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Trouble in Egypt continues

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2013

CAIRO,  – After a weekend of violence that brought the country back to the brink, Egypt now stands at an impasse: Tens of thousands of supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi remain in the streets of the capital demanding his return to power. The army ousted the democratically-elected Islamist after millions of people took to the streets opposing his autocratic and exclusionary politics, and refuses to ba ck down. 

On 27 July, dozens of Morsi supporters were killed – most of them shot in the head or chest, human rights groups say – after they tried to extend their protest outside its main sit-in area in northeast Cairo. Since Morsi was deposed on 3 July, at least 281 people have died, according to Health Ministry figures, in clashes either between pro- and anti-Morsi protesters or between Morsi supporters and the police responding together with armed locals in civilian clothes.

The gulf between both sides is growing, as is dangerous rhetoric that could incite further violence. On Egyptian TV, the Muslim Brotherhood is referred to as a “cancer” that must be wiped out. On the stage at the pro-Morsi tent city, Islamist leaders fire up crowds by labelling those who support the coup as apostates. Many Egyptians fear an impending civil war, though analysts say this outcome is very unlikely.

Still, violence and political instability since a popular uprising deposed Egypt’s long-time strongman Hosni Mubarak in early 2011 have destroyed the economy; and the poor have been the first to pay the price.

“The economy is already on edge and things will deteriorate even more if a political way out is not found,” Rashad Abdo, a leading economist and head of local think tank Egyptian Economic Forum, told IRIN.

Both sides have what one analyst described as “maximalist” demands: the new interim government wants the Muslim Brotherhood to completely accept their roadmap for the future; the Brotherhood refuses to take part in any dialogue until Morsi is reinstated as president.

So what is the way out?

De-escalation: The first step, analysts agree, is to de-escalate the tension. A security solution to the problem (for example, clearing the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in by force) would lead to “catastrophe”, according to former diplomat Ibrahim Youssri, who served under Mubarak.

Human Rights Watch has called on the army to cease using live ammunition to control the crowds (though the Interior Minister denied having done this), and Amnesty International encouraged the authorities to issue “clear instructions to security forces to refrain from the use of disproportionate force”.

According to Oxford Analytica, a global analysis and advisory firm, there is a high probability of Islamist retaliation if the army continues its current course. This could involve supporting a jihadist anti-army rebellion in Sinai and/or acts of terrorism in other parts of Egypt, including Cairo, it said.

On the Brotherhood side, one form of de-escalation would be a condemnation of all violence, including militant activity in the Sinai.

Confidence-building measures: As it stands now, members of the Muslim Brotherhood see themselves in an “existential crisis”, according to Yasser El-Shimy, an analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG). “They fear that if they went home, that would be it: there would be nothing to prevent the security forces from authorizing a major crackdown and completely excluding them – not just from politics, but also cracking down on the organization’s social and religious activities. So they need to have some kind of guarantees that they are not going to be persecuted.”

A few steps to help build trust, he and high-level officials from the UN and European Union (EU) have recommended, include: releasing Morsi, who has been detained by the military in an unknown location since his ouster, or at the very least transparently reviewing his case; releasing other jailed Muslim Brotherhood leaders rounded up since 3 July; and launching an impartial and transparent investigation into the killings of Morsi supporters.

In return, the Muslim Brotherhood should call off its protests, or at the very least call on its supporters not to extend rallies beyond their sit-in location at Raba’a al-Adaweya square in Cairo’s Nasr City neighbourhood. Such roaming protests have paralysed traffic, terrorized civilians in the area and at times provoked security forces.

Liberal youth behind the original revolution in 2011 have also called on the army to demonstrate clearly that it does not want to come back to power. (A military council ruled Egypt following Mubarak’s downfall until Morsi was elected)

“Neither the Brotherhood nor the military represent the ideals of the revolution of the Egyptian people,” said Eslam Ahmed, a liberal activist who helped form a new movement called Third Square, opposed to both Muslim Brotherhood and military rule.

