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Overlapping crises increase risk to the most vulnerable

The Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) Report 2021 continues to provide a comprehensive, data-driven assessment of the global financing landscape for humanitarian response. Our analysis highlights how persistent underfunding of humanitarian response became more acute in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, existing humanitarian need was compounded by the impacts of the pandemic, inhibiting people from breaking out of a cycle of crisis, as the number of countries experiencing protracted crisis continued to grow. Others were drawn into crisis for the first time because of the pandemic.

The unanticipated shock of the Covid-19 pandemic intensified the strain on a humanitarian system struggling to cope with existing challenges. The number of UN-coordinated appeals rose from 36 in 2019 to 55 in 2020. At the same time, the financial foundations on which the humanitarian system rests were also threatened as global recession driven by the Covid-19 pandemic weakened the economies of donor nations. While some donors sustained and even increased humanitarian funding in 2020, significant cuts are evident, highlighting the fragility of a system dependent on a small number of donors for a large portion of its support.

As we consistently highlight in our GHA reports, the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable people are those most threatened by crisis, whether caused by global pandemics, disasters associated with natural hazards or political instability. There is a basic moral imperative to assist those in need. As the Covid-19 pandemic has starkly highlighted, and as climate change will increasingly show, in our interconnected world we cannot afford to turn inwards. Global stability and prosperity are in all our interests. This requires a collective commitment to financing humanitarian assistance sufficiently, and to support long-term development. In response to the pandemic, this commitment is needed for vaccinations and to support those suffering further waves of infection. But it is also needed for wider crisis recovery and resilience-building against future shocks, not least the impacts of climate change.

People vulnerable to crisis often face multiple risks. As we highlight in this year’s report (Chapter 1), extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in fragile countries particularly at risk from systemic shocks – both sudden, like Covid-19, and slower in onset, like climate change. Within local populations, the exposure to risks and the impacts of crisis can be greater for particular groups, such as young women and girls. This means responses must be tailored for and targeted to the needs of these more vulnerable groups. It also means that we must be able to monitor the sufficiency and effectiveness of these responses. For this, we need more and better disaggregated and real-time data.

For humanitarians, the imperative is to respond to urgent need wherever it arises. However, the intersection of factors driving crises, particularly the overlaying of poverty and fragility, means that those supporting longer-term recovery and resilience need to engage in crisis settings. As we highlight in the report (Chapters 2 and 3), where we examine the roles of wider development finance and multilateral development banks, and in other recent research,[1] there are some encouraging shifts in this regard. However, humanitarian, development and peacebuilding actors need to do much more to deliver coherent, efficient and joined-up programming in crisis settings.

With little prospect of humanitarian need reducing, accelerating the pace of long-called-for reform within the humanitarian system is critical. As the GHA Report 2021 highlights, through unique analysis on localisation, unearmarked funding, cash programming and multi-year funding, progress over the five years of the Grand Bargain has been faltering. The Grand Bargain 2.0 must deliver. Positive small-scale shifts in how financing is organised and delivered, for instance through pre-arranged financing and anticipatory and early action, need to be taken to scale.

Development Initiatives (DI) will continue to provide independent, data-driven analysis to support these urgent reforms. This includes technical guidance to enable improvements to the reporting and monitoring of crisis financing. As ever, we welcome feedback from our readers and hope that our analysis and technical guidance will help our partners to respond more effectively to the needs of people affected by crisis.

Thank you for your interest.

Harpinder Collacott

Chief Executive Officer

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