Could greater financial transparency improve communication between humanitarian and military actors?
We recently organised a panel at the Human Security: Perspectives and Responses Conference that took place at the impressive Kadir Has University in Istanbul from 24-27 October. The conference was attended by a relatively even mix of both academic and practitioner humanitarian communities. Greater representation and participation from local humanitarian actors would have added value by bringing additional perspectives to some of the panel discussions – ours included!
Our panel was chaired by Norah Niland, a research associate at the Centre on Conflict, Development & Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Norah brought with her not only extensive experience in a range of humanitarian contexts, most recently Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also a deep theoretical and practical understanding of the challenges of humanitarian action. Speakers on the panel included Marc van den Homberg from TNO, Carina Solmirano from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), and also Lt Col Nigel Cribb currently working at the Advanced Command and Staff Course at the UK Defence Academy. The panel discussion focused on two themes – transparency and communication.
I opened the panel presenting the underlying data and trends for channelling humanitarian assistance through the military based on available data. The main and growing trend from the available data was the dominance of the United States (US) in channelling humanitarian assistance through the military. It was clear through my own research, and from the panel discussion, that different reporting structures (and interpretations of OECD humanitarian assistance guidelines) in countries were one of the likely reasons behind this. Nigel also highlighted that the US military budget is significantly larger than other countries. Therefore, humanitarian assistance could also be examined proportionally with overall military spend per country. As a GHA colleague pointed out on her blog recently, humanitarian assistance reporting needs to be not only comprehensive, but also comparable. The discussion highlighted two clear areas for further research 1) to carry out more qualitative analysis and look more closely at how countries define and report humanitarian assistance channelled through the military and 2) to analyse further the disaggregated data.
The paper from SIPRI, ‘Costs of military operations and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan’ dug more deeply into spending in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2012 on both military actions and humanitarian assistance by the international community. The research investigated how the sums spent by the same countries on humanitarian aid in Afghanistan have developed over the same period. This information provided for a fruitful discussion on military actions in a humanitarian situation given that many in the audience had experience with in working in the Afghanistan-specific context.
Marc van den Homberg presented his research – Multi-stage collaboration network for early stage comprehensive conflict assessment – which is based on an organisational form, piloted in the Netherlands. A learning and research network was set up with representatives from different organisations including the Dutch ministries of Defence, Security and Justice and Foreign Affairs/Development Cooperation, NGOs, international organisations and academics who came together in a focused workshop led by facilitators to create a shared situational awareness and to review policy options. This presentation generated discussion about the pilot itself, but the interventions also illustrated other examples of comprehensive integrated approaches already underway such as the Sphere project with NATO.
Nigel proved an excellent final panel member as he was able to draw from his experience working with the UK Conflict and Stabilisation Unit to comment on the integrated approach pilot presented by Marc. Through his experience in Pakistan in 2005 he was also able to shed more light from the ground on some of the figures on spending on humanitarian assistance channelled by the military there. He supported the issue about the importance of standardisation of definitions and data sets, and also referred to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). He felt from a military perspective, definitions of humanitarian actions were very different to those used within the humanitarian community and this was a key challenge. By using the results from the recently released Aid Transparency Index (ATI) from Publish What You fund (PWYF), which highlighted a large gap in transparency between the UK Department for International Development (DFID) – rated ‘very good’ – and the UK Ministry of Defence – rated ‘very poor.’ Nigel also drew attention to the need for introspection within the UK government as regards the transparency of financial data and where lessons could be learned to develop a best practice between agencies.
In summary, the main points from the panel discussions were that resolving terminology issues by different actors could not only allow for more transparency, but language can also affect communication. If all actors, when discussing humanitarian assistance, are using the same definition then this could improve communication. More comprehensive data will contribute to a more accurate picture of the military response in different humanitarian contexts.