Mediation: All parties agree that some form of mediation is necessary. According to Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading democracy advocate, even the Brotherhood has privately reached out to him to act as a mediator between the movement and the new government, though the Brotherhood denies this.

One main challenge is the lack of an acceptable arbiter. “On the domestic front, there is no party left to play the role: not the army, not the Azhar [highest Muslim authority in the country], not the church, nothing,” El-Shimy said. “They have all been incredibly politicized and have taken one side or the other.” Even Atef Al Hadidi, a researcher from al-Azhar, suggested international mediation would be preferable.

The Arab League has also been ruled out by many analysts, its members divided about developments in Egypt. Several players have pointed to the EU as a foreign force more favourably viewed by both sides than the US (EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is the only foreign diplomat to have met Morsi during his ongoing detention). The ICG’s El-Shimy suggests the UN could also play a role. But both sides must drop all conditions before sitting at the table, Al Hadidi said. 

Meanwhile, some worry that by “succumbing to the Brotherhood”, as the former diplomat Ibrahim put it, the government would be emboldening other movements into potential opposition, including harder-line Salafists.

Roadmap to elections: The Brotherhood has demanded that all recent measures taken by the army – the ouster of Morsi, the dissolution of parliament and the suspension of the constitution – be reversed. But it has suggested that after Morsi is re-instated, Egyptians can legally decide whether he stays in power through a popular referendum. El-Shimy calls this “wishful thinking”.

Islamist thinker Mohamed Selim Al Awa has proposed a slightly more conciliatory plan, which involves a reinstated Morsi delegating his powers to an independent prime minister who would pave the way for parliamentary elections within 60 days, followed by presidential elections. This proposal also includes amending articles in a constitution pushed through by an Islamist-dominated parliament, which – while approved in a national referendum last year – remains controversial.

But this plan is opposed by Egypt’s liberal and secular political camps as “one last attempt by the deposed president and his party to go around the will the people expressed on 30 June,” according to Ahmed Shaaban, a leftist activist, referring to the day millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand Morsi’s ouster. “They just want to go back to power through a backdoor.”

ICG proposes something slightly different: a revival of the constitution as a temporary measure (in order to protect freedoms and rights in the interim) until a more permanent consensus-based constitution can be drafted; a formal resignation by Morsi, in order to end questions around the legitimacy of the new authority; handover of power to a consensus prime minister; the launch of a process to amend the constitution; and finally, elections.

But this approach, too, faces a challenge in the lack of leaders among Egypt’s politicians. In addition, according to some views, a consensus candidate would undo the expression of public anger against Morsi, as exhibited in the 30 June protests: “There cannot be a power-sharing plan because this plan will overlook the facts on the ground,” Ibrahim said.

A return to politics: Because of this leadership deficit, an institutional consensus-building mechanism will have to be adopted in order to ensure a swift return to politics. “The country cannot continue to be governed on the streets, by the streets,” El-Shimy said. Nor can a “winner-take-all” mentality continue to rule.

“The country cannot continue to be governed on the streets, by the streets.”

In a best-case scenario, Oxford Analytica says, talks would bring Islamists into the transition process as part of a national unity government.

An important part of the puzzle will be re-establishing the credibility of the democratic process in the eyes of the public, especially the Brotherhood. “Suppose we accept to be part of any election in the future in the light of the transition plan. Will the army accept the results of the election if we win it? I doubt this,” said Taher Abdel Mohsen, a Brotherhood leader and a member of the dissolved upper house of parliament, known as the Shura Council.

National reconciliation: Most of the steps above are pre-requisites for true national reconciliation, experts say. On 24 July, the interim presidency announced a transitional justice plan, with the aim of ushering in an era of truth, presidential adviser Mustafa Hegazi told a press conference. Using national reconciliation in South Africa as a model, the plan includes the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission that will investigate crimes committed during the past few weeks, as well as under the tenures of both Morsi and Mubarak. The commission would also create a legal framework for transitional justice, which would result in amnesty for some people and prosecution for others, Hegazi said.

