This is a guest blog by Dr Randolph Kent
Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the GHA programme.
Yesterday, the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) Programme of Development Initiatives launched a new report: Humanitarian assistance from non-state donors: what is it worth?
The report begins to fill a deep void in the international community’s understanding about the funding of humanitarian action. The lack of a systematic analysis of donation trends has until now added to the quandary over long-term viability of the humanitarian aid sector for those with humanitarian roles and responsibilities. The report is therefore timely in so many ways, including taking a look at sources of support as the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2015 and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit approach.
However, the report can only be seen as a beginning. It captures what is all too often referred to as ‘the traditional humanitarian sector’, focusing on resources flowing principally to those inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that are generally seen as relief providers. As the report notes, there is a sore lack of publicly available data to draw from even these traditional and seemingly financially quantifiable flows.
So it is little wonder that the report does not begin to capture the data-poor issues of the changing nature of humanitarian action, or the ways that resilience and vulnerability may be addressed in the future.
In that sense, this GHA report highlights the need for better data and future research in three inadequately explored areas of non-state humanitarian assistance:
1. The value of private sector ‘core business’ and humanitarian prevention and preparedness
The private sector, as the report suggests, is increasing what it has to offer in terms of types of assistance and forms of partnership with the traditional humanitarian sector. However, the private sector’s overall contribution to humanitarian action also needs to be seen in a different, ‘non-traditional’ perspective. Somewhere between a focus on core-business operations and so-called Corporate Shared Value (CSV) is a bottom-line appreciation of assets – human as well as means of production – that have to be protected for a corporation to survive.
Towards that end, and by no means dependent upon IGOs and NGOs, the private sector invests increasingly in sustainability. This is not a term well understood by the humanitarian sector, but one that is underpinned by investments in measures that enhance prevention, preparedness and response capacities. In other words, there is a kind of parallel humanitarianism that needs to be calculated in a world increasingly vulnerable to a growing range of threats.
2. The diaspora as relief responders
In the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, US immigration authorities introduced a moratorium on repatriation of illegal Haitian immigrants. The justification given was that in the midst of that horrific crisis the flow of remittances from the Haitian diaspora was too vital to lose through deportations. In a world in which remittances are increasing beyond the 2012 record of US$534 billion, one can assume that based on the Haitian experience, disasters increase remittance flows by at least 20%. How this impacts on humanitarian action – assisted increasingly by information and communications technology – will be vital to understand the impact of non-state donors.
3. The emerging role of state capitalist structures
State capitalism is an economic system in which governments manipulate market outcomes often for political purposes. Such state capitalist structures – found around the world, including in the US – put vast financial resources within the control of state officials, allowing them access to cash that helps safeguard domestic political capital, increasing their leverage on the international stage. It is interesting to note, for example, that the world’s 13 largest oil companies, measured by the reserves they manage, are now controlled by governments. As humanitarian action increasingly becomes a central determining agent for the survival of governments in disaster-afflicted countries, the resources of such quasi-governmental, quasi-private sector bodies will have increased impact on humanitarian response. Here, too, the impact of this sort of not-quite-non-state actor will have to be calculated.
Dr Randolph Kent is the former Director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College, London, where he is now a Senior Research Fellow. He has more than 25 years’ engagement in the provision of emergency assistance, mainly with the United Nations in situations of both natural disaster and conflict.