Two years ago, I accompanied a team of potential donors and international humanitarian actors to a region in the Horn of Africa affected by recurring drought. The donors were also interested in getting firsthand experience of the alarming severe acute malnutrition (SAM) that is reported to be affecting over 200,000 under-5 children.
At the one main city in the region we were taken to meet drought affected people where at least a thousand men, women and children were crowded together under the sun awaiting our arrival. After walking amongst the crowd, we were taken to the therapeutic feeding center for children affected by SAM and met three mothers and three under-5 children.
At the debriefing with the regional authorities at the end of the one-day mission, the head of the regional authorities assured us that humanitarian funding to the region was an investment that would yield positive results as the community and region at large was very peaceful. The regional head went further to provide a history of two decades of humanitarian assistance to the region that has been well implemented. Basically, the regional head made a pitch for humanitarian assistance in a context that would equally benefit and was more relevant for economic and development investment. He referred to existence of peace in the region as one of his selling point.
Pitching itself for livelihood diversification and drought prevention support would make more sense but the region had become more used to organizing missions where it promotes itself for humanitarian assistance. This region had been packaging its lack of recovery from many years of drought, its under-development and poverty as a protracted humanitarian crisis.
Reviews on the effectiveness of aid and how best to strengthen it always come from the West. Such reviews center on why and how the West should fund international humanitarian aid and assistance. Accountability for the use of these funds focus on Western-based tax payers and donors who give. Much reflection has not been done on why countries receive. Unfortunately, recipients of humanitarian aid are not the thought leaders and influencers of the sector.
In terms of volume, international humanitarian funding account for less than 3 percent of international resources flowing to largest recipients of humanitarian assistance, but the source of generating this estimated 3 per cent is the most visible including deafening and subsuming other narratives; economic potentials and achievement and development needs. This is done through Western-based and led charity fundraising drives, appeals and activities.
From 1999 to 2004, 41 countries were the subject of consolidated humanitarian appeals; 26 of these were from Africa, and 11 of these countries are still appealing for international humanitarian aid each year. Which countries are these?
But all is not sad news, 15 countries of these 26 countries have successfully emerged from annual humanitarian appeals today. Which are these countries? Within the same period: 1999 to 2006, Rwanda and Somalia had been appealing for consolidated funding eight times. Somali remains on the list while Rwanda has emerged from it. Why? What has made it possible for some of these countries to emerge from consolidated appeals while others have remained for decades?
Somalia has stayed the longest on joint UN international appeals; the country has been appealing for international humanitarian assistance every year since 1991. DRC and Sudan every year since 1992. Between 1999 – 2006 Uganda, Sudan, DRC, Angola, were part of the annual consolidated humanitarian appeals seven times (countries like Uganda host to huge refugee population continue to require international assistance for refugee assistance}. Uganda and Angola have since emerged from the list while Sudan and DRC have remained. Why?
Normally, Governments should be the primary responders to crises using national resources and revenues. International humanitarian aid and assistance kicks in the short term when a crisis overwhelms national capacity to respond; international humanitarian assistance is intended for life saving. To mobilize and co-ordinate international assistance for complex emergencies and natural disasters, the United Nations runs a joint `Consolidated’ appeal process to raise funds for international humanitarian assistance. UN-coordinated appeals are central to data gathering and analysis on international humanitarian aid and assistance, including monitoring trends and new practices.
Many of the countries for whom UN joint appeals have been issued are the subject of protracted emergencies and repeated appeals. From 1995 to 2018 Sudan appealed for international humanitarian assistance 25 times, with at least $US12 billion in funding for humanitarian assistance. Within the same period; 1995 to 2018, Somalia appealed for international humanitarian assistance 24 times. Somalia has been appealing for humanitarian aid since 1991 when the consolidated appeal process was established and is currently the longest running country from Africa on the list.
DRC and Sudan are the second on the list appealing for international humanitarian assistance every year since 1992. Between 1999 – 2006 Uganda, Sudan, DRC, Angola, were part of the annual consolidated humanitarian appeal seven times. Uganda and Angola have since then emerged from the list while Sudan and DRC have remained. Why?
When humanitarian assistance is ineffectively applied, it can foster dependency, robbing the ‘wrongly’ assisted of self-empowerment and fostering a mindset of dependency on external sources. This argument has been raised in numerous research and discussions on the effectiveness of aid.
But what is often not mentioned is the fact that the long-term donor -recipient relationship that underscores international humanitarian assistance undermines healthy and equal relationship between many countries in Africa and the West. Communities that have had long term humanitarian presence in addressing slow onset disasters interact with the international community by positioning themselves favorably and attractively for aid.
Long term international humanitarian footprints that create pseudo community-based economies distort the livelihood of communities where and if it is applied too long in the context of slow onset disasters. Using food aid to address the humanitarian impact of drought for too long distorts the economies of affected communities. Using humanitarian assistance for the provision of long-term basic service undermines the strengthening of national systems.
The three African countries that have been subjects of international humanitarian appeals for decades are Somalia, Sudan and DRC. We will commence with our focus on these countries Tuesdays through the coming month of March and select the next top three for the month of April.
Governments and civil society groups in recipient countries with protracted humanitarian presence should engage in robust reflections and reviews on the impact of international humanitarian appeals and funding on the economies of their countries. This should include the interaction between the narratives of international humanitarian appeals and recipient countries’ development trajectory and economic aspirations, these are interconnected.