Simon Maxwell

The HERR is here!

DFID’s humanitarian review has been published, completing the set launched by Andrew Mitchell last year, and which also includes the BAR (Bilateral Aid Review) and the MAR (Multilateral Aid Review). I was involved in this one, as a member of the Senior Advisory Board, so won’t comment on how good it is. It goes without saying that I think Paddy Ashdown and his team have done a great job. I want rather to make some links to the other reviews, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago; and to other humanitarian work I am involved with, through the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance (GACHA).

For the record, DFIDDepartment for International Development spends about £500m a year on humanitarian aid, mostly through the EU, the UN, the Red Cross and the NGOs. Thus, its main roles are to help shape the international system and to act as a wholesaler of aid. Its direct contributions are relatively small.

The HERR was tasked to look at natural disasters and surges in humanitarian need in long-running emergencies, rather than the long-running emergencies themselves. Think of the earthquake in Haiti or the floods in Pakistan, rather than Darfur or Afghanistan. This is quite a small part of total humanitarian spend (about 11% in 2009/10), but high profile – and inevitably, the issues overlap.

The HERR report has seven main themes: (i) anticipation, meaning the appliance of science to predict natural disasters; (ii) resilience, which is about being prepared for disasters and managing recovery; (ii) leadership, especially strengthening the UN cadre of Emergency Relief Coordinators; (iv) innovation, encouraging the use of new approaches, like cash transfers; (v) accountability, especially to recipients, but also to the UK public; (vi) partnership, declaring strongly that the UK should continue to work with others and ‘remain a committed multilateralist’, and also work better with the private sector; and (vii) humanitarian space, emphasising the need to support, defend and enlarge the application of core humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality.

Tansformational change is recommended in DFIDDepartment for International Development to implement the findings. Country-focused development aid programmes need to invest more in disaster prevention and preparedness, for example, supporting local Government plans and institutions – and more funding should be provided direct to Governments, rather than being channelled through intermediaries. DFIDDepartment for International Development should continue to engage actively in reform of the international system; and should change the way it funds humanitarian organisations, including NGOs, to provide longer-term and more predictable funding.

All this is urgent. As Lord Ashdown says in the Foreword to the Report:

'The scale, frequency and severity of rapid onset humanitarian disasters will continue to grow inthe coming years, and at an accelerating pace. We are caught in a race between the growing size of the humanitarian challenge, and our ability to cope; between humanity and catastrophe. And, at present, this is not a race we are winning.'

Let me just pick up two issues for discussion: the issue of disaster preparedness, and the commitment to multilateralism. Others will no doubt pick up a range of other topics, including the important issue of how to involve the private sector.

For me, the stand-out conclusion of the HERR is about the importance of resilience, or disaster prevention and preparedness. This is a theme which resonates with the work of the GACHA. In 2009, we published a challenge paper on the future of humanitarian assistance, which made exactly this point, calling for better risk analysis, and a better balance of spending as between prevention, response and recovery. We also called for a big investment in national and local capacity and much greater involvement of the private sector. We have developed these themes in a subsequent series of ‘GACHA Perspectives’.

In presenting the work in Davos, as the then Chair of the group, I talked about moving countries from the ‘Haiti column’ to the ‘China column’: in other words, from being unprepared and highly vulnerable, to well prepared and resilient. An example is cyclone preparedness in Bangladesh: 500,000 people died in cyclone Bhola in 1970, but, thanks to better preparedness, ‘only’ 2000 people were killed in 2007 by cyclone Sidr. Despite the scale of the catastrophes they have faced, Chile, New Zealand and even Japan offer models of preparedness – at least compared to many poorer countries.

The problem, of course, is that preparedness itself is expensive, and hard to fund when many other demands are pressing. What price more robust health centres and hospitals, at the expense of more midwives and drugs? It would be easy to say that these choices should not have to be faced, but at the margin, as economists say, there will always be choices. The Thames barrage, for example, built in the cash-strapped 1970s, cost well over a billion pounds in today’s money. Who can say what social expenditures might have been displaced, even in the UK?

There needs to be more work on the cost-effectiveness of resilience, making use of comprehensive risk frameworks, but also tackling the measurement and results issues which feature so prominently in aid debates today. In the bilateral aid review, countries were asked to bid for the results they could achieve, in terms of jobs, for example, or improved child survival. It is really difficult to demonstrate results in terms of avoided disaster, especially in advance. I wonder how this problem will be handled in future? Is this another question for the Independent Commission on Aid Impact?

There is a more general point, which is that the bid process for the bilateral review did not include disaster prevention and preparedness as a topic country offices were asked to address. ‘Humanitarian’ was there as an item on the list, but mainly as a device to ensure that a commitment was made to provide relief if needed.

So, that’s interesting. The ERR makes very specific recommendations for investment in risk analysis and HERR makes very specific recommendations for DFIDDepartment for International Development support to risk analysis and disaster preparedness in the 27 countries where it will now have bilateral programmes – and funded from the development window and not the humanitarian window. Will the country priorities derived from the BAR need to be modified, I wonder? And how will DFIDDepartment for International Development decide how much to spend on resilience? This is definitely one to watch.

The other issue is about DFIDDepartment for International Development being a committed multilateralist. In the humanitarian field, that is certainly true. Less than 2% of humanitarian aid is spent directly by DFIDDepartment for International Development and as much as 72% (in 2009-10) was multilateral, to the EUEuropean Union and the UN. The figure would be higher if the ICRCInternational Committee of the Red Cross were counted as a multilateral, which it probably could be: it received over 10% of humanitarian aid. The rest is to a variety of NGOs. In the development programme, the figure is much lower, somewhat under 50%. I observed in my earlier comments that it was a pity the BAR and MAR had been conducted separately, and that there had been no discussion of the multi-bi split. In the case of the HERR, there has been a comparison, and the conclusion is that up to 85% of the programme should be multilateral. Good call – though personally I would maintain a bilateral development programme at closer to 25% of the total.

There are also some important conclusions in the HERR about how the multilaterals should be funded – more predictability, more long-term funding, a core commitment to central funding of the UN system through the CERF, theCentral Emergency Response Fund. It has always been surprising that aid specialists are enthusiastic about budget support when it comes to countries, insisting on the high transactions costs and distorted priorities associated with project-led support, but then let aid agencies off the hook when it comes to project-like approaches, for example the heavy use of trust funds, in their funding of multilateral agencies. The HERR is right in its analysis of how to fund multilaterals. It provides a standard against which the MAR can be judged.

Finally, there are some decisions still pending about how to disburse funding to the multilateral system. The MAR has led to suspension of funding to the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the main UN organ responsible for resilience issues, with support likely to be transferred instead to the World Bank-led Gobal Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery, GFDRR. Of course, no institution has the right to funding, just because it has the right words in its name, but as I remarked in my other blog, this may present some difficulties. The HERR is tactfully careful not to take sides.

That’s it. Except I can’t resist adding that there are some really good initiatives on private sector engagement in DRR and humanitarian relief, especially in the transport and construction sectors. See the WEF humanitarian website for details.

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