I imagine we would agree that one clear way of measuring the progress of humanitarian assistance is when it is not needed anymore. In ten years time if we are spending US$15 billion (a fairly conservative estimate given recent trends) on humanitarian aid year on year we are surely making a mistake. We will not have made the right choices about how to spend what is a finite resource: money.
Does the UN appeals process – which despite some major caveats, remains perhaps our best measure of humanitarian needs – highlight whether or not we have made any progress in reducing humanitarian need?
The combined humanitarian appeal for 2011 has just been released: US$7.4 billion for some of the most complex countries around the world. It is also for the most intractable crises too; of the 11 country appeals of 2010 all but one reappears this year. Uganda drops out and is replaced by Niger, the latter’s needs large enough to warrant being separated out from the combined appeal for West African countries. So there is not too much sign of progress in terms of total volume requested nor the countries for which money is being requested: US$7.4 billion requested for 2011 follows US$7.1 billion in 2010 which follows US$7 billion in 2009, US$22 billion largely in the same complex emergencies year on year.
And it is these emergencies, Sudan, DRC, Somalia etc, that account for the bulk of all spend on humanitarian assistance. Despite the media coverage, generated by large disasters such as the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan flooding, conflict still takes up more than its fair share of humanitarian assistance. Seven out of every ten US dollars spent on assistance is spent on conflict affected countries, almost each and every year. And it is these same countries we see, unsurprisingly, each and every year in the humanitarian appeals.
This certainly does not look like progress. Perhaps the humanitarian appeals actually reflect a lack of progress and what we are actually doing year on year is keeping people alive and delivering basic services. Each year we add to the vast number of people being kept alive and who receive basic services through humanitarian money. If so the questions come thick and fast, two above all, is humanitarian aid the best tool to make itself redundant? And secondly, not unconnected, what is the role of development in aid in reducing the risk, the vulnerability that appears to be increasing, if we read the CAP right, year on year?