DEVELOPMENT: How to reduce humanitarian need

May 3, 2016

20 Apr 2016  By: Stephen O’Brien, UNOCHA and Kevin J. Jenkins, World Vision International  Original

A woman carries her child in a camp sheltering internally displaced people (IDPs) next to the M’Poko international airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, February 13, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

In the next decade, most of the world’s acutely vulnerable people will be living in fragile and conflict-affected cities and States. If current trends persist, conflict will continue to consume 80 per cent of humanitarian funding, setting back development by trillions of dollars. In 2014, over 13 per cent of the global economy was drained away by violence and war. The costs of protracted violence and deepening fragility will lead to lost childhoods, lost lives and lost opportunities. We must find a better way to not only save lives now, but also to address the root causes of fragility and build resilience over the long term.

Doing so must be underpinned by strong political leadership to resolve and prevent conflict. The human and financial costs of not doing so are simply too high. In the absence of political solutions from Syria to Iraq to the Central African Republic, there are severe limits to what principled humanitarian action can achieve.

When it comes to addressing fragility, international leaders, the United Nations and civil-society partners made history with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development when they pledged to leave no-one behind and to reach those furthest behind first. In doing so, international leaders promised to put the needs and priorities of the most-vulnerable people at the forefront of all development efforts. Turning this promise into action is fundamental to realizing the UN Secretary-General’s vision for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit on 23 and 24 May in Istanbul: to commit to moving from delivering aid to ending need.

To end need, we must stop thinking about relief and development as a sequence. Instead, we must find new ways to comprehensively reduce vulnerability and risk while in tandem meeting pressing humanitarian needs in line with humanitarian principles. This shift will disrupt our current model, in which humanitarian, development, peace, security and other institutions simultaneously work on different projects to different time frames and budgets within the same communities. Instead, wherever operationally possible, national Governments, humanitarian and development agencies, civil society and the private sector will need to work together to set common goals and outcomes over multiple years.

This will require us to work transparently to develop a common understanding of the risks and vulnerabilities people face in each context and prioritizing how to address them together. It will require each of us to overcome institutional barriers and plan our work based on each institution devoting their best services, skills and experience, context by context.

We look to an end to the short-term projects, launched year after year, which have dominated humanitarian response for the past decades and provided little strategic vision for focusing on results for the people we serve. In the cases of DRC, Somalia and Sudan, annual appeals have been repeated for 13 years running. People do not want simply to survive; they want to improve their life prospects and those of their children. Long-term improvement requires genuine partnerships with local partners built on trust, sustainable support, and sharing of resources and knowledge.

Partners must, where appropriate, support existing national and regional capacity, scaling it up and complementing it when necessary, rather than replacing national systems with heavy international ones. This should be done without impinging on the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity.

In the right context, humanitarian cash-based programmes should become the norm, not the exception, and they should build on national and regional safety nets that can strengthen social-protection systems. World Vision and many others offer assistance in the form of cash in responses as diverse as Lebanon and Jordan, South Sudan and Nepal. Going forward, cash assistance will be increasingly crucial to promote the resilience and dignity of children, families and communities affected by disasters.

We must also transform the way that we invest in reducing vulnerability. It is common sense to act early to reduce risk rather than waiting for full-blown crises to play out. Predictable multi-year funding would enable better strategic planning for impact, rather than the current model that focuses on agencies’ outputs. We need the transparency of medium-term goals for assessing whether we are truly reducing needs. To achieve all this, we must stop supporting isolated projects that prolong the fragmentation of services and the chaos after a crisis.

Businesses, civil society, faith groups and youth each have a vital role in bridging the divide between relief and development. OCHA and World Vision are engaged in relationships with a variety of partners that are giving better outcomes. Examples are diverse and include the private sector in East Africa, faith groups in West Africa as part of the Ebola response, and civil-society leaders and youth in the Central African Republic. We are sure that as we scale up these relationships around the world, we will increase the quality, reach and effectiveness of our responses.

Starting with the commitments we make at the World Humanitarian Summit, we must all agree to stop simply providing supplies to the world’s most exposed, defenseless people. Instead, we must listen to them and their calls for self-sufficiency and help in reducing their vulnerability over the long term.

At the Summit, World Vision will put forward bold commitments relating to financing, urban response and innovation, child protection, peacebuilding and partnerships. The UN Secretary-General is calling for strong commitments from global leaders, donors, business, investors and aid agencies to make the necessary changes that leave no one behind, and which close the relief-to-development divide once and for all.

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