I cut my aid-worker teeth on the famine of 1998 in Western Bahr el Ghazal in what was then southern Sudan – a region at war with the Khartoum regime in Sudan and still a part of the world where violence, displacement and hunger rule. Since those years much has changed in how humanitarian aid is provided – much of it for the better. Improved and more coherent coordination mechanisms, increasing attention to gender, the use of technology to improve efficiency, less charitable donations of food and more dignity-preserving cash interventions and so on.
What hasn’t gotten better is the scale of need – in June 2015 the UN appealed for funds to reach 78.9 million people – and the fact that injustice is at the heart of the problem and the reason why the poorest and least powerful are always the ones who suffer most.
A new report from Oxfam, For Human Dignity, looks behind the scenes at the way humanitarian aid delivery has and hasn’t changed in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit that will be held in Turkey in May 2016. The report argues that the rising tide of disasters makes agencies like Oxfam more vital than ever before but that the power must shift from big INGOs and the UN to local organizations and their networks and national governments must be supported to play a far bigger role .
In the end, the fundamental way to reduce the terrible toll of suffering in humanitarian crises is not any change to international aid. It is to uphold the international humanitarian and refugee law to which governments have already agreed. It is for us all to act on humanitarian principles such as impartiality, every day. It is to tackle the inequalities and injustices that drive humanitarian crises.
Manager, Humanitarian Unit, Oxfam Canada