Dull Disasters? How Planning Ahead Will Make a Difference by Daniel J Clarks and Stefan Dercon is a must-read for humanitarian actors who are in a quest for alternatives to putting countries in a constant flux of humanitarian appeals in the context of recurring and predictable natural disasters. In Dull Disaster?, Daniel J Clarks and Stefan Dercon argue that current ad-hoc, post-disaster model for financing disasters is not worthy of the twenty-first century. In fact, they say, `it feels distinctly medieval. It is a funding model based on begging bowls, whereby individuals, communities, local and national governments, international agencies, and NGOs are required to play the part of a beggar, as though they are pleading for alms, sitting in a row in front of a medieval cathedral or mosque.’ These authors rightly outline why the `begging bowl’ model is dire.
The excerpt below captures aptly one of the dire consequences of this model as it relates to promoting stereotypical images of Africa. It states:
`Actually, the consequences of begging-bowl financing can be worse. A funding model based on voluntary contributions and appeals does not just risk underfunding some causes, thereby leading to delays and more suffering. It also creates serious distortions and bad incentives that make poor responses more likely. Because underfunding is common and little pre-committed funding is available, strong incentives surface among the implementing agencies to exaggerate crises and appeals.
In June, a () press release suggested and was interpreted by the international media as meaning that in East Africa the worst drought in sixty years was underway. The truth, however, was that it was the worst drought in a relatively small number of specific pastoralist areas in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. No doubt, a bad drought was taking place, but the press release was somewhat parsimonious with the truth. Raising false alarms, ‘crying wolf ’ as in Aesop’s famous fable, is a big risk here: because potential donors are aware of the incentives for overstatement, many appeals will hardly receive a response. As it turned out, this particular crisis did end up in a massive human disaster because the drought coincided with the raging conflict in Somalia, and responses were late and ineffective. It was not evident, however, that more finance would have avoided the crisis.
Such an exaggeration for effect is not uncommon, and rarely does one hear of retractions when the media overstate risks. For example, some agencies’ declarations and media reports that West Africa was at risk of famine during the Ebola outbreak did not quite have a truthful ring to them based on the evidence available. If the information to be used for decision making is manipulated to overstate the need, it is difficult for those contributing to the system to make sensible trade-offs over where and when to contribute.’
Addressing the current ad hoc “begging bowl’ approach will definitely reduce the recurrence of demeaning, horrific and degrading imageries and terms on Africa for humanitarian fundraising activities and appeals.
Rather than the emotional, media-grabbing, blame games that currently drives international humanitarian action, Dull Disaster? makes a compelling case for a better way: ‘harnessing the lessons from finance and economics, complemented with evidence from political science, psychology, and the natural sciences, can and does make governments, civil society, private firms, humanitarians, and international organizations much better prepared to deal with natural disasters,5 thereby reducing the risks to people and economies.’