Since the original 2011 uprising, calls for a broad-based, non-political transitional justice process have not been heeded. “Crimes continue to happen and corruption continues to thrive, simply because we have not launched this plan,” said Nasser Amin, a lawyer and rights activist who has been party to meetings at the presidency about the plan. “Egypt will not move a step forward without this transitional justice… People have to pay for their mistakes or there can never be reconciliation.”

But for former constitutional judge Tahani Al Gibaly, the players are not yet ready: “I do not think it is easy to reconcile while one party [the Muslim Brotherhood] refuses to admit its mistakes.”

In any case, the Muslim Brotherhood has so far boycotted those meetings: “The army must first show respect for the ballot boxes and then we can talk about reconciliation,” Abdel Mohsen said. Without their participation, any national reconciliation process is bound to fail, experts said.

Just days before the latest violence, interim vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter feed: “Transitional justice and national reconciliation based on inclusiveness are only option. The sooner we realize this the more lives are saved.”

ae-ha/cb  source


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Is the future of food aid threatened?

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2013

International funding for non-emergency food aid programmes likely to fall


  • Declining food aid to Africa
  • Trend towards cash, vouchers instead of food aid
  • Food aid too slow in natural disasters
  • Easier to get funding for food aid than food security

JOHANNESBURG,  – By the end of the next decade food security could deteriorate in some of the world’s poorest countries, according to a recent global forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

By 2023 the number of food-insecure people is likely to increase by nearly 23 percent to 868 million (at a slightly faster rate than projected population growth of 16 percent), said USDA’s Economic Research Service which focused on 76 low- and middle-income countries classified by the World Bank as being on food aid, experiencing food insecurity, or as having experienced it.

In countries most likely to see a significant rise in the number of food-insecure people, such as Malawi and Uganda, the production and import of food will not be able to keep pace with population growth.

Despite improvements over the years, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to remain the most food-insecure region in the world.

In the past decade global food aid, including the amount making its way to sub-Saharan Africa, has been on a downward trend. Only 2.5 million tons reached sub-Saharan Africa in 2011, whereas during the decade as a whole it ranged from just under three million tons to just over 5 million tons, according to USDA, citing World Food Programme (WFP) data.

The face of food aid has also begun to change. In the past decade, “food aid” has begun to evolve into “food assistance”, which includes help provided in the form of cash and vouchers for people in need. This can save millions of dollars in transportation and storage costs.

By 2015, WFP, the world’s largest food aid agency, expects almost a third of its assistance programmes to be delivered in the form of cash, vouchers and new kinds of “digital food” through smartcards and e-vouchers delivered by SMS. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of WFP cash and voucher projects increased from five in 2008 to 51 in 2011. In that year WFP set aside US$208 million for distributions using cash or vouchers, but still spent over one billion dollars on food.

IRIN asked some of the world’s leading experts to speculate on the future of food aid.

Crises that drive the need for food aid are either man-made (conflicts, economies in crisis) or natural events (droughts, floods, earthquakes) or a complex mix of both, which might test people’s resilience and make them chronically dependent on assistance. People need different kinds of aid in different situations. If food is not available in a flooded area, actual food supplies are the answer. In the case of chronic shortages, experts suggest cash or vouchers, integrated into a broader social protection system, might be the answer.

Threats over the coming decade

By 2023, food security will worsen in
Source: ERS-USDA

Christopher Barrett, a food aid expert who teaches at Cornell University in the USA, said: “The big threats over the coming decade are the ones we already face: conflict first and foremost, a variety of natural disasters, and major macroeconomic disruptions. The climate scientists don’t talk seriously of change over the course of a decade.”

Food aid expert Daniel Maxwell, a professor at Tufts University’s Feinstein International Center, agrees the drivers of crisis will not change substantially. “I suspect that we will continue to see the kinds of protracted crises that we have come to see over the past decade that are a combination of both `natural’ and man-made causes… but with a strong element of weak or failed governance, and these may be in countries with perfectly capable governments, but just in marginalized parts of those countries.”

Eric Munoz, senior policy adviser with Oxfam America, said he would add food price volatility to the mix: A changing climate, causing disruptions in “production in major exporting countries and damaging crops in fragile agriculture markets will add to this volatility”.

