The humanitarian emergency appeal system, according to Jeffrey Sachs, is somewhat dysfunctional. UN appeals are produced that are invariably not met, and the time and money that went into them is wasted, aid operations are scaled down instead of up and humanitarian need is not met.
Sachs suggests we might have institutions such as the World Bank or Asian Development Bank holding a fund of emergency aid that could be replenished over time. Funding would come from both recipient and donor countries.
This sounds interesting. So let’s look at the statement of the problem and the proposed solution.
The issue for me is not whether or not the needs articulated by UN appeals are met or not met; it is pretty obvious that Sachs is right. Over time needs represented inside UN appeals are not met, despite there being adequate funding to do so. In fact over the last ten years we can clearly see that government funding for humanitarian aid has always exceeded the appeal needs.
The problem is not only about spending according to the need articulated in the appeals however. Part of the problem is inside the process of how these requests for money are determined. UN appeals are not a comprehensive articulation of all the needs of that country or that crisis and neither are appeals generated for all crises around the world, for various reasons, some to do with scale, sometimes politics etc.
So I propose that we do away with appeals altogether and instead develop identical threshold indicators in every location in the world. Such thresholds and indicators have already developed in West Africa as part of the appeals process there, covering food security, nutrition, protection, water and sanitation, and health. Perhaps we could expand this to cover shelter and education and everything else we might provide as humanitarian assistance.
Once this demand-side of humanitarian assistance has been resolved we can move to the supply of money. Rather than give funds to the banks as Professor Sachs suggests, given that they are not really experts in humanitarian aid and not best placed to administer such funding, we could instead give all the money (US$11.9 billion from governments in 2009) to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), or something similar.
This way, as soon as an indicator is breached in any part of the world for any sector funds can be dispatched immediately. Perhaps it can also be automated, removing the need for human involvement at all, except on the ground where it matters.
Would this work?