In the Global Humanitarian Assistance programme we like to think we know as much as anyone about humanitarian financing. In the reports we write, the blogs and articles that are read by thousands in more than a hundred countries each and every month, we write with authority. We like to think we are telling exactly how it is.
But we’re not.
The reason is that the reporting of humanitarian financing from top to bottom, from the donation, through the system to the implementing agency and to the beneficiary, is incredibly poor. Why is that?
There are three main reasons, each of which are indicated in the case study that our colleagues on the AidInfo programme has put together.
Firstly not all actors are included in the data reported. There are far too many gaps, and significant ones.
Some governments, especially those outside of what is classed as the humanitarian system, do not report to the main databases we have at our disposal; if they do report it is often haphazard and not comparable with other data. The national governments response to humanitarian crises is incredibly difficult to track; these countries are one step removed from donors, and their contributions, whether financial or through their role in logistics and coordination, are rarely fully understood, and hardly ever counted.
The contributions from individuals are also missing. Firstly the private voluntary contributions made by individuals around the world are often not reported properly by the implementing agencies that receive their funds, especially, once again, for those countries outside of the humanitarian system as we know it. But beyond that the work done by communities, families and individuals remains uncounted and unaccounted for.
In fact in a rather perverse irony of humanitarian (and development) aid the closer you get to the beneficiaries the less you know about the value of the money given.
The data reported itself meanwhile is not as useful as we need it to be. The two main databases we have, the DAC CRS and the OCHA FTS have issues. The DAC is much more rigorous as it demands all countries to use it the same way, the same codes and to report all aid funding. It is also far too late in reporting, includes the funding from only the 22 members of the DAC and the codes it uses for humanitarian are nothing like that used within the humanitarian system. The FTS meanwhile, though a part of the system and set up to monitor appeals, cluster funding etc is flawed because it is a voluntary system; it relies on individual donors and organisations to report, and that reporting when it is made is far too variable and open to question.
Finally, the missing link perhaps, is impact. Even given these caveats I would like to say we understand reasonably well what is happening in terms of inputs. But of the exact group of beneficiaries for these inputs. And the outputs that money produced? And beyond that to outcomes? That is something much, much harder to gauge. And yet of course this is the thing that surely is most important. How is it possible that we still don’t have an easy way to measure what happens to US$100 million of humanitarian aid to a country, of what impact it has on the population’s life and welfare?
In essence in my role as programme leader for GHA I am, together with the programme colleagues and our various partners, to work through these issues, to fill in the blanks, interpret the variables, discounting those we judge are wrongly reported, mix and match sources of data as best we can, investigate those areas of humanitarian financing that others do not. We try our best.
For humanitarian aid then what do we need? Simply, a systematic, easy-to-use and real-time detailed data set that goes down to the level of what is done exactly where with whom. If we had all the data in forms that we could compare and contrast we could tell a much clearer picture of humanitarian aid, and, we think, enable those in positions of policy and implementation to make much better decisions, and for those paying the aid bills or receiving the assistance, to better hold the system and its actors to account.
There would be still the need for the GHA programme, and other people and organisations who want to examine humanitarian financing to do exactly that. We would just wouldn’t be spending all our time trying to work out whether or not we had good enough data and from then what it was trying to tell us.
Until then we’ll continue the work.