Towards Better Humanitarian Donorship: 12 lessons from OECD/DAC peer reviews
By J. Brian Atwood, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee, OECD
Humanitarian action – saving lives, alleviating suffering and maintaining human dignity during and in the aftermath of crises – remains a clear priority for DAC donors. Over USD 11.2 billion of public funds were disbursed as humanitarian aid in 2009 by the 24 members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC), representing nearly 9% of the total allocation for official development assistance (ODA). Volumes are important, of course, but it is the quality and effectiveness of development assistance that the DAC peer reviews seek to assess and improve.
In demanding contexts, humanitarian donors must respond to a wide range of challenges in order to meet the needs of those suffering from crisis and its aftermath. In responding to these humanitarian challenges, DAC members are now committed to: i) through development assistance, preventing crises, or at least minimising their risk to people and development; ii) through humanitarian assistance, to respond to crises; and iii) using a mix of humanitarian and development assistance, to achieve a better transition from a humanitarian situation to longer-term development. This challenge becomes greater when partners are calling for more timely and predictable funding, and pushing for stronger relationships accompanied by higher levels of core funding. Taxpayers and politicians want an increased focus on value for money in a climate where staffing cutbacks are limiting monitoring capacity. There is clearly a need to adopt new and more strategic approaches to funding – allowing humanitarians to better address rapid onset emergencies, while responding more appropriately to the structural challenges that prolong vulnerability in protracted crises. In addition, there is also the challenge of designing solid humanitarian programmes that, at the very least, do not undermine longer-term recovery – and this remains problematic.
Donors are also facing increasing internal and external pressure to stretch their humanitarian budgets beyond the traditional humanitarian imperative. Humanitarian teams are now being pressed into covering the full range of disaster risk reduction activities, and to tackle longer-term tasks such as post-disaster reconstruction, state-building and delivering peace dividends in fragile state contexts – clearly areas that are beyond the scope of merely saving lives. Donors must also learn how to work better across government, especially with their military counterparts – a major challenge in the new security environment. This has led to a need for more transparent funding allocation policies and processes as proof that donors are remaining true to their humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.
Humanitarian donors have had to learn and evolve as they face each of these challenges. The DAC peer reviews have noted many areas of improvement and innovation as donors – each with their own individual reality and comparative advantage – seek to implement the principles for Good Humanitarian Donorship as best they can. In the process, a broad set of 12 lessons, and a corresponding set of good practices, have come to light, and these are outlined in this publication. Donors are also learning that there are some areas – supporting co-ordination, promoting protection and standardised reporting, for example – where individual efforts are not enough, and they must work together to achieve results. The GHD group’s work towards overcoming these challenges will remain important, alongside the DAC’s continued support for efforts to promote better humanitarian donorship.