Humanitarian aid challenges its limits.

World Humanitarian Summit, where are we 3 years later?

Beyond the debates and criticisms, the 1st Global Humanitarian Summit (GHS) organized by the UN Secretary General in May 2016 in Istanbul, had the undeniable advantage of having humanitarian issues recognized by including them on the international agenda. Three years later, where are we now?

From the outset, it must be recognized that the task is considerable and complex and that the number and diversity of actors is as much an asset for participation and training as it is a risk of dispersion and paralysis.

The World Humanitarian Summit and the Great Bargain that just preceded it are all the more confused as priorities and actors overlap and the Great Bargain has become the de facto driving force behind this “agenda for humanity” which has undertaken not to leave anyone behind.

Every year since then, an independent body has produced a report on the progress of the 51 commitments made by 18 donors and 16 international aid organisations, which have since been joined by others, including France.

We will not go into the details of this report published last June and on the follow-up of the 11 core commitments made in September 2018. Rather, we will seek to assess their health status and prospects.

The Great Bargain, a glass half empty or half full?

At a meeting held in Geneva in early July to discuss the state of the Great Bargain, one of the speakers used the image of the glass being half empty or half full. This debate illustrates the great diversity of points of view, uncertainties and questions.

Thus, while the increase in financial support for national and local actors is considered positive by some, it is insufficient by others. For its part, the joint needs assessment has experienced a low level of trust among stakeholders. While, according to the report, progress has been made in simplifying accountability, humanitarian actors on the ground do not perceive it, quite the contrary.  On the other hand, the workstream dedicated to the use of cash (cash programming) is the one that has made the most progress. This is confirmed by the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2019, which notes a 10% increase in budgets in 2018.

Some of the report’s key recommendations are surprising and significant. One insists on the need to get the Great Bargain back on track. Another request was to define what its success might look like.

But, there is an argument to be considered despite the imperfections, it is that the priorities in question meet real needs, that the Great Bargain is the only available collective vehicle and that “if we do not do it, no one else will do it”. As we can see, the dilemma is great, as are the challenges, since the initial objective is to improve the effectiveness of international humanitarian aid.

This does not prevent us from always bearing in mind the lack of reflection in this process on the weaknesses of immediate responses to major emergencies and the risk of confusion between humanitarian and political issues contained in the “new way of working”.

But where has the priority of the humanitarian and development link gone?

Among the 10 priorities of the 1st World Humanitarian Summit and the Great Bargain, one disappeared in March 2018 as a coordination tool: the one concerning the articulation between humanitarian and development. And yet, it is one of the most important priorities and requires the most effort since it goes beyond the humanitarian field alone. In the 2017 report, we noted that this priority was making little or no progress. In the meantime, it was decided that this priority of the humanitarian-development link was included in the other 9 priorities, so it was deleted. One day we will have to explain to ourselves why and how this decision was taken and how to progress in this direction.

©UNICEF/Khalil Ashawi, may 2019. In Syria, it is necessary to rebuild while meeting the basic needs of the most vulnerable.

Because we know that this articulation is essential in all conflict and post-crisis situations. This is now true in Iraq and Syria, the Central African Republic, the DRC and Yemen. This is very topical in the Sahel. In this regard, it is worth mentioning and welcoming the initiative of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) which recently adopted a “DAC Recommendation on the link between humanitarian action, development and peace-building” which clearly includes the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian actors, in particular NGOs. It is a turnkey reference framework for States. This is good but certainly not enough given the urgency of having a functional financial and operational mechanism.

The G7 is ringing the alarm bell for the Sahel.

At the G7 in Biarritz, a Sahel Partnership Action Plan states “we are deeply concerned about the security and humanitarian deterioration in the Sahel region” and insists on”…the necessary link between humanitarian action, development and the search for peace”.

So where is the coherence between the Great Bargain, which is removing this priority, and the G7, which makes it an urgent necessity? Especially when, at the same time, we see that this coordination is progressing so little and so painfully in the major financial institutions such as the European Commission.

Another alarming observation in a G7 statement that states “We note that at 153 billion US dollars in 2018, World Official Development Assistance represents a significant but small share of the financial flows needed to lift all populations out of poverty and respond to humanitarian crises”! And to call further for financial support from the private sector! While I think it is right and necessary for all actors to mobilize, we are nevertheless struck by this observation and this call from the world’s most developed and wealthiest democratic countries, which seem to be calling for help!

In the joint communiqué of the G7 and G5 Sahel meeting in Paris, it is further stated: “We note that the urgent humanitarian needs of the Sahel are not being met…”. What an admission, what a record, it’s pathetic, but it’s true.

Already in 2016, the United Nations estimated humanitarian needs at $40 billion with a budget of $26.5 billion at that time. In 2018, humanitarian funding is estimated at $28.9 billion.   At this rate, many of the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations in the Sahel countries and elsewhere will have to wait a long time to receive relief.

Moreover, one of the motivations of the initiators of the SHM and the Grand Bargain was to gain in efficiency to fill the funding gaps when these two priorities must combine their efforts. I therefore suggest that the Great Bargain should henceforth display each year the assessment of the essential financial resources and the amount actually mobilized to measure the gap and the consequences.

So, is humanitarian aid up to these challenges? Some believe that the Great Bargain will gradually decline. Others advise him a drastic change of method to get out of what could be a rut. Others still give it 2 years to reach the 5-year mark and prove itself. Will there be a 2nd World Humanitarian Summit to take stock of it, draw lessons from it and ensure real and concrete progress for populations in need of relief? Because that is our compass and our destination.

By way of proposals.

Until the Great Bargain has produced the desired results, it is up to each humanitarian actor to take on these challenges at its own level and to make them a reality in its own way by improving its action, with its partners and by sharing them. NGOs and NGO coordinators have a great responsibility here, as do the members of the Great Bargain, to find a new lease of life.

©Solidarités International After the emergency, reconstruction of a water supply network.

This is particularly true for humanitarian organizations whose main priority is the urgent need for access to populations at risk. For them, every improvement in efficiency is a saving of lives. To do this, we must operationalize our priorities into tools and methods of action that have been proven in the field.

The next National Humanitarian Conference (NHC) to be held in the spring of 2020 in Paris could be an opportunity to do so. Especially since this CNH will be preceded by a mid-term review of the French Republic’s Humanitarian Strategy (2018-2022), which could take into account and develop the operationalization of these priorities. The timing would be particularly appropriate since this Conference will correspond to the 10th anniversary of the CNH and the Humanitarian Consultation Group, which brings together humanitarian NGOs and the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs through its Crisis and Support Centre. Each of the previous conferences has marked a significant step forward. This could also be the collective ambition of the latter.

Alain Boinet.