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Somalia, Niger, Congo victims of humanitarian aid ‘gap’

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A child with SAM (severe, acute, malnutrition) at a World Vision clinic in South Sudan.  [WorldVision]

Humanitarian aid is not keeping pace with needs on the ground, partly due to the affects of El Nino and climate change in eastern and southern Africa, according to a new report from World Vision - and as a result already malnutrioned children are going hungry.

Sheri Arnott is Director of Research for Policy and Stragey on Food Assistance at World Vision International.

Arnott spoke to EurActiv's develpoment correspondent Matt Tempest at the report's launch in Brussels.

What is World Vision's report really calling for?

It’s calling for recognition of the real human impact on humanitarian financing gaps. The report highlights that these are real people, also vulnerable people, who are being severely affected in different ways that maybe people don’t understand, as well by the inability of the humanitarian finance community to meet ever-growing needs.

So that’s one, important, part of the report. Another important part is to bring the voices of those people affected by hunger into the forefront.

The second part is to recognise that we need new money to meet these gaps but on the other hand we also need to make some changes in how we deliver that funding and those programmes to address long-term resilience, in two ways.

Making sure that we get funding to people before they go into full crisis. To prevent malnutrition, they sell off their assets, losing their cattle, pulling kids out of school – that’s one part of it. Losing the social net part of it. The further people fall, the harder it is to get out.

I think the report says that we have now the biggest funding shortfall in a decade?

Each year, the UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) sets out an appeal for a certain amount of funding. They coordinate humanitarian assistance across the globe – a total dollar figure.

That says that there are ‘X’ amount of people who need humanitarian assistance, and with our best estimates, this what it’s going to cost.

Then that goes to governments and donors. The European Commission will look at that and say "Here’s what the funding requirements are, and we’re going to give ‘X’ amount" to the funding requirement.

The appeal process is how it’s set , and then donors pledge certain amounts to meet that. So when we talk about the financing gap, we’re talking about the level of assessed need and the money required to meet that need, and then what money actually becomes available.

So that in-between space is what the gap is. What has happened is actually the donors have been relatively generous. Humanitarian funding has actually been increasing, but humanitarian need – and with it the dollar figure – has been increasing as well.

Where exactly are these shortages falling – where is it having the most affect?

That’s a hard question to answer, because it’s really across the board. The report mentions Somalia, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo. Our data showed it had the most severe implications there, for our programming.

Those three countries are suffering in terms of supplementary feeding, the school meals programmes.

To be more nuanced, it doesn’t mean that a crisis like Syria is fully funded. The biggest crisis that’s getting the most media attention also has severe funding shortfalls.

In the first three, it’s the smallest gap that makes the most difference. And we’re shifting around the funding. But if you look at the actual appeal levels country by country, across the board, every country that requires humanitarian aid is suffering.

And the report highlights particularly the affects on children…

What we were finding was that these countries – Niger and DRCongo –  were second last, and last, on the human development index. Which means that out of all 186 countries, they have the worst development outcomes.

Somalia doesn’t even have enough data to make it onto the index, at the national level. So it’s even worse.

We thought that countries that are the poorest have the worst development outcomes, and that needed it the most, the money is not going to.

We’re in a situation where we prioritising life-saving, i.e. people that are in refugee camps, that need food just to be kept alive. That proportion of funding that’s going to that kind of work – if you think about Syria, or refugee camps in Kenya - that kind of work is being prioritised. And for good reason, in terms of humanitarian financing.

But what is suffering is some of the work, the types of work that actually help people to recover, to mitigate the long-term consequence of humanitarian crises. So when you think about supplementary eating – that’s really aimed at the kids, that prevents them from falling into SAM (severe, acute, malnutrition) at which point they are nine times more likely to die. From preventable causes.

We know that there is a deep impact on children during the first two years of age, and those impacts are irreversible.

These are programmes to prevent people from suffering from the irreversible consequences of malnutrition, and lack of education. If a child is in a country which is in crisis for five, or ten, years, (I mean, Somalia’s been in some sort of crisis for 40 years), unless they have some access to education, then their long-term prospects are even bleaker.

The message is we are shifting around [resources], we are prioritising life-saving intervention, but the consequences of cutting help, which actually gets people back on their feet, are deep. And hard.

The report makes repeated references to El Nino in eastern and southern Africa, which I guess implies that climate change is already aggravating these problems?

That’ s a really good point. What we’re trying to draw attention to is that the countries being impacted by El Nino, the greatest are those already with a severe hunger and nutrition problem. And we know the impact of climate-related events on people – we can’t pinpoint the exact people, or the exact impact, but we know enough to know that it has a huge impact.

And we’re certainly seeing that in southern Africa and Ethiopia at the moment.

The impact of climate-induced events like El Nino, and climate change more broadly, will deepen already existing vulnerabilities.

We know that investing in disaster-preparedness is actually much more relevant. I think I saw the figure that one dollar invested in prevention saves seven dollars in return.

So why aren’t we investing early on to mitigate that? Not only will it save lives and livelihoods; it will be more cost effective in the long-run.

The launch of the report was in the European Parliament. But one thing I’m not clear about reading it is who exactly are you calling on for more funding?

The report is designed to reach a couple of different audiences, whether it’s the donor audience – that could be, for example, the Canadian government or the EU. But the EU is a massive global funder. It’s a major player. And the EU has been generous, and they’ve recently given more money to the El Nino reponse.

We’re asking for more money from the EU’s humanitarian donors – but it’s important to link that to the types of intervention and the call for intervention.

To play devil’s advocate, why should the EU give more money to countries that are in a terrible state, but suffer from chaotic, corrupt, incompetent governments, that are fighting civil wars. A European taxpayer might say we have our own problems here with the euro crisis, with refugees.

To speak to that particular issue in the context of Europe, I would say that unless…without being too reactionary….the Syria crisis on the European doorstep is driven partly by our inability to find longer-term solutions in the region. Whether it be political solutions, or livelihood solutions.

And we have more refugees now, globally, than we have ever had. And for the European public, besides it being the right and humane thing to do, these kind of borders that we put up are a little bit artificial, in terms of ‘well, there’s a problem happening there, it’s not a problem happening here.’ But the Syria crisis shows how it can spill, how it can cross those boundaries, so there is a kind of self-interest in it being contained.

On the other hand, we don’t need to emphasise that part of it. The human rights angle, and being responsible global citizens, is important.


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