More cash transfers

Escalating costs of transporting food, lower quantities of surplus production to dispense as food aid, and the complex nature of crises have forced more donors to widen their choice of response from exclusive food aid to cash transfers and vouchers.

Countries that will remain food insecure by 2023
Central Africa Republic
Democratic Republic of Congo
North Korea
Source: ERS-USDA

“Non-emergency food aid as we have known it will disappear but the core functions will continue, both because growing demands for emergency response will gobble up the modest international food assistance budgets available, and because school feeding, maternal and child health and nutrition programs, smallholder development, and other programs will get absorbed within the broader development programs that donors fund,” said Barrett in an email.

He also believes more countries which used to rely on food assistance will “develop their own effective safety-net programs (whether through employment guarantee schemes, conditional or unconditional cash transfers, unemployment or agricultural insurance, etc.)”.

In countries with weak governance, international food assistance could end up playing the role of a social safety-net, said Maxwell, but not very well “unless integrated into national programs – and there will continue to be political tensions about whether to do that or not. In these places, future genuine humanitarian emergencies are likely to be driven by combinations of factors: The Somalia famine was blamed on a bad drought, and indeed there was a bad drought, but there was also a concomitant food price spike, ongoing conflict, and a highly politicized crisis of access. In other places, rapid onset natural disasters will probably not be major arenas for food aid (it is just too slow) and will be replaced by cash or other interventions.”

WTO rules hamper food security?

Food insecure countries’ reliance on “markets, and thus on local and regional suppliers, will continue to grow,” said Barrett. This could happen especially if a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement is reached in the next 10 years, he said.

The WTO Doha Development Round of negotiations (begun in 2001) on a new agreement that could help reduce the number of poor people in developing countries, has been in stop-start mode for some years.

The talks are aimed at reducing global barriers to market access, including for agricultural produce. Olivier de Schutter, the UN Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the right to food, believes current WTO rules are hampering poor countries’ efforts to become food secure.

Timely food aid interventions save lives, “but protracted relief interventions (such as those widely implemented by WFP in many countries) are a distorted way of maintaining food assistance in circumstances where it is no longer necessary or adequate,” said José Luis Vivero Pol, an anti-hunger activist with Université Catholique de Louvain in an email. “But food aid is a good business for many companies and international institutions,” and he expects that to continue. Funds, he wrote, flow “easier and faster [for] food aid than for food security for resilience”.

New donors?

Will the traditional donors remain? Will the US, the world’s largest food aid donor, be able to finally reform its food aid system which is designed to benefit its farmers and transport sector? President Barack Obama’s efforts to end the link between supporting US farmers and international food aid by removing food aid programmes from the US Farm Bill and placing them under “foreign assistance”, among other radical reforms, were rejected in June.

Barrett is optimistic. “Food aid reform in the US is inevitable. The only question is timing. Within a decade I think it a virtual certainty that we will see the US programs moved out from under the Farm Bill and agricultural authorization/appropriations process in the Congress. US international food assistance will get bundled within broader foreign assistance budgeting and programming, and the `buy American’ provisions will be substantially relaxed.”

Maxwell agrees: “We’ve already seen a major rise in the procurement of food for aid in affected countries or neighbouring countries (local and regional purchase). This will no doubt continue.”

Oxfam’s Munoz reckons there will be “greater interest” from emerging economies in providing assistance. “The recent renegotiation of the Food Aid Convention seemed to recognize this with some creative thinking about twinning arrangements – food from one country paired with funding from other countries to cover expenses like shipping and handling.” Recently a new Food Assistance Convention replaced the Food Aid Convention of 1999, which expired in 2002 but was repeatedly extended.

Activist Pol feels “food assistance is another means to exert foreign influence.” Emerging powers like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa “will soon become food aid suppliers… The main problem is that some of them do not trust the UN institutions to do it, but they do not yet have the national infrastructure to do it by themselves…

“Pure altruism is far from being the main motivation for many countries, although it is true that there is a huge difference between the US and Europe. Europe is more altruistic, and they have influenced others regarding local purchases (a European invention) and social protection (permanent and temporary).”

