Ed Cairns: To be Sustainable, Humanitarian Policy Should Move Toward Building Local Resilience, Capacity

Recent disasters — such as the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan’s two consecutive floods — have proven that the international humanitarian system is incapable of responding to the world’s increasing humanitarian needs, says Oxfam senior policy adviser Ed Cairns.

To be sustainable, donors should move from the “Western-inspired, U.N.-centric” model of humanitarian response toward increasing support to build resilience and the capacity to respond of countries affected by disasters, Cairns advised.

To illustrate, Cairns cited that during the 2010 Pakistan floods, only half of the 14 million people affected were reached by international aid. A large proportion of assistance to disaster victims already comes from within their communities, local authorities and Southern-based organizations — and that is likely to expand.

Cairns cited the U.K. government’s new humanitarian policy, launched a few weeks ago, which, although “brave” in its critique of the U.N.’s ineffective humanitarian leadership, still “looks like a document written in a Western-centered world, in which international humanitarian action is the most important thing.”

Cairns, however, lauded the new policy of the Department for International Development for placing the approach of “building long-term resilience to disasters at its very heart.”

“There will always be a need for relief and response. But DFID gets the big point: that a much greater focus of humanitarian action should be on helping countries and communities build up their own strength to cope with disasters — which means that the long-term development and humanitarian enterprises are not so different after all,” Cairns said.

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About the author

  • Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.