Humanitarian Aid on the Move No.19 - January 2018
François Grünewald and Véronique de Geoffroy
One might think that there was a consensus about giving a central role to local actors in crisis response… Experience has shown how essential the role of local actors is in the initial hours and days after a disaster, or to gain access to difficult or contested areas in numerous conflicts, where international operators are not welcome. And yet, the debates about how to put localisation into practice have been more complex than expected. This special issue of Humanitarian Aid aims to shed light on these debates, presenting a number of points of view based on examples from a variety of contexts.
Even the definition of which local actors are concerned by localisation is not so simple, as it cannot be limited to NGOs, and also includes governments, national and local disaster management agencies, and municipal actors. Each of these actors plays a specific role based on their mandate and their capacities, as Nawal Karroum points out in her article on the response to hurricane Matthew in Haiti, in which she underlines the common objective of localisation efforts to reinforce the resilience of Haitian society in the face of regular natural disasters.
As for local civil society actors, their interaction with “international” actors (which is an inappropriate but revealing term, as they are not “international” as much as “foreign” in relation to “national” actors) are not neutral. The actions and funding of humanitarian organisations shape and transform the civil society of a given country, as illustrated by Verena Richardier in her article on how civil society has evolved in Mali. Another article, by Véronique de Geoffroy, shows how local NGOs in Ituri (DRC) have adapted themselves to the humanitarian context. Indeed, the majority of these NGOs are the product of both the humanitarian context and the context of a weak state.
New issues emerge when we attempt to establish a more appropriate and effective balance between the roles and responsibilities of local/national actors and “international” actors. The article by François Grünewald on localisation in Myanmar looks at the issues involved in putting localisation into practice in this context, which raise the question, for example, of whether humanitarian principles are applicable to local actors.
Furthermore, there is a significant risk of seeing local NGOs turning into clones of NGOs from the global North, and thus losing the value of their “local” nature which allows them to understand precisely “what to do”, and “how to do it”. The danger of standardization based on the Western model is particularly significant for certain types of programme, as described by Réiseal Ni Chéilleachair and Fiona Shanahan in their article on the role of local actors in protection programmes.
These numerous and complex issues that have emerged from the field have led to debates at the international level. Indeed, localisation is a collective process that has numerous implications for actors from the global South, but also for the aid system, funding and reporting methods, etc. The International Federation of the Red Cross accepted to assess the progress that has been made by the Grand Bargain workstream that they are co-chairing (see the article by Kirsten Hagon). The ICRC, for its part, has begun internal discussions to analyse its role and the implications of localisation in armed conflict contexts (see the article by Jérémie Labbé).
Aid localisation, which, above all, is a question of regulating the relations of power and respect between actors, can lead to new ways of thinking about solidarity. As such, the very personal point of view of Gabriel Rojas, a researcher and practitioner from Colombia, who has worked in a number of different jobs in the sector, is particularly evocative.
The 19th issue of Humanitarian Aid on the Move, which describes experiences from Asia, Africa and Latin America, looks lucidly and vigilantly at the path towards greater recognition for the role played by local actors in many crisis contexts, a path that has great potential, but is not without its risks for the future of the sector.