Countdown to the ALNAP meeting- National governments and humanitarian action
As always it’s been a hectic few days in the run-up to the 26th ALNAP Meeting, but as we in the secretariat prepare to head off to Malaysia, there is a real sense of excitement around the agenda and participants that we have brought together for the Meeting, as well as the conversations that are already beginning to take place.
As many of you will know, the impetus behind this work is part of a larger stream of ALNAP work to broaden the reach and scope of our network. I’m constantly impressed by the breadth and depth of the work carried out by individuals and organisations in the ALNAP Membership, who at any given time are delivering sophisticated and effective assistance across the world’s most challenging contexts. Within the ALNAP secretariat we see bringing these actors together to collectively approach some of the most challenging issues constraining improved humanitarian performance and accountability as an essential part of our role.
It has however become increasingly apparent that efforts need to be made to hear a wider range of views on how the international system reacts and responds to disasters.
National governments are the foremost example of this, and while established donors already play an important role in shaping policy and practice, the experience and expertise of governments in affected states, and of emerging donors (who often have their own history of managing disaster response) are less often sort.
This is paradoxical, given the central role of states in humanitarian response. As Paul Harvey points out succinctly in the Meeting Background Paper; “international aid interventions depend on the consent of the government of the affected country. Whether a government is strong or weak, abusive or concerned for its citizens’ welfare, it essentially determines whether humanitarian actors can be present in crises.”
Our State of the Humanitarian System report identified coordination and management of relief operations as a key challenge inhibiting the improved performance of the humanitarian system, and this is a role in which national governments are often central. By examining new ways for governments and international agencies to interact during disasters we can attempt to avoid the situation identified by Marco Saborio Mesen from the Government of Costa Rica: “Almost always the management of humanitarian aid becomes another disaster within the disaster that is being addressed.”
Given the patchy history of the aid system in seeking input from affected states, the first question to ask is a simple one: What are government perspectives on interactions between themselves and international humanitarian agencies and what is the scope for improvement? But beyond this, how can we learn from best practice within the sector and beyond to identify what we could be doing do differently, and find realistic shared goals to move this agenda forward?
This is exactly the kind of area where there will be no quick fixes or universal solutions, and there will always be tensions around the need of humanitarian agencies both to work with – yet remain properly independent of – governments. But in my opinion an essential first step is to move beyond the mistrust and stereotypes that currently exist (in both groups), to practical discussions of collaboration and cooperation during crises – something we are hoping to achieve at the meeting.
For those of you not able to attend in person, I urge you to take a look at our forums where the discussions have already begun. And for those who will be at the Meeting – we’ll see you there!
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