7% of the UN CAP process requirements since 2003, with little variation between years. In the same period, fl ash appeals have represented an average of 11.5% of the CAP, with striking highs and lows from one year to the other. Thus flash appeals in 2005 saw a 76.5% increase over 2004 and dropped by 190% the following year. The unpredictable nature of natural disasters accounts for much of this shifting trend. However, while consolidated appeals seem to have become increasingly able to address underlying causes for humanitarian crises, international response to natural disasters remains reactive rather than proactive, and prevention and preparedness still struggle to receive due attention and funding.