After interviewing hundreds of aid workers, donors and aid recipients, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP) has created an authentic snapshot of the vast, shifting mass of agencies, donors, governments and affected populations that are part of the humanitarian community. The new State of the System Report addresses how well the system is performing so that all agencies can be more accountable and learn from their experiences.
The figures are striking. Take, for example, US$16 billion. That’s the total amount of contributions to emergency response efforts and other specific humanitarian activities in 2010 from governments, UN bodies and private individuals. That number is growing, despite the economic downturn. In fact, the largest Western donors – the US government and the European Union – have increased their average contributions by 60% and 20%, respectively, from 2008 levels. Bearing in mind that US$48.35 billion was spent on pet supplies in the US alone in the same year, it is still a relatively small amount of money to reach the approximately 300 million people estimated to be affected by disasters such as the Pakistan floods, the earthquake in Haiti and conflict-affected Afghanistan. But it seems that although public and corporate giving only represents a small fraction of the global humanitarian response (less than 6%), the willingness of the public to donate to alleviate suffering doesn’t appear to wane during tough financial times.
At present, a small number of complex, protracted crises account for the majority of funding. Sudan, with its vast size, its long-running, brutal conflict and high profile on the international human rights and diplomatic stages, has been the largest recipient of humanitarian aid for 2009-10, receiving just under US$9 billion (around half of the total amount donated internationally). The distribution of funds seems to be driven, to a large degree, by media interest and donor priorities. Just compare the US$1,166 donated per person for the three million hit in earthquake-struck Haiti with the US$135 per person for the 20 million affected by the Pakistan earthquake. It remains extremely difficult to raise funds for building partnerships and capacity with local communities during non-emergency periods, when in fact these funds are needed most.
But the numbers only tell part of the story. The focus of the State of the Humanitarian System report is very much upon how humanitarianism fits into a rapidly changing world. This is the story of aid, told by those who fund, coordinate, distribute and receive it. What their stories indicate is that humanitarian aid in 2030 is unlikely to look like humanitarian aid in 2012. There are several trends, or pathways, that the system could follow which would mean it might look radically different in years to come. Changing environmental and political climates mean that we are faced with new and different types of disasters. The rise of Southern NGOs and governments seeking to play a greater role in disaster preparedness, response and recovery is likely to generate a wider range of voices around the table. Longer-term development agendas and disaster preparedness/recovery programming is increasingly overlapping with ‘traditional’ disaster relief functions. If humanitarian organisations simply continue with business as usual without a serious reality check, they are in danger of becoming irrelevant or poorly adapted to this changing world.
Note: The data and methodology used by ALNAP differs from that used by GHA.