The humanitarian system is facing increasing demand to reform its approach to crisis response. The demands are for the system to become more flexible and transparent in order to better meet needs, utilize resources more efficiently as well as improve local capacity. But, why now?

Our world is changing rapidly and there is an increasing demand to solve new problems in an ever-changing world of ongoing conflict. As a result, UN’s Secretary-General has initiated the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul on May 23-24, 2016, where he seeks to challenge the ways humanitarian organizations work together to deliver aid and save lives.

In 2014, $23 billion was spent on crisis response. Yet, the international emergency aid system is still failing vulnerable regions such as Syria and Ukraine.

IRIN, an independent, nonprofit news organization, suggested various ways UN humanitarianism could change to Ertharin Cousin, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), and Kyung-wha Kang, Assistant Secretary-General of the UN’s humanitarian coordination body, OCHA.

Among the many ideas for reform is localizing the humanitarian response system. This not only involves having the local communities making crisis response decisions, but also changing the humanitarian funding methods. Currently, larger organizations such as OCHA and WFP receive the vast majority of the funding, while local organizations receive little funding.

Another important reform proposal, is making the top jobs available to everyone, not just permanent members of the Security Council. This is something the UN has been heavily criticized for.

Having only people on the inside of the organization and not bringing an outside perspective is definitely not conducive to change. It’s also not conducive to avoiding politicisation, one of the many causes of humanitarian problems.

Despite all of these ideas, the question still remains – is reform the answer to a more efficacious humanitarian response system or should we get rid of the system all together?

Paula Acevedo

Sources: IRIN News, World Humanitarian Summit
Photo: Flickr

Changes to Food for Peace to Increase Sustainability
Sixty years after being put into effect, the Food for Peace program faces congressional reform that will lower costs and provide sustainable support for those living in conflict-ridden countries. Currently, law requires that food aid be grown in and shipped from the U.S. – a mandate that increases costs 25-50 percent more than they would be on the current market. Advocates for reform criticize the program for its inefficiency and helping American shipping and farming businesses profit from such programs.

Shipping firms, farms and some NGOs form an “iron triangle of special interests” that have benefited from international aid and attracted criticism from politicians in both parties. Between 2004 and 2013, 88 percent of USAID funding was used to harvest and ship food- a huge cost that decreased the amount of food the organization was able to provide by 64 percent.

A system designed this way is not only inefficient in properly allocating resources, but also counterproductive in affecting any kind of change in the countries that need it most. Daniel Maxwell, professor and research director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, commented, “We need to support local agricultural producers and markets, or at a minimum, not undermine them.” Reformers advocate for changing the system to implement locally grown and shipped food resources rather than those from the U.S.

Senators Corker and Coons, who are cosponsoring the reform of the bill, have estimated that such changes could expand the program’s reach by 12 million people and free up $440 million through local, sustainable production. Providing support for local growers and shippers will strengthen local economies rather than keeping them reliant on international resources, empower and employ more people, and create a more sustainable rebuilding of communities.

Eric Munoz at Oxfam America says that a program created 60 years ago is not useful or appropriate for current times. Indeed, when 60 million people per year are in need of food aid, expansion of resources and lowering costs is more greatly needed than ever. Many farmers believe they have a right to profit from food aid programs and would suffer from reforms, but experts estimate such programs amount to only 1 percent of agribusiness profits.

For policy changes that would so greatly impact those in need, lessening the profits of huge farming businesses in the U.S. seems trivial. Worrying about this profit loss is “an inappropriate way of viewing the rationale of providing emergency assistance and foreign assistance, particularly assistance that is meant to address food insecurity in complex crises like Syria or South Sudan,” says Munoz.

Corker and Coon’s reform bill will see congressional debate in September.

Jenny Wheeler

Sources: IRIN 1, IRIN 2
Photo: Flickr


The Ebola outbreak in West Africa made apparent the brewing issues on healthcare aid in the region. Over the last ten years, aid traditionally allocated to West African governments transitioned toward the private sector. This has left Africa helpless in independently addressing these wide-scale problems at an institutional level, many experts say.

Private vs. Public Healthcare

The billions in aid dollars directed toward philanthropy programs and global campaigns steadily decreased disease in Africa over the last ten years. These programs typically work more on a case-by-case basis, leaving the countries battling widespread Ebola weak in their capability to respond.

This private vs. public sector debate on aid is an age-old one. Politics professor from Georgetown University, Carol Lancaster, discussed addressing global health problems in an interview with The Economist in 2009.