He also sees more private companies and philanthropic foundations joining the “[food assistance] club, but they will use others’ logistical capabilities (such as USAID).”

jk/cb source

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United Nations 2013

Posted by African Press International on August 2, 2013

Less bureaucracy, more innovation


  • Calls for UN to be more anticipatory, strategic, innovative
  • Test public-private partnerships
  • Less bureaucracy, more leadership
  • Risk-taking should extend to UN security policies

DAKAR, 31 July 2013 (IRIN) – The UN and other aid agencies face ever-increasing levels of humanitarian need: the number of recorded disasters has doubled in the past two decades, according to the UN, while the needs-response gap remains stubbornly steady in the context of a shifting humanitarian landscape – with the dominance of UN agencies and the largest 10 international NGOs gradually being eroded as power shifts to the east and south.

Against this backdrop loom a number of risks that could drive the disasters of the future and for which many humanitarians are unprepared: new disease outbreaks, growing water scarcity, crises hitting mega-cities, cyber-crime, biological and chemical weapons. IRIN asked analysts and UN staff what broad changes in approach, structure and attitude UN agencies need to make to become fit to better tackle our humanitarian future.

Over the past decade the UN has made significant reforms to improve its humanitarian response, many of them positive: protection of civilians is now more central to UN operations; internally displaced people are no longer overlooked; several agencies, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), are reaching out to a more diverse set of humanitarian partners; and accountability to beneficiaries is increasingly a focus (linked to the real-time scrutiny made possible by social media.)

Norms and guidelines have been strengthened. UN agencies and NGOs have improved their work in every phase of the programme cycle, says Paul Knox-Clarke, head of research and communications at learning network ALNAP, from early warning to needs assessment, from programme implementation to evaluations.

“Many of the traditional challenges – that assessments are not coordinated, that methodologies don’t match up – are being addressed,” he told IRIN.

Humanitarian response is increasingly driven by evidence rather than anecdote, which marks a “profound shift”, says Peter Walker, head of Tufts University’s International Feinstein Center, “akin to the change in how health care was delivered in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Emergency Relief coordinators and humanitarian coordinators now garner more respect (or at least agency heads turn up to their meetings); there is more transparency across the funding spectrum – 160 agencies and donors have signed up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), and clusters and pooled funds have improved how the UN organizes itself and coordinates in some response settings.

But change in the UN’s humanitarian sector has too often been incremental, amounting to add-on individual initiatives, rather than involving major structural change and an overhaul of approach, processes and attitudes, say critics. A number of evaluations have pushed for the UN to be more anticipatory, more strategic, more innovative, and to harness the power of the UN’s many branches to anticipate and prepare for future crises.

Individual initiatives are tackling aspects of this – for instance OCHA’s “transformative agenda” draws on learning from the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan floods to try to improve accountability, strategic planning, coordination and leadership. But the revolutionary changes that are needed, are not happening, say analysts.

As Randolph Kent, long-term humanitarian leader with the UN and now head of King’s College Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP), put it: “What company in the world, that is surviving, has not had a fundamental change in its business model or operating procedure for 60 years?”

Analysts and staff made the following recommendations:

Open up club membership

The most powerful actors in the humanitarian sector are still Western in orientation and assumption, say critics, which has created a “two-tier system” of those who are in and out of the club. The UN risks forgetting about the contributions of the informal humanitarian community – grassroots groups, civil society groups, the Diaspora, host communities, said Ed Schenkenberg van Meirop, head of humanitarian think-tank DARA. “Many still think everything happens in the humanitarian country team,” he said.

Some agencies are making valiant attempts to reach out to other actors without realizing that the rules of the club may need to change. “The traditional humanitarian community tries to turn itself into an exclusive club and now it is reaching out to “non”-traditional members to ask if they want to join. We shouldn’t be surprised when countries turn around and say No,” said van Meirop, referring to Turkey which decided to act outside the cluster system, in Somalia. New actors, like China and Qatar, may not agree on the club rules, stressed Antonio Donini, a senior researcher at the Feinstein Center, who worked with the UN for 26 years.

