World Humanitarian Summit

Recognizing and enabling different humanitarian systems

Calls have rightly been made to improve coordination and information sharing, reduce duplication and identify cost savings in the humanitarian sector. Progress can and must be made in these areas. In this regard, the Grand Bargain process, launched pursuant to the recommendations of the UN’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, and in which the ICRC and the IFRC are involved, seeks to make the financial resources spent on humanitarian action more flexible, efficient, transparent, and effective. Moreover, cooperation in international humanitarian operations can be greatly improved through more effective laws, rules and mechanisms for managing international assistance. As we implement new solutions, however, it is important not to lose sight of the diversity of the humanitarian sector and the important advantages it brings to its effectiveness.

A. Working better together within a diverse humanitarian eco-system

From the Movement’s perspective, there is no single “humanitarian system”. Instead, there is a diverse eco-system in which numerous actors cohabit, each with their distinctiveness and modalities. In this context, top-down, one-size-fits-all approaches are bound to fail. As discussed above, the complementarity of the local, national and international components of the Movement has demonstrably been one of its strengths. Other aspects of our distinctiveness, such as our community-based volunteers, the privileged auxiliary relationship of National Societies with their Governments in the humanitarian field, our specific history and mandates and our Fundamental Principles, also present advantages in meeting humanitarian needs. However, we also face our own constraints and limitations where other response systems, such as the United Nations, NGO consortia or regional organizations, may present complementary advantages.

This diversity and complementarity must be nurtured and respected. This means that solutions to some of the gaps in the sector should not rely on overly centralized approaches. We are concerned that some of the suggestions that have been aired in the lead up to the World Humanitarian Summit (for instance calling for “one leadership” in the sector, or insisting that all needs assessments be undertaken jointly by all actors) lean in this direction.

This does not mean that humanitarian assistance should be chaotic and that coordination and sharing cannot be improved. National Societies, the IFRC and ICRC will continue to engage with other humanitarian actors, including UN agencies, NGOs and other humanitarian actors, and coordinate with them. For instance, the ICRC and the IFRC have long been participating in the Inter-Agency Standing Commit- tee as standing invitees and are determined to continue to do so. The IFRC plays an active role as Co-Convenor of the Global Shelter Cluster, together with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Components of the Movement are regularly engaging with UN-led coordination mechanisms at country-level, although the ICRC has decided that it could not be a formal member of the cluster system as it could affect its independence and, in specific contexts, perceptions of its neutrality.

On the occasion of that anniversary, the Movement undertook a series of dialogues on the experience of applying the Fundamental Principles. These conversations revealed that the Principles require a constant and continuous effort and can sometimes be very challenging to consistently follow. For instance, in some circumstances, actions that would seem required by one principle (such as the restraint required by the principle of neutrality) may appear to be in contradiction to what would seem required by another (such as the urge to action spurred by the principle of humanity). It is important therefore to always carefully balance these principles, to use them as an ethical compass and an operational framework guiding our action in a way that is tailored to the specific contexts we operate in. Nevertheless, their ongoing relevance to our work was unequivocally affirmed.

It is important to recognize that not all actors driven by solidarity and a humane spirit to help people in need necessarily align their efforts under humanitarian principles. Family members, neighbours, local authorities, civil society groups, faith-based groups, diaspora members, corporations and many other spontaneous and formal responders have always mobilized to respond to human suffering. Many actors operate in support of varied objectives, be they political, social or economic. Within this welcome diversity, it remains critical to recognize the particular place of neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian organizations – actors that abstain from activities that might be seen as political or antagonistic by part of the population.

In this context, the World Humanitarian Summit offers a further opportunity to reaffirm the particular place of humanitarian principles and the respect for all those who help people in need.

B. Accelerating progress in the facilitation and regulation of international disaster response

Another important way to improving cooperation while also respecting the advantages of diversity is ensuring a clear rulebook for international disaster response. The increased frequency and impact of natural disasters and their humanitarian consequences have set the stage for ever greater use of international support in response, including in countries with little prior experience of international assistance. There is ample evidence that a lack of clear rules for the facilitation and regulation of international disaster response (“international disaster response law” or IDRL) often leads to unnecessary restrictions and delays in relief, as well as gaps in coordination and quality. It impedes the ability of domestic authorities to sit in the driver’s seat in response operations in their own countries. The absence of a legal framework is also one of the barriers to better trust and complementarity between international and national efforts in major relief operations.

