I used to look forward to the publication of the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) Report each year because it told me what was changing in the humanitarian world – who the up-and-coming donors were, which countries were recovering from crisis and which were not. But this year I found myself thinking much more about what has not changed. The true value of the GHA Report is that, every year, it holds up a mirror to the humanitarian community, using the industry’s own data to quantify change, or the lack of it. It allows us to move from anecdote and hunches to data-driven conclusions. So here are my five conclusions for 2012, illustrated by quotes from the report.
We are failing people caught up in chronic crises. Over two-thirds of humanitarian assistance still flows into the handful of states suffering from long-term conflict and fragility. To quote from the report, “all but one of the top ten recipients between 2001 and 2010 are considered fragile states, and all have been affected by conflict for 5–10 years. In 2009, 68% of total official humanitarian assistance was received by countries considered long-term recipients”. This raises some fundamental concerns. Of course the ethical case for providing aid to save lives in times of crisis remains solid, whether the crisis lasts for two months or two decades, but it seems to me that all too often humanitarian aid is being used as a palliative, helping to keep people in limbo until someone else takes action to build a better future. If humanitarian agencies see themselves as part of a profession rather than a contracted service provider, then surely they need to go further? Think, for example, of the medical profession which addressed the root causes of smoking-induced lung cancer in order to change practice, rather than just treating the symptoms. Perhaps the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States will provide the framework for this, and if so, humanitarian agencies need to work quickly to find their place in it.
We should be really angry about the unmet needs. “The proportion of humanitarian financing needs within the UN consolidated appeals process (CAP) that remained unmet in 2011 was greater, at 38%, than in any year since 2001, despite overall reduced requirements. UN appeals outside of the CAP in 2011 were funded to just 37% overall, however, well below the average of 46% for the period 2000 –2011. International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appeals in 2009 and 2010 had unmet requirements of 17% and 21% respectively, compared with just 11% and 10% in the two preceding years. International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) appeal funding requirements were just 50% met in 2011 against an average of 67% for the period 2006–2011.” In any other business this would spell failure and the road to bankruptcy.
We really have no idea how many people need aid. “The good news is that, at 62 million, the number of people affected by crises in 2011 was 12 million fewer than in 2010,” as Judith Randel puts it, but let’s be clear, that’s the number of people aid agencies say they are reaching. To find out how many people are in need and thus what the potential global caseload should be, we need to include all the people not being reached by agencies at all. In starting to highlight the ‘people numbers’, one hopes that the GHA Report can do the same job as it does for the ‘finance numbers’, ratcheting up the veracity of the data. The effect of the global recession will get worse. The downturn in aid available in 2011 partly reflects the global recession working its way through to aid budgets. And in a global economy, if one donor is affected, virtually all of them are. Globalisation also manifests itself in the energy and food price volatility we see partly driving food security crises, “with energy prices rising by 143% and food prices by 56% from their lowest points in 2009 to their peaks in 2011”.
The rhetoric of recovery and resilience does not match the reality. I hear a lot of rhetoric these days about how a push for bringing disaster risk reduction and building resilience into programming will reduce the humanitarian load. Well, yes, but only if it is on a scale that makes a difference. “Relatively small shares of international resources are invested specifically in building resilience. Just 4% of official humanitarian aid (US$1.5 billion) and 0.7% (US$4.4 billion) of non-humanitarian ODA was invested in disaster risk reduction between 2006 and 2010.” At these rates building resilience is an idea, not a reality.
So what? By flagging these issues and backing them up with data, GHA Report 2012 allows us to argue much more systematically for fundamental reform of the system. The data tell us that crises are normal, not abnormal; that we can predict much of the load each year; that many crisis environments require long-term programming, five-to-ten year operations not seasonal and annual responses; that we still do not know our global caseload (imagine if doctors had no idea of disease prevalence, or teachers no idea of the child population and education levels). The data tells us that it is time to move from an ad-hoc, fragmented post-hoc financed system to one that is evidence-driven and closer in structure to a social security system. Getting there will take years, but at least we now have some of the necessary data to start a robust promotion for change.