Humanitarian aid at the nexus between development, human rights, security, and emergency relief

The UN has already warned that the need for humanitarian aid would skyrocket worldwide and would reach an all-time, as the pandemic, climate change, and conflict could push millions of people into poverty and famine.

The latest crisis in Haiti has accelerated the debate inside the UN on its strategy on humanitarian aid.

For 2022, the UN has already warned that the need for humanitarian aid would skyrocket worldwide and would reach an all-time, as the pandemic, climate change, and conflict could push millions of people into poverty and famine.

But money is now recognized as not being the only element to deal with this crisis. For many of those involved in the construction of the annual appeal, the collapse of Haiti—a country that has received billions of dollars for over a decade—is the cautionary tale of an overall system that is overstretched, inadequately funded in terms of prevention, and limited in capacity to respond in a timely manner.

“Many inside the UN and partners today admit that the current system isn’t functioning as it was meant to,” a staff member in Geneva claimed.

In fact, some of the UN agencies and institutions are openly declaring the need for change. “The dilemmas presented by protracted crises are numerous and multi-faceted,” said OHCHR in an email to The G|O. “These require shifting to more inclusive and participatory processes and collaboration beyond humanitarian and development actors,” it says. “This includes exploring synergies with peace actors and collaboration with human rights actors.

Addressing institutional, structural, and cultural challenges on all sides is key,” the UN human rights body maintains. “Donors should support and promote the integrated rule of law, human rights, and good governance programming that have a positive effect on the protection of crisis-affected populations. [...] Protecting and promoting rights are essential in preventing conflict, and along with activities can help reduce aid dependency, and make people and countries more resilient to withstand shocks,” OHCHR concludes.

The European Parliament stated in a report in 2021 that one of the new objectives in the EU’s humanitarian strategies was to “ensure that humanitarian, development, peace and other policies all work together to better link urgent relief and longer-term solutions, aiming at reducing needs and tackling the root causes of conflicts and crises.”

For the UN, Haiti is an example of such a scenario, and it is “facing a multidimensional crisis, political, economic, social, all deeply impacting Haitians and deepening the already dire humanitarian needs of the population.”

The scarcity of funds to address growing humanitarian needs, particularly in contexts where requirements have persisted for decades, continues. In 2021, the ten most underfunded operations received less than 50% of the required funding to meet humanitarian needs. In Haiti, only one-third of the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded, around 33.6%.

Another element is the need to adopt a strategy that would allow a strengthening of local capacity. Funding local governments or non-state actors in affected countries is of vital importance. Back in 2015, Oxfam emphasized that during the period between 2007 and 2013, less than 2% of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors. According to Oxfam, while total humanitarian aid averaged $17.8 billion a year, an average of just $313 million annually, or 1.8% of the total, went directly to recipient governments.

One actor is starting to make a shift. The European Union—one of the largest donors in the world—has channeled a further 25% of its cash transfer through partnerships with local agencies, thus reducing management costs by delegating more power to local partners in decision-making and aid implementation. In 2020, the EU introduced four new Programmatic Partnerships with NGOs and contributed to two Country-Based Pooled Funds for Sudan and South Africa.

The idea, both at the EU and in rethinking strategies at the UN, is to strengthen the nexus between urgent relief and development to respond more efficiently to complex humanitarian crises. Haiti is a living example of the pressing need to implement such a shift.