This week saw the release of the 10th annual edition of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership’s (HAP) Humanitarian Accountability Report. The 2013 report reviews progress in making humanitarian assistance more accountable over the past decade, discusses some of the obstacles faced along the way, and presents innovations the sector has adopted in order to make itself more accountable to populations affected by crises. It also highlights the role of transparency in accountability, and considers the potential impact of technology.
Transparency: A precondition to accountability?
“International agencies can give information to the people and tell the whole village so all the people will have the information about the projects and budget. When so many people know the project, no one can manipulate it or do corruption. The information is open to everyone.”
Transparency features strongly in this year’s report as a key element to achieving accountability, with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) identified as one way of supporting this.
The report states that “the emergence of a comprehensive and workable data standard in the form of IATI has made it possible to turn rhetoric on donor transparency into reality”, but that more and better information is still needed in order to fully assess the efficiency of the system or to meaningfully hold the chain of delivery of assistance to account.
“Information is aid”
“It is widely recognised that organisations should ensure that the people they aim to assist and other stakeholders have access to timely, relevant and clear information about them and their programmes not only to be more accountable but also as a way to empower crisis-affected communities, build trust and prevent or identify fraud.”
The HAP report recognises information as a “key humanitarian deliverable”, an idea that is also central to this year’s GHA report, which is due to be released on 17th July. Our own GHA report 2013 calls for improvements in the reporting of data on humanitarian aid in order to enable more informed decision-making, improve efficiency and increase accountability.
Technology: The “silver bullet”?
“Transparency and access to information is a hallmark of democratic societies. While aid organisations advocate for the very principles that underpin democracy, they often fail to be as transparent as the standards they promote… Technological progress has the potential to increase the accountability and transparency of humanitarian assistance in a crisis. However, these advances are not in themselves sufficient to alter the way aid organisations communicate with disaster-affected communities. For that to occur, organisational cultures and staff attitudes must also evolve.”
Recent developments in technology have led to a host of innovative new ways of employing ICT in humanitarian response, and this has undoubtedly contributed to improving the flow of information to and amongst crisis-affected people in recent years. However, the HAP report warns that, whilst technological progress has the potential to increase accountability and transparency, it is not necessarily “the answer”; organisations also need to improve their capacity to gather information – as well as their own information-sharing practices – and get better at integrating and tracking feedback from the communities they aim to help.
The report warns that, whilst collective understanding of what it takes to achieve real accountability has vastly improved in recent years, there is still plenty more to be done. Practice is not yet on a par with policy, and isolated examples of best practice in the field must be scaled up to become standard practice across the whole humanitarian system.
This year’s Humanitarian Accountability Report offers a comprehensive analysis of progress made over the last ten years in terms of accountability in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and provides a snapshot of the state of accountability in the sector today. It reminds us that transparency is key to achieving accountability, and that “being accountable to the people we aim to serve is not just the right thing to do, it is also the best way to ensure programmes are relevant, effective, efficient and sustainable.”