“Does anybody believe that the many millions of HIV/AIDS-afflicted Africans now receiving aid-funded antiretrovirals would be alive today in the absence of public aid funding the delivery of those drugs?” she asked. “Neither charities nor entrepreneurs could or would undertake such ambitious efforts to help those both poor and sick.”

On the other hand, some argue operating aid through governments results in wasted resources. Philanthropic initiatives pegged with the term “philanthrocapitalism,” has been argued to be more efficient and encourage innovation.

Philanthrocapitalism and Aid

“Coming from the business and financial world they, rather than bureaucrats, understand what it takes to build strong businesses,” said co-author of the book “Philanthrocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World,” Michael Green.

President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, acknowledged the benefits of specific disease-based aid: “It was like the sweet spot, easy to sell and the results are there,” he said.

However, he argued that ultimately this strategy neglected to establish district and community hospitals or help educate local health officials, and it left countries more dependent on outside help. Aid dollars working directly through government programs will better enable these countries to coordinate an effective response, Kaberuka added.

“In a situation like this there are so many little things happening but somebody has to tie it together and that can only be a government,” he said.

Aid for the Long Term

President of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, agrees that there are problematic gaps in aid work. “If the outbreak had happened in Rwanda my own sense is that because they built district hospitals and community hospitals and have community health workers connected to the whole system, that we would have gotten this thing under control very quickly,” said Kim.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon encouraged a 20-fold increase in international aid toward countries facing Ebola outbreaks, which he refers to as an “unforgiving” disease.

Kaberuka encourages this increased aid but warns of reverting to old strategies that funnel it away from long term solutions. It is clear, according to him, that the countries don’t just need additional funds, they need aid reform.

Ellie Sennett

Sources: Reuters 1, Reuters 2, Al Jazeera U.S. News The Economist
Photo: Flickr

Why the US Should Invest in Africa?
USAID in Africa creates many new advantages for the US beyond humanitarian aid, such as fostering strategic national security partners and increasing US economic prospects. George Ingram and Steven Rocker recommend four strategies to better utilize and direct foreign assistance to the region.

In June 2012, President Obama established his development priorities in the region with the White House’s U.S. Strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on economic growth, food security, public health, women and children, humanitarian response, and climate change.

From 2002 to 2012, the total USAID money in sub-Saharan Africa nearly quadrupled, from roughly $1.94 billion to $7.08 billion. The assistance money was largely focused on global health spending, specifically the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But even beyond global health, the U.S. is the leading donor of humanitarian aid to sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in the area of emergency food aid. The Obama administration also provides assistance in agriculture development through its Feed the Future program, a global hunger and food security initiative. Overall, USAID operates 27 different regional missions in 47 African countries – the top five being Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa.

U.S. development assistance brings government agencies, American organizations and businesses into collaboration with Africans who are trying to put their own communities and countries onto a more prosperous social, political, and economic plane. There are three critical reasons why the US should invest in Africa:

1. Humanitarian interests – Through moral obligation the U.S. has historically been the leading donor of humanitarian assistance in the region. It is part of the American ethos to continue to respond compassionately to people in their most desperate times of need.

2. National security interests – There are continued terrorist concerns in Somalia and Mali, with the potential new threats in Nigeria (the U.S.’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa). USAID must continue to be very active in these regions particularly to prevent any terrorist strongholds from cementing and to maintain stability.

3. Economic interests – From 2001 to 2010, six of the fastest-growing economies in the world were in Africa. In 2011, foreign investment to sub-Saharan Africa amounted to more than all the development assistance funding for the whole world. Many countries are recognizing and acting on increasing commercial opportunities in Africa.

Four ways to make U.S. aid to Africa more effective:

1. Sustainable health systems – The majority of health assistance to Africa is used to finance the delivery of health services, which is not sustainable. Greater focus needs to be directed to building health practices that Africans can carry out on their own.

2. Disaster preparedness – For all the humanitarian aid delivered, very little is allocated toward disaster prevention and preparedness. By focusing more resources and expertise toward these areas, the U.S. could reduce the need for large international disaster relief, and save lives.

3. Economic growth – The U.S. should leverage its assistance to stimulate economic growth. Congress and U.S. officials should engage the Export-Import Bank, Department of Commerce, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency and the U.S. Trade Representative to ensure that a range of government policies and programs are encouraging equitable economic growth for all, and commercial opportunities for U.S. businesses.

4. Democratization and good governance – The U.S. needs to give greater attention and support toward governance policies and oversight; including improving the governmental collection of revenues, transparent budgeting, and building the capacity of civil society and legislative systems.

– Mary Purcell

Source: Brookings