SPEECH: Time for a shift to bring humanitarian and development together

Carey Wagner/CARE

The following speech was given by CARE Canada President and CEO Gillian Barth at the Ottawa event: Humanitarian Responses on the Horizon in 2018: Learning from our Past and Anticipating Future Challenges

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CARE came into existence in the aftermath of World War II.

We repurposed army rations, and sent them as CARE Packages, to survivors in Europe.

This was a very traditional approach to humanitarian work.

Over the years, our mandate expanded to include longer-term development work.

We became a dual-mandate organization, and focused on both meeting humanitarian needs and making sustainable development gains together.

Many humanitarian organizations share a similar history and evolution.

But many of the institutional frameworks within which humanitarian work has been pursued have been slower to adapt.

For a long time, the international community has treated development and humanitarian work as two separate things:

– In poor countries, we supported improvements in health, infrastructure, employment and market opportunities.

– In earthquakes, typhoons and conflicts, we provided the basics of survival – food rations, water and sanitation, hygiene and shelter.

Today, the humanitarian-development dichotomy has become not only arbitrary, but a hindrance to impact and effectiveness.

So, in my remarks today, I would like to concentrate on this trend, variously described as “New Ways of Working,” or “Bridging the Humanitarian-Development Divide.”

It is a shift whose time has come

And efforts to adapt our systems and approaches to deliver on this shift are where we should be focusing our attention in 2018 and beyond.

Multiple protracted crises require new ways of working

Let me back up for a second:

The world today is witnessing the highest level of human suffering since World War Two, when CARE was established.

Worldwide, 136 million people need humanitarian relief.

That’s almost four times the entire population of Canada!

More than 65 million people are displaced from their homes.

In the past year we witnessed a hunger crisis, in which 20 million people were on the brink of starvation.

Armed conflicts drive 80 per cent of humanitarian need globally, and are the biggest cause of forced displacement.

Global warming, which is both a risk amplifier and driver of conflict and displacement, is more or less locked in for the next 15 to 25 years.

This is key: humanitarian crises, and their drivers, are increasingly chronic or protracted in nature.

The average length of time a person spends in displacement, for example, is now 17 years.

Six weeks from now, on March 15th, the Syrian conflict will enter its seventh year.

Conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Yemen and Somalia show no signs of going away.

Newer crises, like the refugee situation in Bangladesh, will take years to resolve.

All this is fueling a shift in the face of global poverty and human suffering.

The share of the world’s poor people living in fragile and conflict-affected situations is projected to reach 46 per cent by 2030, up from 17 per cent today.

Amidst these changes, the humanitarian funding gap is increasing year on year.

Next year, the humanitarian community expects to receive only 50 per cent of the funding it needs.

If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that the international community has begun to look more seriously at what we need to do to leave no one behind in this new normal.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, we agreed to move beyond “business as usual”.

It is no longer sufficient to just supply humanitarian assistance.

Instead, we need to be thinking about ways of reducing the demand for humanitarian assistance.

This shift towards New Ways of Working is really about placing people at the centre:

– Working with communities to prepare for and mitigate the impact of disasters;

– Partnering with local groups to provide immediate assistance when an emergency hits;

– And working with affected communities to help them recover after the crisis has passed.

Take, for example, CARE’s work with Syrian Refugees in Jordan.

As the war has dragged on, needs have evolved.

Families that a few years ago were desperate for emergency relief are now seeking help to build a life.

So, CARE’s Urban Refugee Centres in Jordan – which serve vulnerable Syrians and Jordanians together – adapted their approach.

Distribution of household items, winter clothes and cash grants to newly arrived refugees is now complemented with:

– community savings and loans associations,

– vocational training,

– and negotiations with the Jordanian authorities for the right to work.

Contrary to perceptions, it is possible, and essential, to do development work in Syria itself.

Inside Syria, there are islands of peace and stability.

Not only is it possible to provide long-term resilience and livelihood support in these areas – it is essential.

Our work in these areas includes skills development, reviving local economies and businesses, provision of temporary employment, rehabilitation of basic and social services.

Women and girls at the centre

Let me just take a moment to draw the link to gender equality in humanitarian settings.

All our work seeks to address the needs of the most vulnerable first.

For CARE, that means placing women and girls are at the centre of our emergency and development work.

This too is critical to the way we think about New Ways of Working in humanitarian settings.

Gender has long been regarded as a secondary consideration in emergency response.

In our experience, understanding and responding to the differing needs of men, women, boys and girls are essential to an effective response.

Not only do we need to respond to the particular and severe ways in which women and girls are impacted by crisis, such as by addressing the spikes in sexual and reproductive needs that occur in such setting.

We also need to recognize and work with the changing gender dynamics that occur in emergencies.

Going back to the example of displaced Syrians, some of the only work for these populations is available to women – cleaning homes, cooking.

For the first time in their lives, many Syrian women are bread-winners.

They are embracing new roles and responsibilities in society, while men are at home taking care of domestic duties.

These types of gender shifts represent an opportunity to change long-standing gender norms.

Women’s access to economic opportunities and social status helps shift perceptions of women’s empowerment – within families, host communities and globally – from a ‘burden’ to an opportunity.

Working with men and boys in this context is also essential – to change attitudes and behaviours, so that gains in gender equality can be sustained once the crisis is over.

Complementary relief and development

The shift towards more integrated humanitarian and development work is actually not that new.

In fact, it has been in our thinking since the 1950s, when organizations like CARE, Oxfam and Save the Children evolved into dual-mandate organizations.

The humanitarian-development nexus has been a long time coming, but the reality of multiple protracted crises and dwindling humanitarian funding mean that its time has come.

We all have a role to play in ushering it in.

Humanitarian organizations need to undertake stronger analysis of the internal humanitarian-development divide within our own organizations.

Purposeful change requires active engagement with staff on both the global and the local level on how to build complementarity between relief work and development approaches.

Donors need to adopt new ways of delivering more flexible and longer-term funding.

Funding modalities can easily enable or hinder shifts in thinking and working, and aid agencies need to be able to pivot between humanitarian and development operations as the context and needs change.

Global Affairs Canada is walking the talk on this front, and piloting multi-year humanitarian funding with longer-term goals and a greater focus on partnerships. Bravo!

Governments around the world also need to embrace greater accountability to the people we are meant to serve – those affected by conflict, climate change and living in fragile states.

More direct funding to local women’s organizations, such as through Canada’s new Women’s Voice and Leadership stream, is a good step in that direction.

So, in 2018, I’d like to see some of these shifts bear fruit.

But I’d like to end with a bit of a call to action.

Above all, tackling conflict and forced displacement requires political will.

Reversing climate change and inequality, which are at the root of instability, requires political will.

Political will requires citizen engagement.

Just last week, CARE published our annual “Suffering in silence” report.

The report identifies the 10 most under-reported humanitarian crises of 2017.

It shows that the amount of crisis coverage not only affects public awareness, but directly impacts the lives of crisis-affected people.

Every one of those people has rights and aspirations.

They have the right to have their story told.

And it’s up to all of us – media, politicians, humanitarian organizations and global citizens – to ensure that every crisis gets the attention it deserves.

So let’s ensure that in 2018, when Canada plays host to the world’s most powerful countries, we all speak up, ask the right questions, and propose new solutions.

Thank you.