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Whose big deal? A year on from the World Humanitarian Summit, are local responders leading the Grand Bargain?

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From 5-7 June, international actors, local humanitarian and civil society organisations, donors, the private sector and other groups are meeting in West Sussex, England, to discuss ‘Grand Bargain’ commitments on localisation, a year after the World Humanitarian Summit. Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser for Humanitarian Advocacy and Policy, Jane Backhurst, reflects on efforts to strengthen local leadership in humanitarian response.

A year ago at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), over 30 of the biggest donors and aid agencies signed up to a package of reforms to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian financing.

Known as the ‘Grand Bargain’, this big deal included a commitment from donors to provide at least 25% of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders.

Given that the 22 governmental signatories to the Grand Bargain provided approximately 87% of nearly $23bn humanitarian spending in 2016, the deal is, undoubtedly, a central vehicle to realising one of the WHS core commitments: namely, the pledge to ‘work differently to end need’.

Under this commitment, the WHS agreed to reinforce, not replace, national and local systems and capacities – otherwise known as the ‘localisation agenda’. This localisation agenda calls on the global community to ‘respect, support and strengthen local leadership and capacity in crises’.

There has been progress in this area since the summit, but it has been slow.

In 2016, the proportion of total humanitarian spend given directly to local and national NGOs reportedly rose from 0.2% to 0.4%. Meanwhile, $128m of the $715m allocated by the UN’s Country Based Pooled Funds was directly allocated to national NGOs, twice the amount of the previous two years.

Unlocking more of the $28bn of international humanitarian assistance for local and national NGOs is key to ensuring a more locally led humanitarian response. But changes are needed, if we are to achieve the goal of ending need.

Here are five suggestions for change:

1. Invest in a long-term shift

In the private sector, major innovation and change requires risk-taking and significant investment. In the not-for- profit sector, there is less freedom to take such risks. However, Christian Aid has argued that without being willing to invest in the sustainability of national NGOs, we cannot invest adequately in future efficiencies or help communities and national NGOs lead on reducing the risks of future disasters and liabilities.

Unless we invest more in the core business functions of local and national NGOs, localisation will become a project-by-project venture, rather than a long-term shift. This means more programmes like the Enhanced Response Capacity fund run by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), which invests in capacity that can be sustained, and investments through standard humanitarian grants.

2. Join up Grand Bargain solutions

Grand Bargain commitments are interdependent: for example, localisation is dependent on its second leading commitment, ‘More support and funding tools for local and national responders’.

Joined up solutions would mean ensuring that local and national NGOs are in the driving seat when overall needs are assessed for each new crisis. It would also mean they can lead on initiatives to expand the use of cash in humanitarian responses, and help define harmonised costing definitions and shared due diligence processes.

Positive solutions can also be found in the Charter for Change framework – an initiative led by 50 national NGOs who want to enable southern-based national actors to play an increased and more prominent role in humanitarian response.

3. Understand the politics

Humanitarians rightly shy away from politics to retain their neutrality; but in doing so, do we miss facing the implications of localisation head on?

Let’s be clear, this doesn’t mean engaging in politics, but being aware of how power is held and distributed between humanitarian actors, and how our actions might unwittingly influence politics.

International actors need to release power within a centralised humanitarian system far more rapidly, so it can be claimed by local and national NGOs, who are often much better understood and known by their communities. However, when it comes to shifting the locus of decision-making to local actors, present realities show we are far from the ‘participation revolution’ to which the WHS aspired.

We need a change of mindsets, not just systems. In 2010, the Haiti earthquake evaluation showed international actors side-lined local capacities. Six years on, the 2016 Hurricane Matthew evaluation highlighted the need for more resources direct to national and local NGOs, alongside capacity strengthening.

Meanwhile, three months on from the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Region, national NGOs are often still excluded from major decision-making groups and direct funds. This is despite the fact that local and national NGOs in Nigeria have met, advocated and responded collectively to humanitarian crises for decades.

Understanding the politics also means international aid agencies with a lengthy track-record of promoting justice must strengthen our engagement with partners to understand how this might influence their risks.

4. Pursue results on all fronts

The Grand Bargain committed to address the $15b shortfall in humanitarian funds, and to shrink needs. To put this into perspective: in 2014 aid amounted to 0.031% of global Gross Domestic Product, and a tiny fraction of the $78tn global economy. Against this, the US’ plans to cut aid by 37% has stunned the sector.

Marking the WHS’s one-year milestone, the UN Secretary General rightly said that ‘Humanitarian assistance alone cannot sustainably reduce the needs of over 130 million of the world’s most vulnerable people’.

Indeed, bridging the gap between humanitarian needs and resources calls for combining the WHS strengths and convening power with complementary processes. These include: the 2018 high-level intergovernmental conference on refugees and migration; implementing the Sendai DRR framework and the Sustainable Development Goals; and explicit follow-up at G7 meetings (missing from the agenda at the recent meeting). It also means mitigating the impact of climate change: still the greatest threat to the global economy.

5. Shrink need by reducing risk and building resilience

Climate change and armed conflict are among the most powerful forces against ending the need for humanitarian support. As NGOs, we can’t prevent conflicts or earthquakes from occurring, but we can support local communities to plan ahead, reduce the impact of disasters before they strike, and adapt to climate change. We can urge governments, businesses and communities to make the big shift to renewable energy.

As Christian Aid said at the Cancun Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) last month, governments should be able to increase investment in DRR and resilience to at least 6% of official development assistance.

In North Horr, Kenya, village chief Roba Aboubo told Christian Aid that communities had weathered the worst impacts of the current drought, thanks to the charity’s investment in this area. He said: ‘Without the resilience programme we would never have survived.’ Anticipating is cheaper than reacting and reduces need: it saves lives.

The year since the WHS has in some ways laid the ground, but progress towards localisation is slow. We need all eyes locked onto the final goal: this big deal needs to be a fair deal that shifts power to a locally-led response. Only then will decision-making truly lie with communities, local and national organisations, and only then will the deal be fair – nearer to where the need is greatest.