Localizing aid means more lives saved

An Adeso agriculture officer teaching beneficiaries in Nyamlel, South Sudan, on how to transplant papaya. The humanitarian system must be reoriented toward a more localized approach that supports and facilitates community-level efforts. Photo by: Adeso

The death toll from the 7.8 and 7.1-magnitude earthquakes that struck Nepal April 29 and May 12, respectively, has now topped 8,000 — and is still rising — according to Nepal’s National Emergency Operations Center. All in all, the United Nations estimates that over 8 million people have been affected and almost half a million homes destroyed.

In response, multiple organizations, including local and international NGOs, have launched appeals, in an attempt to raise the United Nations’ requested $423 million to provide vital relief to those affected over the next three months. With so many appeals to choose from, thousands of people across the world are left to wonder where their funds will have the greatest impact.

While there might not be an easy answer to that question, in the hours and days that followed the disaster in Nepal, survivors and local communities were often the first to respond, in the absence of any outside assistance. The Guardian reported that a local restaurant sent some of the first bedding and other vital supplies to Nepal’s remote and badly hit Bunkot area. Similarly, it was a businessman and former resident of the area who managed to get one of the first supplies of rice through to the hungry villagers.

With 3.5 million people estimated to be in need of food assistance, and remaining gaps in nutrition, protection, education, shelter, and water, sanitation and hygiene hampering relief efforts, it is critical that those in the most inaccessible areas are reached before the impending monsoon season.

Although over 100 response organizations are on the ground providing life-sustaining relief to millions of Nepalese, the gaps in those relief efforts could arguably have been reduced if local nongovernmental organizations had been better prepared and resourced to respond in the immediate wake of the April 29 quake.

The “local first” response is a pattern repeated in many recent disasters, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake and the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and clearly demonstrates the importance of working with and supporting local actors on the ground.

The ongoing World Humanitarian Summit consultations have highlighted the importance of supporting and strengthening local actors, and reorienting the humanitarian system toward a more localized approach that supports and facilitates community-level relief and recovery efforts. This includes giving local actors a greater voice and opportunity to influence the policies and practices of international aid that affect their communities and larger societies.

To achieve this, many local actors believe that the time is right to establish a Global Network of Southern Nongovernmental Organizations in humanitarian response, recovery and resilience building, as highlighted in a report released today.

Ensuring equal voice and representation

Currently, no global space exists for SNGOs to collectively address what they perceive as capacity constraints and challenges in humanitarian response, leaving southern actors with a sense of frustration at how international agencies rarely engage with them as equal partners.

Southern actors argue that they deserve a greater say in how aid in their own communities and larger societies is put to use, especially in the context of disasters, when the work of southern NGOs is so vital to relief efforts.

Building the right kind of capacity

The desire to localize aid has often been approached from a technical perspective, with a focus on providing training and technical expertise, all of which fail to address the strategic and operational challenges faced by southern actors, particularly in terms of human resources, procurement, and financial management systems.

The proposed SNGO network would offer sustainable and appropriate capacity development resources for members. In addition, it would provide the opportunity for south to south exchange of experiences, learning and mutual capacity building.

Providing access to funding

One of the key challenges currently facing SNGOs is the difficulty in accessing funds directly from major donors. Currently, most SNGOs depend on international NGOs and the U.N. system for their funding and, therefore, have limited or no direct relationship with donors.

In large part, this is a consequence of the inability of donors to manage a multitude of small grants to SNGOs. Likewise, many SNGOs do not have the capacity to absorb large grants and meet the due diligence requirements of donors.

In recognition of these constraints, the proposed Global Network of SNGOs would establish a pooled fund mechanism to allow SNGOs to access funding from a diverse funding base. Ultimately, the objective of the pooled fund mechanism is to support SNGOs as they increase their capacity to manage large grants, placing them in an eventual position to be able to interact directly with the fund’s donors.

Putting local actors first

For some years now, prominent members of SNGOs have seen the potential for a southern network to collectively address some of the systemic challenges and gaps described above.

This is an idea whose time has come, and one that is in line with the WHS’ efforts to find “better ways to meet the needs of millions of people affected by conflicts and disasters.” Such a network will contribute to a stronger humanitarian system, and ultimately to saving more lives.

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About the author

  • Degan Ali

    Degan Ali is the executive director of Adeso, where she leads development and humanitarian efforts. Degan is a strategic thinker with over 15 years experience designing and managing food security, livelihoods, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs in some of the poorest, most fragile countries in Africa. Under her leadership, Adeso has become a pioneer in using cash programming to deliver aid to vulnerable populations.