The most effective way to respond to the massive humanitarian need across the globe

by Mark Lowcock | United Nations
Tuesday, 4 December 2018 08:00 GMT

A worker gives a boy bread at a Mercy charitable bakery in Sanaa, Yemen November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

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Tens of millions of people across the globe need assistance to survive

Mark Lowcock is the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator

Today, I am launching the authoritative Global Humanitarian Overview 2019 (GHO), which outlines what the humanitarian and donor communities must do to assist and protect the world’s most vulnerable crisis-affected people.

In 2019, nearly 132 million people in 42 countries will require humanitarian assistance and protection. The United Nations and partner organizations aim to assist nearly 94 million of the most vulnerable among these people.

Without counting the crisis in Syria, the GHO requirements for 2019 are $21.9 billion. While the Syria Humanitarian Response Plan is being finalized, the total funding needed for the GHO this year, including Syria, is expected to be comparable to the 2018 requirements of $25 billion.

The humanitarian situation in some places, such as in Burkina Faso and Senegal, has begun to stabilize. But a number of crises require a scale-up in the response. The crisis in Yemen has worsened dramatically, and we will need $4 billion to provide assistance to 15 million people in the country in 2019. In Afghanistan, where the situation had been expected to improve this year, needs have instead increased because of drought, political instability and returning refugees.

Next year, GHO requirements will be dominated by eight crises each requiring more than $1 billion: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. These numbers reflect precisely what is required to alleviate horrific suffering and assist communities to build their resilience and begin to move beyond protracted or recurring crises.

What is the GHO?

The GHO is the world’s most comprehensive, evidence-based assessment of global humanitarian needs, response and requirements. It is based on detailed analysis of data, extensive assessments, and consultations with the humanitarian organizations and the other stakeholders in each affected country.

Since taking up my post as UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator last year, I have travelled to 18 countries and seen first-hand how the humanitarian community remains incredibly effective at alleviating suffering. This job requires us to understand the trends and galvanize action to seize opportunities when they arise.

In 2019, as in preceding years, the principal driver of human suffering is protracted armed conflict and the mass displacement it generates. We have seen little political progress in addressing the underlying problems of humanitarian crises, principally poverty, development and governance failures and the impacts of climate change. In 2018, 94 per cent of funding received has been for responses to crises lasting longer than five years.

The average length of Humanitarian Response Plans – the individual country plans which make up the global GHO – have increased from five years in 2014 to more than nine in 2018. Large, protracted crises command the majority of need. Between 2014 and 2018, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Syria accounted for 55 per cent of all funding received.

Humanitarian costs are also high because the services that humanitarians provide are more comprehensive than ever. In many places, we have become the default providers of basic services.

This year, donors were more generous than ever, providing a record $14 billion towards humanitarian appeals which has enabled us to protect and save tens of millions of lives. Each month for instance, humanitarians are reaching 8 million Yemenis with food assistance, and 5.4 million people in Syria with supplies, medical assistance and protection. Aid workers continue to do all they can to assist people in need, even amid mounting threats to their safety.

Our assistance is more efficient, effective and accountable than ever. But humanitarian need does not look set to decrease any time soon, and given that, we must both do more with what we have and continue to work differently to not only address immediate critical needs but to reduce them. Here are four ways we can do that:

First, we need to revamp humanitarian financing to improve its efficiency. This includes increasing our financial transparency; and increasing the use of aid modalities, like cash, that are proven to be cost-effective, as well as best-suited to meet crisis-affected people’s needs.

Improved coordination is also key to better efficiency. OCHA-coordinated funds, the Central Emergency Response Fund and Country-Based Pooled Funds, for example, are close to the ground, and can be the swiftest sources of funding to respond to new or worsening crises.

Second, we need to expand the funding pool. To do this, we are working on new financing models – forging public-private sector partnerships and drawing on more market-based response solutions such as risk insurance and social impact bonds. We need to expand and connect these efforts to remittances, Islamic social financing, private giving and other sources that play a crucial role.

Third, we must shift from response to prevention and early action to prevent large-scale crises. This can not only save lives but also significantly cut response costs. One exciting example of this is the Famine Action Mechanism, recently launched by the UN and the World Bank, alongside Amazon, Google and Microsoft, to predict and prevent famines using data analytics and response triggers.

Fourth, the most powerful way to reduce the humanitarian caseload over the long term is to tackle the root causes of vulnerability and instability. Humanitarian agencies can play a role here by sharing their analysis of need and vulnerability with institutions centred on development, peace and security, and dissolve some of the siloes and compartmentalization that leads to inefficiencies.

While we work to tackle these systemic challenges, tens of millions of people across the globe need assistance to survive.

The bottom line is that the most efficient and effective way to respond right now to the needs of the 94 million most vulnerable people is swift and generous support for the Global Humanitarian Overview.