Actions speak louder than words

Empowering Humanitarian Assistance through Localisation

Written by: Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, President of Brot für die Welt and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe,
Translation by: Rachel Weinberger, Fotos/Graphic Recording Fachkonferenz 60J. DKH

For humanitarian aid organisations and those politically responsible it is becoming increasingly clear that humanitarian aid has to be shaped more strongly by local actors on the ground so that the right to humanitarian aid of those affected can be realised: local civil society organisations and local authorities are the first on the ground. They have been there the longest, as they are permanently on the ground, and thus could organise help quickly and effectively. They require neither time nor money to arrive on the scene. They are known to the population, speak their language, know their culture and their needs. Moreover, they also know the structures and important actors and authorities on the ground. But instead of strengthening them with systematic know-how and resources so that they can better carry out their tasks, they are often ignored or pushed aside by the international relief system. This robs them of their inherent effectiveness and certainly does not help to strengthen them. So far, humanitarian aid has mainly been shaped by the global North and the United Nations – far away from the people affected. Therefore, the strengthening of humanitarian aid organisations and structures on the ground will be an important topic of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in May 2016.

Accountability vis-à-vis recipients of aid has been called for many times, such as was the case after the 2004 tsunami. But so far, not much has changed and it remains to be seen if the conference in Istanbul will shape a willingness or even a clear commitment.

Thus, a group of aid organisations has committed to a “Charter for Change”. According to the motto: actions speak louder than words: concrete steps of our own that help bring about a change of the humanitarian system, instead of waiting for public donors or the United Nations. So far, there are only a few signatories from the North, but a long list of supporters: many organisations from the global South that want to measure their partners from the North against their own commitments. This shows that – from the global South’s perspective –the Charter is a good and important step.

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Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe was one of the first signatories of the Charter, as we believe that the fundamental change in the distribution of roles between local and international humanitarian aid organisations is not only right, but have increasingly been practising it for decades: we essentially provide humanitarian aid together with – mostly – long-standing partner organisations from the respective crisis area. And we are an active member of the ACT Alliance, the worldwide network of church aid agencies. The majority of the members comes from the global South and decides about policies, standards etc. The local members define requirements and are responsible for the planning of support measures. Therefore most of the commitments of the “Charter for Change” have been a matter of course for Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe for a long time.


During the last year we have worked with our partners on an international conference on empowering humanitarian aid to be better able to achieve what we require of ourselves and of the humanitarian system. And as part of the ACT Alliance we commit to strengthening local actorsespecially religious actors – in humanitarian aid within the WHS-process.

We see the “Charter for Change” as an initial impulse and a helpful incentive for as many organisations as possible to undertake concrete steps to finally turn the humanitarian system upside down. Help to self-help – this should also be the foundation for humanitarian aid.


Written by: Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, President of Brot für die Welt and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe,
Translation by: Rachel Weinberger, Fotos/Graphic Recording Fachkonferenz 60J. DKH

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