The world today spends around US$ 25 billion to provide life-saving assistance to 125 million people devastated by wars and natural disasters. While this amount is twelve times greater than fifteen years ago, never before has generosity been so insufficient. Over the last years conflicts and natural disasters have led to fast-growing numbers of people in need and a funding gap for humanitarian action of an estimated US$ 15 billion. This is a lot of money, but not out of reach for a world producing US$ 78 trillion of annual GDP. Closing the humanitarian financing gap would mean no one having to die or live without dignity for the lack of money. It would be a victory for humanity at a time when it is much needed.
The UN Secretary-General has appointed a nineperson group of experts (“the panel”) to work on finding solutions about this widening financial gap. The panel identified and examined three important and interdependent aspects of the humanitarian financing challenge: reducing the needs, mobilising additional funds through either traditional or innovative mechanisms, and improving the efficiency of humanitarian assistance.
The panel’s work aims to help inform and shape the objectives of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in May 2016. It is also highly relevant in the context of adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—only by focusing the world’s attention on the rapidly growing numbers of people in desperate need will we be able to achieve the SDGs.
Shrink the needs: a shared responsibility
The panel recognises that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. This requires a strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR), especially in the most vulnerable communities and countries. Because development is the best resilience-builder of all, the panel believes that the world’s scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most—in situations of fragility.
Beyond focusing ODA on fragile countries and countries experiencing shocks due to conflicts in their surroundings or to natural disasters, there has to be systematic investment in resilience-building. This includes dedicated funds for peacebuilding and conflict resolution at the international level. In this regard the panel endorses the recommendation of the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Group of Experts on the Review of the Peacebuilding Architecture to put one per cent of core funding allocated to peace operations from assessed contributions of the UN’s Member States into the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund.
Similarly, countries at risk of natural disasters should have emergency reserve funds and dedicated DRR budget lines for risk-reduction activities and for receiving funding when disasters hit. Countries hosting refugees should integrate displacement into their development plans and obtain predictable and adequate international support. And we should also follow the people in need, not the countries, by reclassifying the eligibility criteria for the International Development Association (IDA), thereby giving middle-income countries (MICs) access to its grants and low-interest loans. To further ensure that low-income countries can be assisted in times of crisis, the panel recommends that during the next IDA replenishment its shareholders vote to increase the current level of funding of the Crisis Response Window by at least threefold.
Last, but not least, there must be an end to the shorttermism of annual—and retrospective—fundraising by bridging the humanitarian-development divide with programming based on joint analysis. This way vulnerable people can become self-reliant, being helped seamlessly by humanitarian organisations with higher capacity to operate in volatile environments along with development organisations with longer-term funding horizons and better capacity to support economically viable activities.