“There’s a need to open up these rules or re-discuss them… [using] an openness that so far we have not seen,” said Walker. It requires traditional actors: UN agencies and the nine or so largest international NGOs – to “let go”, he said. “The recent trajectory has been to concentrate, not disperse, power. This will challenge the way business has been done for the past 30 years.”

Likewise on humanitarian principles – do not water them down, says Cyprien Fabre, head of European Union aid body ECHO in West Africa, (they already have been), but try to understand different perspectives – some NGOs prioritize justice over impartiality – and come to a mutual understanding.

What can you do for me?

Re-jigging the power imbalances that are so integral to the humanitarian system must also feature in a transformed relationship between humanitarian “givers” and “takers”, says Kent. “We’ve moved away from the sense of the hapless victim, but we are still a system that inherently promotes a sense of inequality… We need something more interactive… something more along the lines of: I can offer you this, and you can offer me that.” For instance, in Ghana excellent work is under way about climate change adaptation – someone should be questioning how to apply that expertise in the UK, or India. “That is a more interesting perspective,” he said.

Humanitarians of the future need to test public-private partnerships and business models, and give the space for innovation and embrace the risk that this entails. “A government may not want another international NGO in its country, but it might like having a private sector company that may have an enduring interest in the country. Might Johnson & Johnson, for example, be as or even more effective in promoting health than an NGO,” queried Kent. “Do we understand how business can promote sustainability and resilience? Can OCHA set up a platform in collaboration with the World Economic Forum to demonstrate how innovations and innovative practices coming from the private sector and other non-traditional actors can strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, response and post-crisis recovery?”

UN agencies need to “support people to take risks and put money behind good ideas,” said OCHA humanitarian affairs officer Andy Thow. “Most good ideas come from national or regional staff, not from headquarters,” he said.

Some agencies, such as the World Food Programme, are engaging in these debates; systematically addressing how markets can deliver food, and how they can help them to, through cash or other approaches. “This challenges the notion of humanitarians as food or health deliverers. It’s very interesting and we’re just at the beginning of this debate,” said Walker.

Advocate, anticipate and lead

Over recent years, many analysts have stressed the need for the UN to concentrate on improving leadership, advocacy and strategy in humanitarian crises. “UN agencies must tackle these issues over the next 10 years if they are to improve the quality of responses globally”, said Sara Pantuliano, head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

If UN agencies come together to collectively set standards, monitor the quality of response, disseminate lessons learned, and improve and monitor progress on disaster risk reduction, early warning and preparedness, “now that would be remarkable,” said one interviewee. This would involve visionary thinking but also lightening up daily administrative processes (tasks like hiring staff or procuring equipment require endless steps and form-filling) and opening space for longer-term planning. A 2011 HFP study of six UN country teams, judged the majority of agency leader’s staff time was spent on short-term planning tasks.

Opinions differ on whether implementing operations weakens UN agencies’ capacity to advocate on complex issues of humanitarian principle – like access in Syria. It depends on the context, says von Meirop: in a Syria-type context where the government is a party to conflict, strong, punchy advocacy might have more ultimate impact if not trying also to implement. “Let’s not be naive, the political agenda dominates everything… In a context like this, accountability goes way beyond communicating with disaster affected populations. It is about involvement and participation and choice. Take those Syrian refugees who are forced – by host governments – to live in camps, which are often criminalized and dangerous – rather than settling with families.

“Accountability is working out the best way to protect them and help them to retain their dignity.”

Better leadership on all of these fronts might involve a move towards genuine coherence. “We’ve broken up the needs of human beings into different agencies, many of which have different accountability frameworks – it doesn’t make sense,” said a UN staff member. Bringing agencies together under fewer roofs would solve a lot of problems around institutional turf and mandates. However, such an ambitious project would have to be Member State driven, and “Member States don’t want this – they like having a say over their individual UN agency.”

Pitching for multi-sectoral funding ought to be more manageable, though cluster-led coordination has pushed for more demarcation. Funding reform is way overdue, said the staff member. “We haven’t adapted the CAP [Consolidated Appeals Process] in 10 years… People should have figured it out by now.”

