The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Let’s get together: 4 ways to unite the humanitarian, development & climate agendas

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A Burundian refugee child stands outside a makeshift shelter in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania on March 26, 2016. According to UNHCR, Nyarugusu is "one of the largest and most overcrowded refugee camps in the world," currently hosting over 140,000 refugees but built to accommodate only 50,000. The camp has a resident population of around 60,000 Congolese refugees, with an influx of around 78,000 Burundian refugees since last year. (Photo: Phil Moore / Oxfam)

As crises continue to overwhelm global systems, the world needs us to come together around integrated solutions. We have more in common than we think, and our success depends on it.

This post was co-written by Shannon Scribner, Humanitarian Policy Manager at Oxfam America.

The first World Humanitarian Summit kicked off this week in Istanbul and has already been the target of significant skepticism, political accusations, and doubt regarding its mandate. Some of these criticisms are fair. There is no single goal or objective for the Summit and hopes for reform are questionable, especially when most Heads of State aren’t attending.

Some skeptics, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have taken on the Summit because of its overemphasis on a broader resilience and development agenda rather than a laser focus on humanitarian action and emergency response. MSF pulled out of participating altogether. Oxfam holds MSF in the highest regard and agrees that the laws of war today are not being enforced and civilians are not being adequately protected. Oxfam is taking on this set of issues at the Summit.

However, as the “Natural Disasters and Climate Change – Managing Risks and Crises Differently” workshop gets underway tomorrow, we take the view that humanitarian crises are development problems that must be addressed jointly by humanitarian and development actors in order to be more responsive to the drivers of crises.

Climate change alone is rapidly changing the nature of human suffering and instability globally. Each year, climate-related disasters result in more than 60,000 deaths, mainly in developing countries that have little capacity to cope. A super El Niño that meteorologists and the World Food Programme warned about well in advance continues to cause food insecurity across several countries and will reach peak levels in the coming months. In Ethiopia, where over 10 million people require emergency assistance, the situation will continue to deteriorate until at least September.

For many parts of the world, drought has become the new normal. While many arid zones have always experienced drought cycles, the period between these droughts has shortened significantly. In the most chronically affected parts of the world, such as the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and the Central American dry corridor, major droughts recur every three to four years.

The fundamental question we face today is whether the current humanitarian rapid response model works in addressing slow onset disasters like drought and storms. Our experience tells us they do not.

Humanitarians respond better to today’s obvious problems rather than tomorrow’s potential problems. This is because governments often don’t want to declare a disaster on the horizon for political reasons. Funding is barely available to enable early action for slow onset emergencies and there is a disconnect between humanitarian and development programs which creates systemic disincentives for early action. Consider the separate silos in the European Union: ECHO to deal with humanitarian crises, International Cooperation and Development to deal with development, and the Directorate-General for Climate Action to deal with climate change.  And all three have separate funding streams. Probably not the best arrangement to promote collaboration.

Oxfam also needs to break down silos between our own humanitarian and development work and are committed to ensuring that our development programs are informed by natural hazard risks, and can enable a flexible response, especially in countries vulnerable to recurrent natural hazards.

Development actors are often best placed to incorporate resilience programming to address slow-onset crises in areas prone to hazards as they know the affected communities and local dynamics, and don’t have to rely on media coverage to access funding. However, for this to happen, development actors will have to fundamentally alter their mindsets to take more ownership for addressing slow onset crises.

The Summit is an opportunity to address the humanitarian, development, and climate divide to adequately address these longer-term crises. We recommend:

  • Increasing official development funding that is spent on disaster risk reduction, from the measly 0.4 percent we have seen over the last 30 years to at least 5 percent. The Secretary General’s call for an increase to 1 percent is simply not enough.
  • Uniting the agenda for risk reduction and risk transfer outlined in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, reforming the development and humanitarian sectors in order to improve effectiveness and potentially increase the overall funding.
  • Changing behavior, decision-making and incentives for early response, drawing in development actors to address risks and shocks in every day programming.
  • Ensuring development planning segues between development, disaster risk reduction, response and recovery, especially in countries prone to natural hazards, as climate change increasingly impacts communities.  Too many countries have linear growth strategies – assuming that economic growth will rise in a linear fashion. Instead they should be cyclical, accepting and planning in the periodic impact of natural hazards, rather than treating them as an external aberration to be tackled with a contingency plan.

The World Humanitarian Summit will only last for a couple days and then the international community will shift its focus yet again to the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris implementation.  So let’s use this moment to articulate a clear vision and new ways of working in areas where development, humanitarian and climate change issues overlap.

As disasters are projected to increase with more frequent droughts, floods and storms, we can’t afford to go back to our silos and business as usual.  Nor can the 125 million people today who have been affected by conflict and disasters today.  Let’s get together for them.

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