6 Sep 2015

High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing: We hope private giving to humanitarian causes will increase globally

Two cochairmen of the UN Secretary General‘s High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva and Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak, Malaysia, who are to arrive in Moscow on Monday, have given a joint written interview to Interfax in which they speak about the reasons the panel was created, goals of their visit to Russia and called to increase private donations to humanitarian needs.

Question:Why was the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing created?

Answer: The world is experiencing natural conflicts and natural disasters on an immense scale right now. The direct consequence is a massive increase in the number of people in need of aid. Globally, more than 100 million women and men, children and adolescents currently require life-saving humanitarian assistance.
About 80% of the global humanitarian needs we see annually are caused by conflicts many of which last longer; they are becoming protracted. People find themselves displaced for longer and longer periods – the average duration of displacement is now 17 years. In many parts of the world, but particularly in a ‘crisis belt’ stretching across Africa from Mali in the West to Somalia in the East, as well as across large swathes of the Middle East, protracted crisis is becoming the ‘new normal’. Currently more than 60 million people worldwide were displaced by conflict – the highest figure ever recorded, and a record high for the third year in a row. On average 43,900 people a day are fleeing violence throughout the world. This is an important factor which is ultimately responsible for the growing aid requirements.
Natural disasters are also growing in frequency and severity – for instance in 2013, there were 880 major natural disasters, and over the past decade, on average 106,000 people lost their lives every year in natural disasters. The overall trend, driven by climate change, is clear: more extreme weather events, more droughts, more floods and more typhoons. Perhaps most worrying of all, we are seeing the emergence of regions – such as the Sahel - where the impacts of chronic natural disasters and conflict intersect and magnify each other.
As a result, one of the most important challenges facing the humanitarian system today is that there is a growing gap between the increasing numbers of people in need of assistance and the resources needed to provide relief. This gap was the primary motive which led the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to decide to create the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing.

Q.: Who are the panel’s members?

A.: The panel is made up of nine eminent personalities from around the globe and from various professional backgrounds. We are the two co-chairs.
The panel will recommend bold yet actionable ideas to the Secretary General around three important questions: how can more financial resources be mobilized for humanitarian endeavors globally? How can this funding be made more predictable?

Q.: And how can we ensure that aid agencies make the best possible use of the existing funds? What is the purpose of your visit to Russia?

A.: The UN Secretary General expects recommendations from his panel, which will ensure that the urgent issues surrounding humanitarian financing can be tackled. Before we can issue these recommendations we need to reach out to various partners. Russia plays a hugely important role on the international stage. We want to discuss the global state of humanitarian affairs and humanitarian financing in particular with high-ranking counterparts in the Russian government. But we also want to reach out to religious leaders to seek their views. In short, we are here for an open dialogue on a topic which concerns us all: how to best help those in dire need wherever they live.

Q.: What are the ideas of the panel to address this situation?

A.: Let us focus on three concrete ideas our panel is currently considering. First, if a donor supports a humanitarian response, the donor will want to know how exactly the money is used and perhaps most importantly what positive impact the contribution makes. Many humanitarian organizations, be they UN or non-governmental agencies, could do better in informing their donors about results and impact in a transparent and timely manner. The panel will recommend the creation of a transparency platform which will make it easier to understand and track humanitarian financial flows and their impact.
Second, when donors give humanitarian funding, they often insist on earmarking the money for very specific purposes. This can make it difficult for humanitarians to plan their interventions, particularly if circumstances on the ground change quickly which is often the case in humanitarian settings. So the panel will call on donors to increase the flexibility of funding whenever possible.
Third, remittances are a very important financial factor in humanitarian contexts. Yet, it is often very expensive for a person to send money to a relative in an area which was hit by a humanitarian crisis as financial institutions which transfer the money may take significant fees. Our panel is currently discussing if financial institutions could lower these fees in specific humanitarian contexts, thereby ensuring that more money arrives quickly where people need it urgently.
Our ideas will feed into the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016. The summit will bring together governments, humanitarian organizations, people affected by humanitarian crises and new partners including the private sector to propose solutions to our most pressing challenges and set an agenda to keep humanitarian action fit for the future. This is a once generation opportunity. The world needs a more effective system and we are here to help shaping it up.

Q.: Do you distinguish between natural and man-disasters in your work?

A.: Yes we do. A very large portion of those in need require assistance because of a steadily increasing number of conflicts. As of June, 60 million people worldwide were displaced by conflict – the highest figure ever recorded and a record high for the third year in a row. In 2014 alone 13.9 million people were newly displaced – an average of 42,500 people every day.
At the same time, natural disasters are also growing in frequency and severity –think of the terrible earthquake which devastated parts of Nepal recently. Driven by climate change, we can see one worrying overall trend: more extreme weather events, more droughts, more floods and more typhoons.
Regardless of whether people are affected by war or by natural disasters, what is important is that the humanitarian response is well coordinated among all those involved in relief operations.

Q.: The UN and humanitarian organizations are often criticized for being too bureaucratic and lacking in effectiveness. Is the panel addressing this question?

A.: We do not necessarily agree with this criticism. UN agencies like the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, UNICEF or the World Food Program are effective in many humanitarian contexts. They often do an excellent job – let‘s think of the support they are giving to millions of Syrian refugees, to people in need of help in Afghanistan or their local response to Ebola in Liberia or Sierra Leone. Yet, they always can do better.
One way of improving the delivery of aid is for instance to focus more on cash instead of in-kind assistance. If markets are still functioning, cash gives victims of a humanitarian disaster more dignity: people, and particularly women, can choose what to spend the aid on instead of receiving what others thought they needed. The cash also gets injected into local economies which creates additional benefits for local communities.

Q.: The government supporting the UN is one thing but how can citizens or companies support humanitarian action? How would this work in Russia?

A.: The Russian government is a very important humanitarian donor. For instance, last year the Russian Federation supported the World Food Program alone with more than $66 million, funds that made a difference from Afghanistan to Armenia.
But we hope that because humanitarian funds still come predominantly from governments around the globe.
In Russia, citizens can support trustworthy organizations. Humanitarian assistance is a noble cause and it should have the broadest possible support – in Russia as well as everywhere else on this planet.