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How to Improve the Efficiency of Humanitarian Aid


FILE - U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samatha Power attends the Third International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria in Bayan Palace, Kuwait City, Kuwait, March 31, 2015.

Although some reform has already taken place, the future of humanitarian aid is yet to be invented.

More people than ever before are in need of humanitarian aid. Today, some 100 million, 51 million of them refugees from war and persecution, are in need of assistance, stretching humanitarian aid agencies to the breaking point.

“It is becoming increasingly clear . . . that the patchwork humanitarian system that has evolved over the past 70 years is struggling to handle the burden of today’s crises,” said Permanent Representative to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Four key elements-- security, modernity, dignity, and money--must be included in the conversation.

Speaking at the U.S. Global Forum on Improving Humanitarian Action, Ambassador Power said that although some reform has already taken place, the future of humanitarian aid is yet to be invented. And on that account, four key elements-- security, modernity, dignity, and money--must be included in the conversation.

Security is a top priority. “Peacekeepers and humanitarians can together deliver critical aid and protection to tens of thousands of people,” said Ambassador Power. Better security means a better environment for humanitarian work, less violence, and a greater likelihood that families can return to their homes and feed themselves, freeing more resources to tackle other challenges.

Modernization, finding innovative ways to approach old problems can strengthen humanitarian assistance. So, for example, the use of behavioral economics and behavioral science has helped us better understand why people do or do not take their medication on time, or what it takes to convince parents that sending their girls to school is a smart investment.

Because “A wounded soul may hurt as much as a wounded body”, as the late UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello once said, finding ways to allow refugees and displaced persons to keep their dignity is all-important. “How can we ensure that humanitarian responses empower people affected by crises to have greater voice and greater choice?” asked Ambassador Power.

And finally, the humanitarian community must find a way to get more countries to fund humanitarian action, to bring in the private sector, and make the donation process cheaper and easier.

“Given the enormity of the suffering in the world and the inadequacy of our tools to ease it all– it is easy to feel despair,” said Ambassador Power. “I am reminded of the Shakespeare line from The Tempest – ‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.’"

But, she said to the gathered humanitarian community, that the energy in the room convinced her that “members of the humanitarian community are going to outmaneuver and prevail against the devils who inflict suffering and fuel displacement and conflict.”

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