We hear it more and more often : « the current state of affairs, as far as meeting the needs of a rapidly growing number of victims of both disasters and crises, cannot continue ! » We simply are not able to feed, to provide shelter and to care for the many millions who, on account of conflicts (some seemingly never-ending) and recurring disasters, are constantly added to the already long list of people in need of assistance. In 2015, according to the United Nations, it was estimated that there were some 102 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Today, two years later, the number totals 142 million, in over 40 countries.. ! Governments bear the primary responsibility for the welfare of their own citizens, we know, but that statement of fact is only as good as the said governments’ ability to concretely meet the needs in question. In cases of massive internal displacement, that ability – for the same reasons as those causing the displacement in the first place – is quickly eroded. When people cross the border, a considerable additional burden is placed on the country hosting what have then become refugees. The number of people displaced either within or outside of their country keeps on growing, compounding the problems of already crowded urban centres, limited food supplies, weak health services and scarce education as well as employment opportunities (to name but a few aspects of what are often hellish vicious circles). Some of these displaced, having fled conflicts, persecution, poverty and/or famine, have ended up in near-hopeless camp environments, which often become places of disease and abuse, with the young missing out on education and their elders reduced to a struggle for survival with little dignity. Host governments, to the extent they are in control, as well as able and willing to assist, are rapidly stretched beyond their limits. The international community, when called upon and able to make a difference, takes a while to mobilize and effectively deliver the required resources and services.
While most humanitarian assistance requirements are the result of conflicts, let us not forget natural disasters, also displacing millions and causing the loss of so many lives and livelihoods.
In all instances where emergency aid is required, and notwithstanding the various mechanisms put in place to provide immediate access to funds, resources are limited, also in time, and will seldom genuinely suffice. We seem not to have developed, as aid organisations, as fast as the growth in numbers and needs of those we are meant to assist..
Aware as we are of the increasingly evident insufficiency of our aid instruments, this realization being the main reason for the holding of the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, we seem to be making the required commitments. We now have the « Agenda for Humanity » which provides a sound basis for further steps in the direction of the enhanced delivery of aid. We are addressing the matter of financial resources and the earmarking and channeling of these, a variety of conditions and intermediaries being thereby reduced, with the so-called « Grand Bargain ». Other commitments deal with specific groups (e.g. youth) and the importance of heretofore relatively neglected sectors (e.g. education). But commitments alone, as we are finding out, are simply not enough. These need to be actioned quickly, concurrently with the required complementary measures on the part of all other actors. The humanitarian assistance community, dealing as it does with chaotic and catastrophic situations, none of which resembles another in terms of either impact or circumstances, is amazingly « set » in its « modus operandi ». There will be the truck-loads of food, the tented shelter solutions and, if possible, the means to provide Sphere standard-compliant water and sanitation. The much talked about « cash-based » solutions (enabling the local economy in most cases to stay afloat), while duly calling for new expertise, may do away with staff experienced in some of the more traditional areas of competence (e.g. logistics).
There will be field visits by high-level officials from Headquarters, surrounded by media representatives, competing for the attention and contributions of donors, who have now become increasingly accustomed to the accounts directed at them, however tragic.. These same donors are possibly also occasionally sceptical in terms of the optimal use being made of the resources they provide. That can lead to contributions being channelled differently, to priorities being changed and to new partnerships. But it can also lead to political considerations gaining more importance and to predictability being adversely affected. Irrespective, and for the reasons we know, resources seem to be finite and not about to be greatly increased, whatever the growth of requirements.
What are some of the concrete strategies that by now should have emerged in terms of doing much better with available means ? Ideas are certainly there but, in the essentially disparate world of the humanitarian community, there is seldom such a thing as complete and/or simultaneous concensus. What about an increased reliance on local resources, capitalising on – and expanding – local capacities ? These are already « old » strategies, many developed and partially implemented in the context of « preparedness », but often overlooked or avoided in the contexts of emergency response actions, especially – obviously so – if local capacities and resources are then found to no longer be in place..