For more than a decade, the IFRC and National Soci- eties have been working with States to promote more effective rules and procedures for the management of international disaster assistance. Following extensive research and documentation, in 2007, the 30th International Conference adopted the “Guidelines for the domestic facilitation and regulation of international disaster relief and initial recovery assistance” (also known as the IDRL Guidelines) as voluntary guid- ance for the development of national laws and rules. Since that time, National Societies have carried out formal technical assistance projects in more than 50 countries, resulting in new laws or regulations in more than 20 countries to date. Nevertheless, many countries still lack clear laws on this issue, including a number that have recently experienced major disasters, and a global 2015 survey showed that regulatory issues remain an important barrier to effective relief.

Given this reality, see the need for a number of steps. One of them to continue to support States at their request to analyse their existing laws in relation to all the elements that are relevant in disaster response. Another, as requested by the 32nd International Conference, is to continue consultations on further options to accelerate progress, including the possibility of strengthening global and/or regional legal frameworks. The importance of solid IDRL stood out clearly in all of the regional consultations preparatory to the WHS, especially as it has emphasised the central role of disaster-affected States in the coordination, facilitation and oversight of international relief. The Movement stands ready to provide support and advice, as needed and requested by States seeking to do this.

What we pledge to do

  • We pledge to continue to offer advice and assistance to States, as needed, to develop effectives rules and procedures for managing international disaster assistance (IDRL).
  • We pledge to foster dialogue on further options to accelerate progress in resolving regulatory problems in international disaster response operations, including country-level efforts as well as the potential for further strengthening global and/or regional legal frameworks.

What we call for

  • We call on States to ensure that they have the laws, rules, procedures and institutional arrangements in place to facilitate and regulate international disaster response.
    We call on States and humanitarian partners to also consider whether strengthening regional or global frameworks can improve cooperation in international disaster response.

C. Improving humanitarian financing

There has never been a wider gap between the level of global humanitarian needs and resources available to meet them. In this context, reform of the current humanitarian financing architecture is gaining new momentum. It is not only the quantity but also the quality of existing financing that needs to improve in order to ensure greater effectiveness of humani- tarian assistance and protection. Changes need to demonstrably lead to improved services and support for vulnerable communities and people.

Protracted humanitarian action in long-term conflict situations and/or because of seasonally recurrent disasters, presents challenges in current models of humanitarian financing. It requires greater synergies between humanitarian and development approach- es, recognizing that what counts is that responses are adapted to people’s evolving needs and that fi- nancing facilitates this. Clear visibility on future and multi-year funding is equally needed. Obstacles can also appear in the form of short-term fragmented funding, lack of harmonization in donor reporting requirements, earmarking, high transaction costs and lack of access to financing for local actors.

In the context of the Grand Bargain discussions, we have heard donors’ interest in seeing humanitarian organizations reduce management costs, reduce du- plication of efforts and increase transparency in the use of humanitarian funds, as well as finding ways to pass additional funds to national and local actors. As a Movement, we have started developing more efficient and cost-saving practices and are willing to go further. For example, in favour of efforts to exchange information and lessons learned that can improve efficiency and lower costs, we are working to establish joint Red Cross and Red Crescent needs assessments. We are willing to explore the possibility of reporting to International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standards, bearing in mind that it is likely to challenge the existing capacity of some members of the Movement. As discussed above, we are also ready to increase our efforts to promote investment in National Societies’ capacities and leadership, including through the new National Society Investment Fund.

We believe that cash will almost always be less costly to deliver, provide greater choice and dignity to the affected communities, and create more opportunities for transparency. For the Movement, cash transfers are a powerful means of covering the wide range of needs of the affected communities in emergency situations or to support livelihoods and contribute to economic recovery.

What we pledge to do

  • We pledge to promote greater financial and technical support for the capacity of National Societies, including through the new National Society Investment Fund (as described above in Section 2.B).
  • We pledge to rapidly scale up our use of forecast-based financing by 1) facilitating the doubling the existing coverage of this mechanism within the Movement by 2018, and 2) exploring its integration in global disaster risk management funding tools.
  • We pledge to explore ways to further reduce duplication and management costs
  • We pledge to scale up the use of cash transfer programmes where appropriate, by developing a predictable cash response model that can guarantee global, regional and national capacity to deliver cash transfer programming where it is needed most.
  • We pledge to seek and dedicate resources in order to actively explore the potential of the various components of the Movement to report to IATI standards.

What we call for

  • We call on donors to ensure that money invested in humanitarian assistance is “quality money”, i.e. predictable, long-term, un-earmarked, and low on unnecessary conditions and reporting requirements.
  • We call on donors to ensure that a much greater proportion of international humanitarian funding is accessible by local and national responders.
  • We call on donors to increase efforts to provide anticipatory funding to humanitarian actors to allow for a more effective and efficient response, and scale up practices that work, such as forecast-based financing.
  • We call on all relevant stakeholders to respect the diversity and independence of humanitarian financing structures, while promoting coherence where possible between humanitarian, development and climate finance.