Too important to fail

Creating a Grand Bargain for Local Humanitarian Actors.

Humanitarian Financing has become a dominant theme of discussions around the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. While claims that ‘the system isn’t broken – just broke’ are clearly too simplistic – addressing the humanitarian funding gap has been…. As such the recent launch of the report of the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing was eagerly awaited by many working in the humanitarian sector.

Addressing the Humanitarian Funding Gap. Today the world spends around $25 billion to provide life saving assistance to 125 million people resulting in a funding gap of around $15 billion.

The report’s recommendations, including financial innovations, encouraging new donors and engaging with the private sector, Islamic social financing and individual private giving will be a step change in the way we finance response. In addition its focus on investment in preparedness, resilience, localisation of humanitarian aid and the need to listen to crisis affected populations are all welcome. However most of these ideas have been around in the policy community for a number of years – what is lacking has been the political leverage to make them happen.

The High Level Panel brings exactly that high level attention and the political muscle to truly move the agenda forward. As was clear during dialogues convened by the Future Humanitarian Financing Initiative (part of the IASC’s Humanitarian Financing Workstream), financing issues for the most part require political solutions. Discussions among various humanitarian, development and private sector actors rapidly moved away from technical solutions towards political issues such as donor accountability, representation within the system, division of labour between different actors and power inequalities – not problems that can be easily solved simply by bringing in more cash.

Achieving collective agreement on what we will change, how to do it, and individual organisational commitments to change itself are much harder. This is why the High Level Panel (HLP) is so important, and why the commitment of its members, the likes of the co-chairs, Kristalina Georgieva, Ex EU humanitarian Commissioner and HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah of Malaysia, is so crucial. There is so much riding on the Panel’s ability to use their influence to leverage change, to continue to push humanitarian actors to really change.

The High Level Panel’s report also acknowledges the need to address local actors access (or lack there of) to Humanitarian Financing. Not only will strengthening local capacity deliver short-term efficiency gains but promoting local ownership and strengthening local civil society will inevitably produce longer-term benefits, increasing preparedness and improving resilience. The signatories of the Charter for Change supported by over hundred national and local actors who have endorsed the initiative, are at the forefront of moves within the humanitarian community to… This is reflected in each signatories commitment to pass at least 20% of our own humanitarian funding to national and local NGOs, although in truth many are already doing much more. More of these commitments are needed across the humanitarian sector to achieve concrete change towards localising aid.

The panel recognises and supports solid commitments made by international NGOs such as those outlined in the ‘Charter for Change.’ In addition to adapting their working practices in order for national NGOs to assume a greater role in humanitarian responses, they have made a tangible commitment to pass on at least 20 per cent of their humanitarian funding to national NGOs by 2020. We need more concrete commitments like these if we are to see real change. These efforts will help strengthen the capacities of national NGOs and assist in channelling funding and knowledge to them so they can contribute to improved responses, preparedness, and early warning initiatives.

‘Too important to fail – addressing the humanitarian financing gap’ High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing Report to the Secretary General

However, even within the High Level Panel’s primary recommendation, the introduction of a “Grand Bargain” between donors such as the UK’s DFID, USAID and ECHO and large implementing agencies such as the World Food Programme And UNICEF to jointly change their working practices, more is needed to ensure that such a change does not inadvertently hinder local and national actors access to humanitarian financing and unwittingly enforces the imbalanced status quo.

In return for donors committing to provide more multi-year funding with less ear-marking and less demanding reporting requirements, the Grand Bargain proposes that large implementing agencies will agree to work more closely together, coordinating ion needs assessments, reducing duplication and administrative costs. This will be accompanied, the HLP proposes, with donors and aid agencies working more closely together towards financial transparency,  scaling up the use of cash-based programmes and more support to national first responders.

However at the minute, it is unclear who will actually be included in the Grand Bargain and the current focus on the 6 UN agency ‘giants’ makes tying the Grand Bargain to the needs of local actors is much harder ask. In order to create a Grand Bargain that truly supports national first responders Donors must provide the incentives to make a focus on national actors happen. At a minimum they should look carefully at the Charter4Change and whether they should encourage all the agencies they fund, including UN agencies to work towards passing 20% of their humanitarian funds on to national actors, to ensure that the benefits of the Grand Bargain are accrued by all actors across the Humanitarian System.

Read the full High Level Panel Report here

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