What about updated and/or new methodologies, enabling us to truly capitalize on proven « best practices » ? We have been at it for a while now and have developed a number of good systems and practices over time. Coordinated action, integrated needs assessments and consolidated appeals are among them. However, and this in many instances, we still coordinate the same types of actions, we conduct assessments with outdated criteria and, while quality is greatly improved, the appeals we launch are not devoid of « political » considerations.. We have gone from « sectors » to « clusters » but, barring the all-important « provider of last resort » clause, much is as it has been for a while. Where is the vision for the vital next steps? Where are the plans for the full use of new technologies, the required number and level of partnerships with the private sector, the implementation of those innovative approaches that made us say that the Istanbul Summit was a success? Have we become bureaucratized, entrenched in the systems which we created and which we find difficult to now abandon?
As we now look forward to attaining the adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we must realize we cannot succeed if « leaving behind » those so cruelly affected by the increasing number of crises and disasters. Moreover, we must not only plan for tomorrow, we must plan decades ahead. Where will the very rapidly increasing number of youth of the South find a livelihood, if not provided with opportunities in their home countries? And what are the consequences of these livelihoods not materializing? These questions touch on the need for long-term development solutions, but also on the even more urgent need for political solutions in those countries so tragically affected by conflict. While such solutions would rapidly obviate the need for humanitarian action and fully enable the Sustainable Development Goals to be pursued, we are unfortunately not at that stage yet. And, until such time as the solutions in question are both identified and implemented, we must collectively muster both the ways and the means to provide all those in need of assistance with the required aid. The humanitarian and development assistance constituencies will need to collaborate increasingly closely, thereby capitalizing on the resources and capacities of all concerned in order to provide aid in a more sustainable manner.
Being very much aware of the importance and urgency of better meeting the needs of all those affected by crises and disasters, DIHAD’s International Scientific Advisory Board has decided that « The Sustainability of Aid » will constitute the theme of the next Conference (5-7 March 2018). By bringing together national, regional and international actors, it is foreseen that useful ideas will be exchanged, best practices shared and, most importantly, productive partnerships created or further strengthened. The objective is to accelerate the process of delivering aid more effectively, in spite of requirements outgrowing resources. To that effect we will again gather governmental decision-makers, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, members of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement, foundations, charities, academic institutions, the media and an increasing number of practitioners from the private sector.
The DIHAD 2018 Conference Programme will review critical issues related to prevailing needs in terms of humanitarian assistance ; what is ongoing/protracted, what is new today and what is expected tomorrow. We will look at the contribution of resources intended to fund and support humanitarian assistance, including their origin, the triggers for their release, their predictability, criteria of prioritisation and heretofore unexplored sources. We will look at innovative methodologies and enhanced resilience. We will look at moral, ethical and political considerations in the context of humanitarian assistance and we will look at the changing profiles of – and newcomers among – humanitarian actors. A half-day Special Session will be devoted to a review of follow up actions (both implemented todate and outstanding) in the aftermath of the World Humanitarian Summit. We will attempt to come up with a number of agreed conclusions and recommendations, thereby hoping to constructively contribute to ongoing parallel discussions on these topics of universal concern.
On behalf of DIHAD’s International Scientific Advisory Board, it will be a great pleasure for me to welcome all who will attend DIHAD’s 15th edition and to thank, on that occasion, those who actively contribute to the acknowledged success of the Conference, the pre-Conference Workshop and the Exhibition. This unique event, held under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime-Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, highlights year after year different aspects of our collective humanitarian aid and development work. Moreover, the selected theme and related presentations, as well as the interaction that takes place both at the event and in the margins thereof, duly enhance the knowledge that humanitarian and development actors have about eachother, thereby ensuring clarity in regard to respective roles, capacities and mandates, promoting collaboration and further reinforcing the notion of effective, coordinated action.
DIHAD 2018 promises, yet again, to be a landmark event !
Amb. Gerhard J.W. Putman-Cramer
Director, DIHAD International Scientific Advisory Board