Like all landmark reports, the GHA’s greatest value is not really in what it says about the year under review. It’s what it reveals about the longer-term trends facing the humanitarian world.
This is particularly true with GHA 2012, which would be horribly easy to misread – and hence celebrate 2011 as the year when humanitarian crises ‘returned to normal’ after the megadisasters of the previous year. To some extent, of course, that is true. 2011 saw no Haiti earthquake, and floods in Pakistan that were less severe and very much less reported. Partly as a result, the year’s UN appeals sought $2 billion less than in 2010.
But what’s most interesting is not what’s changing from one year to the next. It’s what’s changing in the medium-term as donors cut budgets – and in the long-term as needs continue, and probably increase.
Last month the 2012 DATA report on total aid spending (not just humanitarian) showed how the crisis in the Eurozone has driven cuts in aid. When it comes to humanitarian funds, it’s no surprise to find the biggest cuts in the countries at the heart of the crisis. GHA 2012 shows the largest reductions in humanitarian spending between 2008 and 2010 from, among others, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Greece and the EU’s own institutions.
Will those cuts deepen as the Eurozone struggles on? Who knows? But they sit uncomfortably beside the humanitarian needs we already face in semi-permanent crises, and – in the long-term – the rising number of people exposed to disasters. Late last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that, even without climate change, the risk from disasters will increase in many countries as more people are exposed to extreme weather. And Oxfam’s own research shows that, where records are available, reported weather-related disasters in developing countries have already increased by 233 per cent since 1980. At the same time, few of the top recipients of humanitarian aid – like Sudan and Afghanistan – seem to have very good prospects of sustainable peace.
GHA 2012 reminds us how difficult it is to assess the scale of even current crises. And any projections into the future are fraught with uncertainty. But as one of my colleagues in Oxfam put it a couple of years ago, when pondering the impact that climate change will continue to have, “it doesn’t look good”.
The answer is not just more humanitarian aid – though that is desperately needed. And GHA 2012’s most arresting statistic is that last year saw the biggest shortfall – 38 per cent – in UN appeals for a decade.
Any solution must include far more investment in resilience than today’s still small amounts, and in the capacity of states and civil society to prepare and respond to disasters.
A greater and greater proportion of humanitarian action is likely to come from within developing countries themselves. And if the report’s most telling statistic is that 38 per cent shortfall, its most telling comment is Judith Randel’s call in the Foreword for better data on that domestic assistance.
That must be a big priority for the future. The GHA reports are already an invaluable resource for everyone involved in humanitarian action. So far, their focus has inevitably been on international aid, rather than global or total humanitarian aid, and the difficulties of collecting data on national responses are obvious. But it would be wonderful to think that the GHA of, say, 2015 will be able to say much more about that domestic action.
Till then, GHA 2012 is a vital source of data, analysis and comment – a reminder of how much has been achieved, and, most importantly, a warning of how many needs are still unmet, and how much more work is still to be done.
Ed Cairns is Senior Policy Adviser at Oxfam GB and author of Oxfam’s latest overview of their humanitarian thinking, Crises in a new world order: challenging the humanitarian project
And here’s the top 20 humanitarian aid recipients, 2001-10 (click twice to expand)