Magazine article UN Chronicle

Coordinating Funding for Humanitarian Emergencies

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Coordinating Funding for Humanitarian Emergencies

Article excerpt

The cat is out of the bag--we are running out of money to pay for the world's humanitarian needs. Fortunately, it is now in front of us, refusing to be ignored. For that we have United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to thank, as it was his decision to appoint the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, tasked with finding solutions to the challenge of funding humanitarian action.

And what did our nine-member panel find? The cat was probably never in the bag in the first place. For decades, humanitarian financing has staggered forward on a wing and a prayer, susceptible to the vagaries of political fashion, the public mood and a legion of factors that should have no place in determining the fates of the 125 million children, women and men who today rely on goodwill to make it through to the next sunrise. For too long we have been in denial about this state of affairs.

Over many months we spoke with hundreds of people working in what some call the global humanitarian system, others the aid industry; there is no consensus on how to define this complex system of aid. What emerged most prominently in the dialogue was a frustration with the status quo and an urge to find a sustainable funding model.

One of the first problems we encountered was that the true scale of the funding gap could not be established with any degree of certainty--a fact that astonished a panel that includes economists and financiers. We encountered deep suspicion among donors that humanitarian organizations have for years been inflating figures in a bid to compensate for funding gaps. In effect, the organizations anticipated that their calls for a certain amount of money would fall short. For example, a $100 million appeal would usually only be met with a $60 million response. Wherever and whenever we looked for reliable figures reflecting the full extent of the funding chain, from donors to the people needing the basic survival package of food, water and shelter, we came up against opacity.

Thus, we defined the gap ourselves, using the accepted global standard of $1.25 per day per person as the bottom line to survive. We came up with a gap of $15 billion between the estimated present level of need and the amount of financial resources available on an annual basis. Depending on where one is standing, this sum is either huge or minuscule, or it may fall somewhere in between. The world spends around $25 billion a year on humanitarian assistance, which is 12 times more than 15 years ago.

Globally, we have never been more generous, raising record-breaking sums year after year. Tragically, however, we live in times when our generosity has never been less sufficient to meet the challenge. To put the $15 billion gap in perspective, let's remember that the world produces $78 trillion in combined gross domestic product. We collectively spend as much on chewing gum as we do on humanitarian aid. In 2014, the world's military spending amounted to $1.7 trillion.

Our starting point was the simple, undeniable fact that in our resource-rich world, no one should have to die or suffer indignity for lack of adequate humanitarian funding. From there we broke the problem down into three areas: 1) shrinking the needs in the first place; 2) finding new, dependable, long-term and predictable funding streams; and 3) making each and every dollar raised work to its maximum effect.

We recognized that the best way to deal with growing humanitarian needs is to address their root causes. Evidently, this requires strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts and to increase investment in disaster risk reduction (DRR). This is especially the case in the most vulnerable communities and countries. Since development is the best resilience-builder of all, we concluded that the world's scarce resources of official development assistance (ODA) should be used where it matters most--in situations of fragility. …

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