Press Release – Oxfam NZ
The international humanitarian response system will fail to cope with the expected rise in the number of people exposed to crises unless more resources and trained people are located closer to disaster-prone areas and there is more investment in …The international humanitarian response system will fail to cope with the expected rise in the number of people exposed to crises unless more resources and trained people are located closer to disaster-prone areas and there is more investment in preventing and reducing the risk of disasters, international agency Oxfam warned today.
In a new report, Crises in a New World Order, Oxfam said while governments’ and agencies’ response to emergencies has greatly improved it remains “too little, too late”, and is often determined by the vagaries of media and political interest rather than level of human need.
“Coping with expected strains on the humanitarian system will mean a shift from global to local. We already see the centre of humanitarian action moving from the Western world to local and the national centres, but this move needs to accelerate. International aid agencies cannot just pitch up, patch up and push-off, they must also ensure people and countries are better prepared to withstand future shocks. Local organisations prepared and already on the ground will increase both the speed and the efficiency of the aid effort, and ultimately will save more lives,” said Barry Coates, Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director.
This shift is vital as significant demands will be placed on the humanitarian system through the expected rise in the number of people exposed to disasters, the rising number of weather-related disasters and the failure to resolve conflicts adequately and turn around failed states.
Humanitarian work is effective in an emergency but more emphasis should be placed on preventing crises from escalating. Not only would lives be saved, but money would be too. Prior to Niger’s food crisis, the UN estimated it cost $1 to save a malnourished child’s life there. Once the crisis was in full swing, the cost of saving children’s lives rocketed to $80.
Too little has been done to prevent and reduce the risk of disaster. Aid to programmes reducing the risk of disaster stood at only 0.5 per cent of total aid spending in 2009. National governments have committed to this work by signing up to international agreements on disaster risk reduction. While many have developed policies and legislation, too little effective action has happened.
The importance of disaster preparedness can be seen in Bangladesh, where in 1991 a cyclone struck and killed an estimated 140,000 people. In 2007, a similarly sized cyclone hit and killed 3,406 people. This death toll, while still high, was much reduced due in part to the government’s efforts implementing early warnings and evacuation procedures.
“Allocating more money to the prevention and reduction of risk of disaster makes eminent sense but it does not mean shifting funds away from urgent humanitarian response. It is not a case of either or. Emergency funds will still be needed to immediately respond to dire humanitarian crises,” said Coates.
This vision of a new humanitarian world is fraught with challenges. Ensuring the quality of aid and the principles that guide humanitarian action will not be easy.
Over the last two decades a great deal of effort has gone into laying down minimum standards and quality of humanitarian aid. National governments and local organisations will need a great deal of support, and in some cases encouragement, to adhere to these standards.
The more fundamental challenge will be upholding the principles of impartiality – aid based on need – and independence – aid free of political interest. Many Western donors focus on their own spheres of influence and interest, which may not coincide always with meeting human need. Non-Western donors are becoming more important funders of humanitarian operations. But they too have their own particular interests. For example the Arab and Muslim countries in 2011 gave generously to Somalia, Libya and Yemen. These decisions reflect political and cultural affinities but also raise questions of how aid is to be best targeted to human need.
New entrants into the operations of humanitarian aid will pose challenges to impartiality and independence. The increased involvement of the private sector in supporting the aid effort is welcome and has many benefits but running aid programmes themselves will challenge humanitarian principles given that commercial interest sits uncomfortably with putting human need first and foremost.
“The economic, social and climatic uncertainties ahead will mean that poor and vulnerable communities are likely to suffer even more shocks and disasters in the decades ahead. We need a renewal of the humanitarian system to meet these challenges of the future. This will require our humanitarian system to deliver better preparedness, more local capabilities and resources, and more effective support from the international community”, concluded Coates.