This is not only unjust but also extremely ineffective. It marginalises the skills, knowledge and capacities of thousands of local and national non-governmental organisations (NNGOs) operating on the frontline of emergencies.
ActionAid believes that strengthening local leadership in humanitarian responses – especially by women – is key to the effectiveness of such responses. The localisation of humanitarian action needs to address the shifting of both financial and other resources, as well as of power and agency, to local and national responders.
This shift must have women and women’s organisations at its forefront, bringing their invaluable contextual knowledge, skills, resources and experiences to emergency preparedness, response and resilience building. This will help reduce the male-dominated and gender biased international humanitarian system we currently have, and make responses to humanitarian crises more effective and gender transformative.
ActionAid has a unique humanitarian signature that is grounded in human rights. It focuses on promoting women-led preparedness and response, driving accountability to disaster and conflict-affected communities, as well as the shifting of power to local organisations and movements at all levels. ActionAid works directly with local partners who are embedded in the community and have a strong understanding of local needs.
After Hurricane Matthew devastated southwest Haiti in October 2016, ActionAid Haiti and Konbit Peyizan Grandans (KPGA), a locally-rooted civil society organisation, which has been an ActionAid partner since 2007, launched a humanitarian response in four communes.
They established women-led community committees in each of the four communes, which then determined beneficiary criteria, and then planned and undertook response activities. This operational approach devolves power and funding to the most vulnerable women affected by a disaster. It lays the foundations of ActionAid’s call for a more localised international humanitarian system and locally led responses to specific crises.
The presence of local and national actors, both state and civil society, at the heart of humanitarian response is not new. It is articulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (1991) – which makes states responsible for assisting citizens trapped in a crisis – and numerous international frameworks and initiatives. But the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) firmly established localisation as a crucial and central norm for emergency responses.
Participants at the WHS recognised the need to ensure people affected by crises are not only informed and consulted, but are at the centre of decision-making processes. For the former United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki–moon, the WHS “marked a turning point in how national and local actors, including women and women’s groups, should be engaged, capacitated and funded.”
Individual commitments made by different stakeholders at the summit, and collective agreements such as the Grand Bargain, are now central vehicles to realise this ambition:
• World Humanitarian Summit individual commitments: Widespread commitments were made by donors, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and United Nations agencies to devolve leadership and decision making to the closest feasible proximity to crises.
• Grand Bargain: The Grand Bargain is an agreement signed in Istanbul during the WHS by more than 50 donors, UN agencies and INGOs. It sets out a shared understanding, opportunities, and common vision of how to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian aid.
The Grand Bargain ‘Shared Commitments’ document includes 51 commitments categorised in 10 work streams. One of the work streams, co-led by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the Government of Switzerland, focuses on providing increased support and funding tools for local and national responders. Signatories will “achieve by 2020 a global, aggregated target of at least 25% of humanitarian funding to local and national responders as directly as possible.”
ActionAid and other INGOs support the increasing calls from governments and NGOs in developing countries to devolve more of the humanitarian response to national and local levels.
The run-up to the WHS saw many INGOs signing up to the Charter for Change,committing to change the way they work with local and national organisations and to implement the Charter’s eight points by May 2018.
There was also the launch in 2016 of NEAR (Network for Empowered Aid Response) – a new global network for local and national organisations which is being very vocal about the need for localisation in humanitarian action.
ActionAid has a longstanding focus on shifting power to local actors in humanitarian responses – a position that reflects those of the organisations behind NEAR and Charter for Change. ActionAid also shares the belief – and has helped produce evidence through projects such as ‘Missed Opportunities’ – that locally led responses can be more efficient and effective than those led by INGOs.
Local organisations are able to respond more quickly and stay longer than international actors; have better understanding of the local context; and have greater access to affected populations.
What makes ActionAid’s position distinctive is that it sees localisation as a transformative process and puts women and girls at its centre. For ActionAid, localisation encompasses shifting the power from North to South, international to local and from a male-dominated system to one where women play a more central role.
ActionAid advocates for greater attention to women’s rights in emergencies and a more localised response that facilitates shifts in power, resources and gender relations to ‘build back better’ in ways that go beyond material improvements or technical solutions.
ActionAid denounces the fact that a very small proportion of humanitarian aid is currently channelled through local and national actors. It is important to demand that donors and governments increase this percentage, as well as maintain reliable capacity-building support and open up decision-making spaces to local and national organisations.
ActionAid also highlights that women’s organisations receive a particularly small amount of the limited allocation of humanitarian aid currently channelled through local and national actors, and that their voices and needs are often excluded during humanitarian preparedness and response work. The capacity and knowledge of local women’s organisations is not being fully utilised, with only 1% of all funding to fragile states in 2015 going to women’s groups or government ministries of women.
By Soren Ambrose and Richard Miler