Reinforcing the participation of populations in humanitarian action
Véronique de Geoffroy and François Grünewald
Result of a study on principle 7 of the GHDI which encourages donors to “Request implementing humanitarian organizations to ensure to the greatest possible extent, adequate involvement of beneficiaries in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian response”
Executive summary of the studies carried out by Groupe URD and commissioned by the DAH / Centre de Crise / The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with inter-donor discussions.
The Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative (GHDI) was launched in June 2003 in Stockholm by all the donor members of the OECD. It is an attempt to reach agreement on a common approach to humanitarian assistance, to improve coherence between donors around fundamental principles and thus make humanitarian action more effective and organised. Building on the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence, Good Humanitarian Donorship is defined in terms of 23 principles. Even though they are not explicitly referred to as quality criteria, these include criteria such as allocating funds in proportion to needs, the importance of participation by local people and the need for flexibility in funding.
For a long time, humanitarian action continued to be seen as a form of charity provided by organisations from the North to people in disaster torn countries, whereas the participation paradigm had already been adopted in the development sector. Humanitarian agencies finally took stock of their experience and began to recognize the role of local civil society, local organisations and local individuals in delivering aid and began to incorporate them into the aid agenda through participatory processes. The recent set of evaluations of natural disaster responses, including the work of the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC), the evaluation of the response to the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005, specific Real Time Evaluations after different hurricanes in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean islands, as well as other work carried out under the ISDR showed how critical this is in natural disaster settings, when the population is often the primary aid deliverer. This was even more apparent in the case of Typhoon Nargis in Myanmar, as most international organisations were unable to intervene to any great extent. Thousands survived due to the actions of the local pagodas, national Red Cross volunteers and all those who were prepared to help their neighbours.
But it is one thing to recognize the importance of participation, and another entirely to put it into practice, especially in complex conflict-related circumstances. Humanitarian action is guided by a number of principles, notably the Humanitarian Principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality and it is limited by the need to act rapidly, the growing demand for financial accountability and the high level of turbulence of most contexts. All these factors have the potential to hinder proper participatory practices.
Donors are critical stakeholders in this respect, as the constraints they impose on agencies or the rigidity of their fund allocation methods can make it more difficult to adopt a participatory approach. It is extremely positive, therefore, that the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative includes this issue in principle 7, which reads “Request implementing humanitarian organizations to ensure to the greatest possible extent, adequate involvement of beneficiaries in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian response”.