IATI's humanitarian marker: A game changer for aid effectiveness?

A humanitarian supplies delivery by Oxfam in Juba, South Sudan in Jan. 24, 2014. Spending on emergency-related activities will be included in next year’s aid transparency market. Photo by: Oxfam International / CC BY-NC-ND

The global standard for aid transparency is expected to get a major upgrade next year, with a marker to denote humanitarian spending.

The addition of such a marker to the International Aid Transparency Initiative standard could become a game changer as it is designed to speed up reporting on emergency-related commitments — ideally within 24 hours after a pledge is made. At present, most IATI publishers — including donors, governments and nongovernmental organizations — refresh their aid data quarterly, although some update on a monthly basis.

“If we know that a certain financial commitment is about delivering X number of tents or whatever, we want that data to be available as soon as possible, so that those people managing the emergency on the ground have access to the data as soon as possible,” Bill Anderson, data and information architect at Development Initiatives, told Devex, suggesting that this will enable humanitarian agencies to plan their activities more quickly, which would be helpful given the urgency of the required response in the field.

Part of the consortium that administers IATI, Development Initiatives is responsible for providing technical support to publishers and maintaining as well as improving the standard. Anderson leads this process as well as the outreach to civil society groups and nontraditional donors.

Incorporating the humanitarian marker into the IATI standard requires the approval of the initiative’s steering committee. Consultations will begin at the start of 2015 and Anderson expects an agreement on the humanitarian marker during the first half of next year.

While the process of getting the marker approved is rather straightforward, the same cannot be said about its use. Because IATI is a voluntary initiative, the use of the marker will be optional.

“Our big hurdle is to persuade publishers of data to move down that path,” Anderson acknowledged.

Part of the problem is the lack of clarity among publishers on what constitutes humanitarian activity. Anderson noted “big arguments” between IATI members about distinguishing the boundaries between humanitarian aid and development cooperation.

To help ensure the use of the humanitarian marker gains traction, Anderson and his team have readied a plan that involves general advocacy work and working with key publishers such as the U.N. Development Program, which is also part of the IATI secretariat. Anderson noted that a huge amount of UNDP work, such as in disaster prevention, is classified as humanitarian activity.

“We would make sure that UNDP make [the use of the marker] a priority, that all UNDP data use this marker,” he said. “So we would prioritize both in terms of importance but also opportunistically where we would hopefully get the most sort of a good response from certain publishers.”

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About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.