April 2012: Aid efforts no longer the exclusive domain of Western donor governments and aid agencies

A word from Ross Mountain: April 2012

Ross Mountain, Director General of DARA

For the past 5 years DARA’s Humanitarian Response Index (HRI) has been researching how governments can make the most effective use of the money they provide to respond to disasters and conflicts around the world. Through our work, we have been able to identify best practices as well as issues that remain largely unresolved – such as a lack of investment in prevention and preparedness, or the increasing politicisation of humanitarian aid. By systematically tracking and monitoring how governments and aid agencies respond to crises, we have been able to draw some broad conclusions about how and where aid efforts need to be improved.

The HRI findings suggest that it is time to rethink the effectiveness of humanitarian responses and revitalize humanitarian reform to be able to meet the complicated global challenges on the horizon. The current aid reform agenda has made much progress in improving the response to current crises. However, the scale of current needs and challenges facing the sector, such as politicisation or prevention and risk reduction, mean we need to prepare for and anticipate the types of crises of the future. These include increasing pressures and needs due to climate change, changing demographics, and the likelihood of a long-term global economic downturn.

That is why we are delighted that UN OCHA has commissioned DARA to carry out a study to help the humanitarian sector better understand and anticipate the humanitarian implications of current and future trends. We hope the outcomes of the study will help us better understand changing patterns of risks vulnerabilities and the capacities we will collectively need to develop to prevent and minimise humanitarian crises.

What is needed is a dramatic shift in the direction of the sector, focused on building the necessary capacities and competencies to anticipate, prepare for and adapt to changing contexts. Part of this shift will require traditional donors and humanitarian actors to reach out to other players, ranging from local actors, new and non traditional donors, or the private sector. Recent crises like Haiti, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan show that aid efforts are no longer the exclusive domain of Western donor governments and international aid agencies.  Local civil society organisations, the private sector and social entrepreneurs are gaining an increasingly important role and relevance in prevention, relief and recovery efforts.

As part of that process, it will be crucially important for traditional donor governments and aid agencies look to these “new” actors and learn from them about how we can drive change and innovation in the sector. It will also require better understanding of the barriers that have so far impeded efforts to adopt good practices, as well as carefully considering the implications of new developments, such as the outcomes of the Arab Spring for humanitarian actions.

In that light, I am currently attending Dubai International Humanitarian Aid & Development Conference & Exhibition (DIHAD, 1-3 April 2012) to discuss humanitarian trends. I hope that the conference will provide an opportunity to expand this debate and engagement around the future before us and that the experience and insight of countries like the UAE, which are increasingly involved in humanitarian action, can be brought to bear.