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VOICE Out Loud #33: Enabling principled humanitarian aid (June 2022)

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It may easily be argued that there has never been a more challenging time to be a humanitarian aid worker. The number of acute humanitarian crises around the world has brought new challenges to the delivery of principled humanitarian aid and pushed humanitarian actors into having to adapt to new operating contexts. This edition of the VOICE out loud (VOL) offers an insight into some of the challenges VOICE members face in the delivery of humanitarian aid, including funding, access, security, and working in contexts in which there are constant violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

Since February 2022, the world’s eyes have been on Ukraine. With UN OCHA noting that there are more than 15 million Ukrainian people displaced as refugees or Internally Displaced People, UNHCR has said that the global number of forcibly displaced people has passed 100 million for the first time. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, described this figure as a “staggering milestone” that “must serve as a wake-up call to resolve and prevent destructive conflicts, end persecution and address the underlying causes that force innocent people to flee their homes.”

The conflict in Ukraine and its global economic repercussions have exacerbated humanitarian needs, already at an all-time high because of the impact of the 3 Cs (Conflict, Climate, and COVID-19) and the chronic underfunding of crises. Today, the Global humanitarian Overview is less than 20% funded. In May 2022, the number of people expected to be in need of humanitarian aid this year was increased to 303 million, 29 million more than what had been foreseen in December 2021 (Global Humanitarian Overview Update, May 2022). Up to 181 million people are forecast to be in crisis levels (IPC 3 or above) of food insecurity in 2022 in 41 countries/territories (Global Report on Food Crises – 2022). As is often the case, the most fragile contexts, including protracted and often neglected crises such as Syria, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and Afghanistan, are likely to be the most impacted by these deepening crises.

In addition to the sheer scale of needs, recent crises have shown the challenges for humanitarian actors in accessing disaster-affected populations and emphasised the importance of IHL and the fundamental humanitarian principles. In addition, recent UN Security Council discussions have highlighted the need to pay more attention to the consequences of counter-terrorism measures on civil society organisations and on humanitarian space. Humanitarian NGOs, thanks to their different expertise and mandates, are crucial frontline responders in emergency contexts and often face acute security challenges to ensure that crisis-affected populations have access to humanitarian assistance and protection. To be able to deliver life-saving assistance where it is most needed, humanitarian NGOs require all parties to conflict to respect IHL and allow safe access for disaster affected people to humanitarian assistance.

In considering some of the above challenges, this edition of VOL reflects on the existing humanitarian funding model, and the impact of IHL violations and donor sanctions regimes on the delivery of humanitarian aid. It also considers questions of how to finance new emergencies while ensuring no diversion of funding from other crises; how to promote and uphold IHL and reduce the level of risk to which humanitarian aid workers are exposed; and how to ensure that sanctions regimes do not undermine humanitarian organisations’ ability to apply the humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

Many of the possible answers to these questions are not new. They rely on donors’ ability to translate political commitments into genuine actions, highlight the need for donors to maintain efforts to overcome the challenges that humanitarian agencies are facing, and to ensure sustained support for principled humanitarian aid. Additional resources must be made available if we are to tackle the seemingly ever-growing level of humanitarian needs; diplomatic efforts must be put in place to support adherence to IHL and ensure humanitarian access; and humanitarian exemptions must be built into all EU MS sanctions regimes to enable humanitarian organisations to continue providing lifesaving aid for those in need everywhere.

My fear is that we may be at a tipping point, where the failure to address the current record levels of need will result in a spiralling increase that we will struggle to come to terms with, leaving ever more people acutely vulnerable, and an ever-growing gap between the level of needs and the level of funding available to meet them. We must work together to ensure that this potential tipping point is not reached, and the recommendations in this edition of VOL – if taken on board - may help us to do that.

Dominic Crowley
VOICE President