Will the HERR make a difference?

28 March 2011

The UK Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) carries implications for a radical rethink of the aid system, but will its learning be translated into action, asks the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG).

HPG today welcomed the review’s emphasis on the need to build a focus on resilience into DFID’s development plans. HPG also praised its reassertion of humanitarian principles and the recommended shift towards innovation, especially the increased use of cash assistance, while stressing the need to engage with evidence about what works in private sector partnership and engagement with the military.

The Head of HPG, Dr. Sara Pantuliano, said:

“We welcome the key messages of the review, and the implications they carry for a radical rethink of the aid system to achieve greater impact and increase accountability to affected countries and beneficiaries. We await DFID’s response to the report over the next few weeks to see how the Department will translate these aspirations into practice. In particular, we would like to see how the findings and recommendations of the report will be made applicable to humanitarian crises of protracted nature, which constitute more than 80% of the humanitarian spending, but which are outside the remit of the report.”

HPG Research Fellow Simon Levine praised the HERR’s scope:

“The review highlights the fact that humanitarian response is almost always a sign of a failure. A failure to anticipate and prepare for hazards that are almost always predictable in some way, a failure to intervene early enough and a failure to build resilience into communities and States at risk, so that they can manage their own response.”

HPG praised the review’s commitment to a reassertion of humanitarian principles and the recognition of counter terrorism legislation as an impediment to humanitarian action.

Research Fellow Samir Elhawary, welcomed the “need to resist the politicisation of aid”:

“The UN and NGOs are often perceived as partisan because of the way they engage in affected contexts. More needs to be done to push agencies to implement principles of humanitarian action in practice, particularly impartiality. This also requires donors to more effectively adhere to the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship.”

HPG’s Sarah Bailey strongly praised the review’s recommendations on the use of cash assistance as opposed to in-kind donations:

“The HERR unambiguously embraces cash transfers as a means to assisting people affected by disasters, stating that DFID partners should be required to explain ‘why they are not using cash, rather than the converse’. This represents a critical step to ensure that aid agencies consistently consider and provide the most appropriate assistance and do not automatically distribute items like food and blankets when they are readily available locally in markets.”

On the subject of private sector partnership in humanitarian action, HPG’s Ellen Martin strikes a more cautious tone.

“There is as yet little evidence to back up the claim in the HERR that ‘the private sector can bring professionalism, leadership and management best practice, tools for driving efficiency and managing risk, and the use of cutting edge technology and information’.  Little system-wide work has been done to assess the gaps or weaknesses in humanitarian response that might be filled by commercial companies, or to assess the added value of commercial-humanitarian partnerships and share lessons from them.”

HPG will be releasing an in depth analysis of the HERR later, addressing the issues above as well as the review’s recommendations on UN leadership and reform, and partnerships with NGOs, new donor nations and the military.