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Reshaping aid - making it a reality

By Jane Backhurst, Senior Adviser Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy, Christian Aid

17 January 2016 - The figures as revealed in the report submitted yesterday from the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Funding to the UN Secretary-General make bleak reading. 

In 2014, nearly 100,000 people a day were forced from their homes – most (53,000) by natural disasters largely climate related, such as typhoons and floods, and many (42,500) by conflict and violence.

Today, with escalating conflict and the growing impacts of climate change, the figures are bound to be even higher.

Ahead of its annual meeting at Davos this week, the World Economic Forum, in its yearly assessment of the greatest global dangers over the next decade, highlighted climate change as the biggest risk to the global economy this year. 

Against that backdrop, while there has been a sharp increase in humanitarian funding over the past 15 years, from US$2bn in 2000 to a record US$24.5bn in 2014, the gap between humanitarian needs and the resources available to meet them is widening.

The High-Level Panel was unanimous in its verdict: “In today’s global economy of US$78 trillion, it is unacceptable that anybody should live or die without dignity because we cannot find the resources required to help people in need.” Funds raised for humanitarian aid in 2014 amounted to just 0.031 of world Gross Domestic Product.

In May, a World Humanitarian Summit will consider how the need for aid can be reduced, and how its use can be made more effective. The High-Level Panel’s report, its contribution to the debate, is a useful wake up call, containing a number of sound recommendations.
It calls for a “Grand Bargain” between big donors and major aid organisations “that does away with inefficiencies and embraces best practices in humanitarian action, on both sides of the fence.”

Those included must look past self-interest towards “building the humanitarian system of tomorrow, creating a win-win situation for donors, UN and non-UN agencies, taxpayers and, above all, affected populations.”

In particular, the panel’s report 'Too important to fail – addressing the humanitarian financing gap' exhorts governments, international organisations, the private sector, civil society and private individuals to work together to build community resilience and help reduce vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters.

In addition, it urges that greater support and funding be made available to national agencies which are generally the first to respond when emergencies arise.

For it is going to cost to invest adequately in future efficiencies, align humanitarian and development action to meet the Strategic Development Goals, and help communities to plan ahead, prepare and build resilience through climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, as well as fundraise and meet complex donor demands.

While last year’s meeting on aid financing in Addis Ababa wasn’t able to commit to a figure, Christian Aid believes it is time to recognise that whatever the source of the financing, a commitment is needed to raise the proportion of humanitarian aid spent on disaster risk reduction, including climate change adaptation, from 6% to 10% of Official Development Assistance.

With 80% of humanitarian aid today spent on responding to the devastating effects of armed conflict on civilians, we welcome the panel’s emphasis on addressing the causes of conflict, along with its call for an end to impunity for all belligerent groups and recognition that "the world needs strong determination at the highest level of global political leadership to prevent and resolve conflicts".

Particularly  encouraging was the panel’s endorsement of Charter for Change, signed by Christian Aid and some 20 other NGOs, which calls for at least 20% of each signatory agency’s humanitarian funding to be passed to southern-based NGOs – as opposed to the 0.02% of humanitarian funding currently channelled directly to them.

This is both cost effective and needs to be scaled up if the report’s demand for a shift in power towards locally-led response, putting responsibility at the heart of communities affected by crisis, is to be met.

The report rightly points out that to do all this requires greater adherence and a harmonisation in standards, and a “participation revolution” to ensure much greater leadership from communities in decisions that affect them. Like many other NGOs, Christian Aid is investing in rolling out the Core Humanitarian Standard across all work. Central to this is greater accountability to affected populations.

But to be accountable to these populations, how will the complex relationships that the report proposes between private investors, banks, multilateral institutions, companies and humanitarian agencies ensure that these standards are upheld and that humanitarian financing is neutral, targeted to those most in need, and free from political influence? The "Grand Bargain" will need to ensure this happens.

Many of the report’s recommendations aren’t new to Christian Aid, but making them a reality requires drilling down into similarly specific commitments. Christian Aid commits to making this a reality, and to working with a proposed Task Force that we hope will drill down to the details of who, when and how to implement the Panel’s aspirations.

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