All stations to aid: Global Humanitarian Assistance’s new interactive guide

Senior policy adviser Ed Cairns casts his eye over the latest resource for making sense of humanitarian funding. 

Who's who in humanitarian aid? Credit: Development Initiatives and Hype and Slippers

I’m quite a fan of the Global Humanitarian Assistance reports produced every year by the Development Initiatives think tank. They combine invaluable data on funding with thoughtful commentary on what is and is not changing in the humanitarian world. 

So I was pretty excited to see last week that they’ve launched a new interactive guide to humanitarian financing.

Anything that can make humanitarian financing less befuddling is welcome, and the guide certainly does that. Click on it and you’ll be taken through three opening pages towards the wealth of funding data on the GHA site. 

Like half the infographics on the planet, it seems, the main page looks like a map of a subway, metro or, as we say in London, ‘tube’ system. These days every possible issue, it appears, can be represented in such a way, from schools of modern art to – just for example – the plays and characters of Shakespeare (see below). 

Too simple?

Most of these maps are as complicated as they are colourful. But GHA’s is pretty simple, showing seven clear lines delivering humanitarian aid to the ‘aid recipient’ placed, quite rightly, in the centre. And as Hamlet would have said, perhaps there’s the rub. 

For interacting with the GHA guide, I couldn’t help thinking that some of it seemed perhaps a little bit too simple. From the main map, it looks as if UN agencies give as directly to beneficiaries as local government or civil society. Some of the ‘train lines’ more or less work as a sequence, delivering funds station-by-station closer to the recipient; but none of them perfectly, and some are really just lists. Unlike the Shakespeare map, they show none of the complexity that, for example, governments fund UN agencies to fund NGOs to fund someone who might actually meet a

Shakespeare tube map. Copyright: Royal Shakespeare Company

Another page shows the direct and indirect channels for aid – but from the donor, not the recipient’s point of view. And some of the information on ‘stations’ (aka donors) is more helpful than others. The guide is very honest about the lack of data but great importance of local and national governments and civil society. But it rather too glibly says that international military forces provide a ‘substantial addition to the resources and assets deployed by humanitarian
organisations’. Yes, but…would be a kind response, and, to be fair, on a later page there is far more detail on the costs and disadvantages of such assistance.

A timely and entertaining reminder

All in all, the guide is very worth looking at. As GHA says, it’s something to evolve, and I’m sure they’ll consider whether their users could find their way round a more complex subway system in the future. 

For now, let’s just remember a couple of things that the guide, and GHA’s data beyond it, reveal. Firstly, that many donors’ economic woes are really now biting – and the gap between the humanitarian aid needed and provided is widening. Secondly, that all the talk about resilience has not yet translated into a decent proportion of ODA invested to reduce the risk of disasters. Between 2006 and 2010, it was less than a woeful 1%. 

At the Busan aid conference in 2011, governments promised to ‘prioritise the building of resilience among people and societies at risk…and increase the resources, planning and skills for disaster management’. 

Little could now be more vital. While at the same time humanitarian aid to today’s crises must be sustained even in the most difficult economic times. Despite my quibbles above, GHA’s new guide is a timely, useful, even entertaining reminder of that need.

Useful links

Author: Ed Cairns
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.