OCHA’s new flagship report Saving Lives Today and Tomorrow: Managing the Risk of Humanitarian Crises, launched in New York on 31 March 2014, calls for a fundamental shift in the way that humanitarian and development actors operate.
The report calls for aid groups and donors to begin the shift away from responding to crises in a purely reactive manner and to instead adopt an approach that proactively anticipates and prevents crisis through effective risk management.
The report presents new evidence, trends and analysis to argue that the humanitarian system is at a crossroads. The combination of emerging global challenges such as water scarcity, climate change, population growth and rapid urbanization, has increased the complexity and risk of crises. Humanitarian actors are being asked to do more, and at a greater cost, than ever before.
These trends, the report argues, have created a need for enhanced investment in risk mitigation and crisis management, which existing structures are not equipped to provide.
In order to overcome this challenge, humanitarian, development and government actors must work together to identify risks and align planning cycles, increase aid effectiveness, build the resilience of affected populations and, where possible, focus on preventing disasters.
Some key findings from the report include:
- Funding for disaster risk reduction is woefully inadequate. Between 2004 and 2013, the increase in the frequency and severity of crises has seen annual inter-agency humanitarian appeals grow by 430 per cent. Yet only 0.5 per cent of all international aid between 1991 and 2010 has been allocated towards prevention.
- Risk-management and prevention are more cost-effective than response. Research in Kenya and Ethiopia shows that early drought preparedness activities are around three times more cost-effective than emergency response. According to the World Bank, the benefits can be even greater, with some reports suggesting benefits of between four and 36 times the savings.
- Humanitarian leaders and organizations are ill-equipped to use risk analysis to make decisions.Information is available but it does not always translate into action, in part because underlying financial structures do not allow for it, but also due to institutional obstacles. For example, 258,000 people died as a result of famine and food insecurity in Somalia between October 2010 and April 2012, despite timely and accurate early warnings.
Why is this report important?
Shifting from cure to prevention presents political challenge at multiple levels. It has implications for politics in the affected countries, between and within aid agencies and in donor countries. Making this shift will be complex and challenging.
But the timing is right. The world is gearing up to create a new post-2015 global development framework, which is likely to demand that poverty reduction and sustainable development efforts are more closely integrated. Governments are also set to agree on the replace of the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction in 2015. And, in 2016, the international community will gather for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit, where managing crisis risk will be a top item on the agenda.