Security crossroads?

Innovation and risk-taking should extend to UN security protocols and policies, said several interviewees, arguing that in complex emergencies such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, the UN’s role has shrunk because of risk averse policies that severely limit the UN’s access to communities in need. If the UN does not figure out more flexible ways to work and stay in complex emergencies, “it could become irrelevant in politicized crises,” warned Pantuliano. Another critic summed it up: “It’s just MSF and the ICRC who are out there.”

Focus more on anticipating future disasters, say analysts

Allegra Baiocchi, head of OCHA in West Africa, told IRIN: “We need to be able to be nimble, flexible, rapid,” when it comes to security decisions… “We need better intelligence of risks that are connected to operations rather than siloed in separate departments. Security incidents set back operations by months, even years. I think we are at a security crossroads – we need to work on our acceptance but also improve our security management systems.”

Syria is a “watershed moment” said von Meirop. “It should be the catalyst for finding the way to be more effective in situations of armed conflict. And that includes the coordination role of the UN.”

Catch up on accountability

In line with inhabiting its leadership role, the UN should find ways to navigate, verify and authenticate the mass of information that emerges from crowd-sourcing and social media, so that communities, authorities and aid agencies, can use it better. In 10 years’ time agencies will have to have realized that information is a right in crises – something as important as food or shelter, says Walker. And “this speaks to OCHA’s very mandate and mission,” he said.

What won’t we do?

Over the next decade UN and other humanitarian agencies need to more clearly define what they will and will not do. “That conversation about what we are here to do, about what the system is, who is in it and what their roles are, needs to be had,” he said. “If you see it as a universal fire service that will respond to each disaster and save all lives possible, and then add to that prevention, early recovery, and resilience, then that is very ambitious and a lot more capacity is needed.” But if the role is just stepping in when the state cannot or will not respond, it may be more manageable.

The current mismatch between what defines humanitarian aid and how it is used must be cleared up, agrees Walker. “The nub of humanitarian aid is providing a light in the darkness – and accepting that we can only really deal with symptoms,” said Walker. This includes protecting people from fear and violence – including sexual violence – which while improved in some areas (child protection, say), still lacks the leadership and coherence of one agency to drive it forward. “But that is very different from where the money goes.” As Development Initiatives’ funding specialist Oliver Buston put it: “You would come up with a very different programme if you were funding a decade-long $500 million project in Sudan versus 10 one-year $50 million projects.”

The top 10 recipients of humanitarian aid have changed little year on year over the past decade – Sudan, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Somalia, Afghanistan among them.  He went on to say that that is where resilience comes in: an activity that must be politically-driven, and involves long-term flexible funding. As Kent said, “The UN has a profoundly important role to play, but not the one it is doing.”

Let governments lead on resilience

UN humanitarian agencies cannot drive the resilience debate, says Baiocchi. They must involve the entire UN Development Group, including the UN Development Programme, UN Division for Sustainable Development, and the monetary institutions, regional organizations and national stakeholders. “Take the Hyogo Framework for Action”, said Mihir Bhatt head of the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), “This must contribute to each of the post-2015 development goals, or resilience will go nowhere.”

And in many cases this will involve supporting national capacity to respond. “We say we want to work with governments, build a real partnership, but do we really?” asked Biaocchi. “With actively engaged governments, we say they’re interfering – we’re quite schizophrenic about this.” Some need less help – Mozambique, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, have significantly improved their ability to respond to large-scale disasters and in these instances UN agencies will need to step back and play a service role.

“The traditional view of many northern aid agencies is to build capacity through a workshop,” said Jemilah Mahmood, ex-president of NGO Mercy Malaysia. “That’s not what’s needed: it means money, people to be seconded into local authorities to strengthen them internally.”

Ultimately, building this capacity and focusing on resilience “is not up to ECHO or the UN or the World Bank, but it’s up to governments,” said Fabre. “Unless there is political will to push this, you can put in as much money as you want, but it won’t make a difference. That change has to come from within.”

aj/cb source


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