Empowering Local Leaders in Disaster Response

The Twajiji school WASH club in Bidibidi, Northern Uganda.
The Twajiji school WASH club in Bidibidi, Northern Uganda educates the school on basic hygiene practices including handwashing, cleaning latrines and cleaning buckets. Image credit: Kieran Doherty / Oxfam

Oxfam is responding to major emergencies around the world, and we are also helping lead a movement to shift more power, skills, and funds into the hands of local humanitarians.


Across the globe, armed conflicts are triggering crisis after crisis, with no end in sight, and climate-related disasters are on the rise. The UN and international agencies like Oxfam are working hard to keep pace, but the needs are outstripping our capacity to respond.

But there is a vast human resource that, given the right support, could make all the difference: local humanitarian leaders.

When emergencies strike, everyone from community leaders to the mayor’s office to national organizations and government agencies may spring into action, but in too many places in the world, they are drastically short of resources. Yet, it is these groups that are best positioned to save lives: they can reach disaster zones quickly, and they understand the languages, cultures, geography, and political realities of the affected communities far better than outsiders.

“Oxfam has seen time and again that the best humanitarian responses have local people, organizations, and governments at their core, with international groups supporting as needed,”

With your help, Oxfam has been working to ensure that local leaders get the funds, training, and influence they need to protect their communities. Meanwhile, we are continuing to respond to the most catastrophic emergencies—the disasters that overwhelm the capacity of local leaders. We install water and sanitation facilities and distribute hygiene materials like soap to guard against disease outbreaks; we help ensure access to food and other essentials; and through our advocacy work, we help disaster-affected communities stand up for their rights.

As Oxfam’s Carlos Mejia explains in the video below, Oxfam is challenging the model of humanitarianism that favors international over national and local interventions, and we are leading efforts around the world to shift power, skills, and funds into the hands of the responders who need it most: those whose countries and communities lie in harm’s way.

Oxfam itself has committed to boosting its direct funding of local partners from 24 percent to 30 percent by 2018, with the goal of putting more decision-making power into the hands of those with most at stake in emergencies. An even bigger undertaking is ahead of us: revisiting our partnerships around the world with an eye to strengthening local organizations and boosting their leadership.

“Oxfam has seen time and again that the best humanitarian responses have local people, organizations, and governments at their core, with international groups supporting as needed,” says Raymond Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America. “Local people are already there, know what their communities truly need, and will remain long after the international attention wanes. We must ensure that these true first responders have the resources and power they need to make decisions for themselves and their communities.”

Click here to learn more about Oxfam's work in emergencies.

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