Many millions of people are currently affected by humanitarian crises, and the number is sure to rise. There were 36 armed conflicts in the world in 2008 (up from 34 in 2007)1, and 414 natural disasters affecting 211 million people.2 Overall, there were 16 million refugees, 50 million people internally displaced,3 and 90 million in need of food aid.4 These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and the primary focus of humanitarian relief efforts, which currently cost approximately US$9 billion per year5 and engage over 200,000 aid workers around the world.6
More generally, many hundreds of millions face unacceptable risks. The latest World Bank estimates show 1.4 billion people living below US$1.25 per day. Some 800 million people do not get enough to eat. More than a quarter of all children under five in developing countries are clinically malnourished. Each year, the number of children under five that die is close to 10 million.7
Despite long-term progress in tackling absolute poverty and making progress towards the Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015, the numbers of people in need of humanitarian relief seem likely to rise. The World Bank estimates that an additional 90 million people may fall below the poverty line as a result of the global financial crisis.8 The Global Humanitarian Forum warns that climate change is causing an ever-rising number of deaths, with the total already reaching 300,000 a year.9 And the UN has recently warned that 1 billion people living in slums and shanty towns are at particular risk of natural hazards.10 The Humanitarian Futures Project at King’s College, London, forecasts that the humanitarian case load will rise by 25% by 2015.11
The members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance insist on the salience of this issue in the wider conversation about global well-being. The humanitarian imperative is rooted in the right to life and the requirement under international law without favour to protect and preserve human life and dignity. In addition, there are many strong linkages to parallel conversations about state fragility and climate change, public finance and private engagement, national capacity and international collective action.
We think the humanitarian caseload will increase and become more complex. In addition to the short-term impact of the financial crisis, we foresee increasing and unprecedented problems caused by climate change, the pressure on natural resources and sudden shocks, such as pandemics. These problems will intensify political instability and risk and bear most heavily on weak and fragile states. We expect vicious feedback loops and risk of downward spirals as each risk factor exacerbates the others. The greatest intersection of risks today is found in poor countries characterised by state fragility.
We believe national capacity to deal with crises will grow and should be strengthened. When emergencies hit, the default response is often driven by an international alliance of aid donors, UN agencies, international NGOs and some private-sector companies. We expect there will be a significant shift, from what we think of as the Darfur model of high international engagement, to a hybrid model in which governments play a larger role (such as in the Pakistan earthquake in 2005), and in cases where government capacity is adequate, to a government-led model, as with the Sichuan earthquake in China in 2008.
Because of the combination of the likely increased frequency of extreme events and the importance of the pressure from slow onset change, a new approach needs to be less focused on events and more focused on pattern and structures. This means keeping in focus both extreme events as well as their causes and aftermath. Such a new approach will retain the traditional ethical and legal principles of humanitarian action, and link them to the broader context of poverty, vulnerability and poor governance in which different principles come into play.
We believe that the international community needs a new vulnerability and protection business model. This new model should have six requirements:
- A comprehensive risk framework;
- A reworked balance of spending between response, prevention and recovery;
- A big investment in national and local capacity;
- Fuller engagement of the private sector;
- Linking of the humanitarian to broader social and economic development issues; and
- Regional and international readiness to address cross-border humanitarian issues.
The first requirement of this new business model is a comprehensive risk framework. We often find ourselves having to engage in an enterprise of risk management with incomplete information about how things will unfold. Such uncertainties are only being exacerbated by the impacts of climate change. We must plan to be ready for events for which we cannot plan.
The second requirement is to rework the balance between crisis response and the upstream and downstream issues of prevention and recovery. More resources are needed both to reduce risk in the first place, and reduce the risk of relapse after a crisis occurs. The default mode of the current humanitarian model in general is external assistance; the default mode of a new vulnerability and protection model should be self-reliance.
The third requirement of this new model is to enhance the capacities, readiness and resilience of exposed societies so they can better handle extreme events. Ensuring that civil society and local communities are involved will not only make response efforts faster, but more efficient as their involvement will make it possible to identify and meet the diverse needs of various groups in affected communities, groups differentiated, for example, by gender, age, and social class.
The fourth requirement is to engage the private sector more fully, not just as a source of donations but also as a source of key skills and technologies, during and after crises. We commend the World Economic Forum’s initiative on the private sector in humanitarian relief as well as other efforts to incentivise appropriate and beneficial private-sector investments in risky regions.
The fifth requirement of the business model is to link the humanitarian concern to broader development issues, strengthening social safety nets and supporting resilience. This requirement will necessitate unprecedented collaboration between humanitarian and development actors and interests.
Finally, as cross-border challenges will grow, regional organisations backed by the UN will need to be able to mediate and mitigate these problems as they arise.
It is our recommendation that these six requirements should be examined, assessed and fleshed out by those engaged in the pressing problem of meeting the increased humanitarian caseload. It is our intention to contribute with our own work and energy to implementing this recommendation.