Highlights of the Webinar with M. Pierre Micheletti

During is talk, M. Micheletti addressed the risk of humanitarian organisations being paralysed and prevented from operating. An analysis of the current economic model shows that this paralysis and the violence directed at humanitarian aid workers are linked to this economic model, which is one of the contemporary challenges facing humanitarian aid. Mr Micheletti explained this situation with a whole series of analyses published in his book “0.03%”.

Humanitarian action brings together a number of players such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Médecins du Monde, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), etc. There are four main families of humanitarian actors: the UN and its bodies such as the UNHCR and UNICEF, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, international NGOs such as ACF and, finally, the armed forces, which claim to be involved in humanitarian action themselves, which is not without its problems for the other actors.

The violence directed at humanitarian workers is specific to each case: the murder of volunteers in Niger last year, the murder of vaccinators in the DRC or the murder of an agricultural engineer in Guatemala… When security is seriously compromised, the concrete problem that immediately arises is that organisations faced with this violence withdraw from the humanitarian crisis for fear of exposing their teams. As a result, populations in need of help are suddenly deprived of the possibility of external assistance.

Violence is a symptom, a warning sign like a fever, and behind this symptom there can be different mechanisms. The first debate in the humanitarian world is about the reality and seriousness of this symptom. The question is: do we agree on the mechanisms behind this violence? The violence can be accidental, without targeting humanitarians in particular. It can be political or linked to religious radicalism. It can also be the result of banditry, which is rife in Latin America. Finally, there can be “anthropological” violence. Violence can also result from a failure to respect certain cultural practices when humanitarian aid workers use care practices that are not compatible with the cultural references of certain populations.

As we do not agree on the mechanism which create this violence, the coercive measures that need to be brought depends on the type of understanding of this violence.

The analysis made in the book named “0.03%” states that, admittedly, the determinants of this violence are multi-factorial, but the economic model tells us some important things about violence as a symptom of political mechanisms.

In 2017-2018, an estimated 160 million people were affected by humanitarian crises. This is an extremely large population, more than twice the size of the population of France. These people are in extreme danger and require vital humanitarian aid.

The risk of impediment is illustrated by security incidents and their evolution over the last ten years. In 2018, 226 attacks on humanitarian workers were recorded, with 405 victims. Over the last ten years, there has been an exponential increase in security incidents against UN humanitarian workers and other international NGOs.

The violence mainly takes the form of kidnappings, gunshot wounds, knife attacks, sexual violence, aerial bombardments and explosives.

The average risk of becoming a victim of violence in the field is four times higher for local staff than for expatriate (international) staff.

The countries with the highest number of safety incidents and the highest statistics are South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, the DRC and the Central African Republic.

In addition, the most accident-prone countries have their own specific patterns of violence. While gun violence is very prevalent in Sudan, in Syria it’s more a case of bombing and in Afghanistan it’s more a case of kidnapping.

There is a strong link between the economic model that funds humanitarian aid and the violence directed at humanitarian workers.

If we look at the global humanitarian aid budget over the last 5 years, we see that around 30 billion dollars has been spent on all the crises, enabling aid to be provided to around 200 million people in very precarious situations.

Three quarters of this funding comes from governments and European institutions, and the remaining quarter from private funds. So, even though NGOs are just one player among many, they account for almost a quarter of the global funding we need to deal with all the crises.

Every year, the United Nations Coordination Office analyses existing crises and estimates the financial requirements to deal with them. While this estimated budget was around 10 billion dollars in 2009, it has risen to almost 30 billion in 2018 due to the sharp increase in the number of crises. What’s more, each year the UN receives only 60% of the sums it requests from governments.

One of the conclusions of the “World Humanitarian Summit” held in Istanbul in 2016 was that local actors received a very small fraction (less than 3%) of the annual envelope of 30 billion. What’s more, of this 3% of funding, 85% would go to the governments of countries in crisis. NGOs therefore receive 0.4% of the thirty billion or so that are mobilised each year. One of the recommendations of the Istanbul summit was to increase this 3% to 20%. The health crisis linked to Covid-19 has worsened this analysis developed at the Istanbul summit. With international players no longer able to travel, the need to increase locally-managed funding has become even greater. However, nothing has changed since 2016, and indeed the situation has worsened, with the figure now hovering around 2%.

As for donors, the leading donors are European countries and North American countries. The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have mainly been donors to Syria, Sudan and Yemen.

These countries do not necessarily contribute to a common fund, but give specifically to the countries in crisis that they wish to support. This is why there is no proportional distribution between the sums covered by the different countries in crisis. Haiti only received 13% of the $250 million estimated for its needs, while Syria received 65% of the estimated amount, i.e. $3 billion.

So the main donor countries give according to their political will, with, of course, all the strategic, economic and military ulterior motives.

Funding models can be grouped into 4 “temptations”;

  • The neo-liberal temptation accepts the idea of appealing to the generosity of the public in order to raise the sums needed for humanitarian crises. However, according to Mr Micheletti, this is not feasible.
  • The temptation of Western-centrism, mentioned earlier with the list of donor countries.
  • The temptation of security, which makes funding conditional on the possible involvement of NGOs in the fight against terrorism: States which subsidise international NGOs ask them to play a role in the fight against terrorism, which is difficult to accept because of the risks for humanitarian teams.
  • The temptation to retract, which comes with the economic crisis linked to Covid-19, leading to a collapse in GDP in all countries. Several billion dollars have been redirected to boost economies, which has had the effect of reducing funding for crises.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this analysis is that the economic model of the international humanitarian system will not be able to raise the estimated sums needed each year. It exposes humanitarians to the political will of donor countries, which choose between good and bad crises. It is further complicated by the fact that this system wants to involve humanitarian aid workers in the fight against terrorism. Finally, these countries place the operational and moral responsibility for finding the missing funding on international organisations. Can we accept politically, without reacting, the fact that States are unable to raise these thirty billion, when we see hundreds of billions being distributed today in these same countries for their economies?

In response to these observations, a number of proposals can be made. For example, why limit ourselves to donor countries made up of a small closed club of 20 Western countries? The first proposal is not to ask for a voluntary contribution, but to make it compulsory for all countries considered by the World Bank to be high-income countries (countries whose GDP exceeds 12,000 dollars). This would increase the number of donor countries to around one hundred. So if each country gave 0.03% of its GNI, the $30 billion requirement would be met.

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