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Boost local organisations, prevent crises and save lives, says new report

March 27 2012 - Many more people will survive and recover from emergencies such as earthquakes, floods and famines if international aid agencies boost local organisations’ ability to respond, a Christian Aid report says today.

‘One of the best ways to reduce the suffering and devastation caused by disasters in poor countries is to strengthen local people’s ability to prevent them in the first place – and respond quickly if the worst does happen,’ said Katherine Nightingale, the author of the new study and Humanitarian Policy Adviser at Christian Aid.

‘But that requires the international community to pay more than lip-service to the huge importance of national and local organisations in vulnerable countries which are the first on the scene to help people in the wake of catastrophes.

‘It means shifting money and power away from international aid agencies and the UN  towards local agencies and partnerships with national institutions, which are best placed to prevent and respond to disasters.

‘This absolutely isn’t a call for the international organisations to abandon their efforts but it is encouraging them to get better at working in genuine partnership with poor countries’ local and national organisations and governments, with all the shifts of power and resources that implies.’

The new report - Building the Future of Humanitarian Aid – notes that while the need for international humanitarian organisations to work more closely with national and local organisations is widely acknowledged, in practice there remains a long way to go.

‘The reality is that despite the policy commitments and growing evidence-base of the importance of local capacity and the need to work in genuine partnerships, there are some repeated and disheartening lessons that emerge from many humanitarian responses,’ it warns.

‘These indicate that local capacities are frequently undermined or excluded, often systematically…Southern partnerships are sometimes in name only and partners are treated as a pipeline for delivery, with little sense of sustainability of work.’

For instance after the Haitian earthquake of 2010, UN co-ordination work was criticised for excluding national and local organisations in favour of international NGOs, through the language that was used, the locations of meetings and other decisions.

However, there are also positive examples. In Ethiopia, training has enabled local organisations to have more access and influence in international emergency coordination meetings. And in Haiti, despite the exclusion difficulties, local and national organisations were able to deliver rapid emergency relief following the earthquake, with support and accompaniment from international NGOs, including Christian Aid. 

Building the Future of Humanitarian Aid calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to set up a high level panel to review disaster prevention and response lessons from major emergencies such as the Haitian earthquake, Pakistan floods and Asian Tsunami. The review should lead to the inclusion of disaster prevention work in the framework which follows the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after 2015.

The report also argues for radical, urgent reforms to the funding of emergency prevention and response work. ‘Donors, UN co-ordination mechanisms and national government must fund, coordinate and deliver emergency responses as if local capacity mattered,’ it states.

One proposal is that the United Nations should move towards only funding emergency aid work if that work involves a local government or civil society organisation in a lead role. Another suggestion is that international alliances of aid organisations should try to prevent their members doing emergency response work in countries where they have no previous experience, and instead coordinate to channel funds through alliance members with history and experience in those countries.

The report is available here: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/images/building-the-future-of-humanitarian-aid.pdf

It will be launched at a panel discussion held jointly with ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) at Christian Aid’s London office tomorrow (Wednesday March 28) between 12.30-2pm.

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For more information and to interview Katherine Nightingale, please contact Andrew Hogg on 0207 523 2058 or ahogg@christian-aid.org


Notes to Editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in nearly 50 countries. We act where the need is greatest, regardless of religion, helping people build the lives they deserve.

2. Christian Aid has a vision, an end to global poverty, and we believe that vision can become a reality. Our report, Poverty Over, explains what we believe needs to be done – and can be done – to end poverty.  Details at http://www.christianaid.org.uk/Images/poverty-over-report.pdf

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of 100 churches and church-related organisations that work together inhumanitarian assistance and development.  Further details at http://www.actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit www.christianaid.org.uk