It’s World Humanitarian Day today, and I want to talk about money, but not the perennial topic of quantity of aid for emergency relief. Let’s talk about quality.
On my visit to the DRC in May, I was pretty shocked by the conversations I had with humanitarian colleagues about how they fund their work. The ‘crisis’ has been going on for some 20 years, but the official funding system is still designed largely for ‘sudden onset emergencies’ like earthquakes. If you want to do anything longer term (like the great work we are doing on civilian protection committees), you have to cobble together a string of short term grants. That in turn means huge transaction costs for the poor sods spending their time writing endless (and very long) grant applications, insecurity for staff and the risk of losing your painstakingly assembled team if there is a funding gap.
The research bears out my impressions. A recent paper commissioned by DFID argued that ‘substantial value for money gains can be made by shifting to multi-year humanitarian funding’ in responding to crises, whether they are protracted, predictable (eg floods in Bangladesh) or unpredictable, rapid onset events.
So when I got back I asked the people in our funding teams for their examples of ‘good donorship’ – who if anyone, is breaking the short-termist mould here? Some interesting replies came in – time for a typology:
Flexibility within existing (short termist) rules: Although the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) is limited by European legislation as to the length of contracts they hold with partners, they do realise that longer term resilience work is important, to save lives before an emergency happens. This outlook was best exemplified in the “Regional Drought Decision,” which was essentially a multi-year commitment by ECHO, starting from 2006, to fund drought preparedness and chronic vulnerability in the Horn of Africa.
Changing the Rules: Oxfam is now entering into a Strategic Humanitarian Partnership Agreement with the Swedish aid agency, SIDA. The HPA is Oxfam’s first truly multi-year humanitarian framework. It has a predicted value of approximately £16m over three years and has three strands: funding for chronic/ongoing crises, funding for sudden-onset crises or a step change in an ongoing crisis, and funding for “strategic” projects to enable us to better structure and resource our humanitarian response.
Expanding the boundaries of what constitutes ‘humanitarian’: new streams of more predictable funding are coming through for humanitarian ‘resilience programming’, which allows donors to provide predictable funding for rapid humanitarian response, invest in partner capacity building and even fund social protection work in vulnerable countries such as Yemen.
Smarter triggers for changing projects in response to events: USAID’s “Crisis Modifier” approach has in-built humanitarian indicators within a longer term programme, which if reached initiate an injection of cash and change of approach – or indeed before they were reached, to avoid the humanitarian situation in the first place.
Core funding: Top of the pops, according to our funders, is our ‘Programme Partnership Arrangement’ with DFID’s Conflict, Humanitarian and Security (CHASE) department, worth £7.8m over 5 years. This is the most innovative of all of these examples since we are able to use it flexibly and with a heavy emphasis on policy work related to our humanitarian mandate. It has enabled us to invest in the areas that might otherwise have been unfunded by institutional sources and public funds; subject to reduced investment and/or de-prioritised in the organisational planning processes; implemented through multiple discrete projects with shorter timeframes; adapted to be less risky and/or innovative or ended up being more inflexible and/or less responsive to the needs of programmes.
The PPA illustrates a further point: there are some humanitarian activities which find it even harder to get funding than multi year operational programming. These include innovation and methodological development, local partner capacity building and advocacy. This partly explains why we also used the PPA to advocate for an Arms Trade Treaty, and long term work to strengthen civil society in fragile and conflict states.
But before you conclude that everything is being sorted, let me stress that these are still very much the exceptions. Here’s what Jane Cocking, our understandably knackered Humanitarian Director replied (who’d want her job right now?)
‘The hard truth is that the majority of programmes in long term chronic crises are a heroic result of teams being able to think long term vision and
manage short term patchworks of funds. This is where the value of private donors and unrestricted (i.e. not for specified projects or activities) funding comes in.’
Which all begs the question, if the case is so overwhelming, why hasn’t it happened yet? At which point, I will stand back and let all you political economy types get stuck in. But I’m also interested in other examples of good donorship, and some idea of what percentage of overall humanitarian funding is longer term.