Can accountability improve the link between development and humanitarian action?

There are still numerous small emergencies which can be addressed quickly and effectively through self-help and modest short-term assistance from local actors.

However the increase in scale and complexity of many emergencies means a humanitarian mindset alone is insufficient, more consideration needs to be given to how people recover, and how this recovery brings them back in to pre-existing development processes.

It is also important to recognise that the conditions that consistently make a local population vulnerable to disaster or conflict often have their origins in longer-term structural problems and inequalities.

The space between humanitarian action and longer-term development has become increasingly unclear, at least for policy makers and humanitarian practitioners. For populations affected by disaster, conflict and other crises, ‘development’ and ‘humanitarian’ are just words and they would probably describe their experience very differently.

In this video, humanitarian actors explore the opportunities and challenges of improving the links between development and humanitarian action. As you watch the video, reflect on your own experiences and why this is so important.

Resilience, climate change and DRR

Before a crisis, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) can be an effective strategy for protecting development gains, while also strengthening preparedness and response capacities at different levels.

An understanding of accountability in pre-disaster contexts can also help practitioners to think of accountability throughout the disaster/crisis cycle, rather than just seeing it through a response lens only. When exploring ways to integrate accountability into DRR, Luna et al. (2009), consider the developmental aspects of accountability in relation to:

  • Clarity and definition of legal rights and obligations

  • Systems and processes to address, reconcile and enforce rights and obligations

  • Horizontal and vertical accountability mechanisms

  • Awareness raising

  • Citizen-led accountability initiatives

  • Donor accountability

Concepts such as resilience, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction can be a bridge between the humanitarian and development sectors and provide an opportunity to find common ground. However, while these concepts share many features, there is still some disagreement on meanings, with resilience being a particularly contested term.

As Luna et al. (2015:10) highlight, resilience can be traced back to both ecology and sustainable livelihoods, and emphasises the importance of quick recovery and the ability to withstand disturbance, but there are tensions over the relationship between vulnerability reduction, and strengthening of capacity. Resilience potentially also covers everything so that assessments can become unmanageable if they try to address every issue and risks distracting attention away from priority issues.

The absence of widely used tools that help measure and understand change across climate change adaption, DRR and resilience also makes it more difficult to mainstream accountability considerations into a common framework.

Common ground?

While some progress is being made, generally there is still a siloed approach to both development and humanitarian activity with more work needed to identify common ground, frameworks and practice and build this into humanitarian structures and systems.

Some steps are being taken by different organisations to improve the links and transition from humanitarian action in to development including:

  • Building contextual risk assessment into developmental programme planning

  • Building resilience/risk reduction/climate change adaptation considerations in to recovery planning

  • Strengthening contextual analysis as part of response and recovery programming

  • Donors moving towards multi-year funding cycles

  • Use of common participatory tools

There is also a recognised need to move away from seeing response as exceptional situations. The number of protracted crises and the reality of people’s lives in these situations often mean that this becomes the norm of their existence, not the exception, and humanitarian planners need to recognise this change (Dubois 2018). There is though the possibility that complex and protracted crises may also present opportunities to challenge pre-existing power dynamics and structures (CHS Alliance 2018).

One of the main challenges is how a humanitarian response can be effectively integrated or transitioned into a longer-term development approach. Funding streams for both tend to come from different sources, while the level of change needed to address the underlying causes of vulnerability requires resources and time rarely afforded to humanitarian actors. Equally, the skill-sets of a humanitarian responder are not necessarily so well suited to the complex challenges of peace building or poverty reduction.

Another concern is that year-on-year, substantial humanitarian funding to complex emergencies creates an environment where revenues and incentives for continuation are created for different actors involved (including military, business and government), while existing domestic institutions and structures that pre-date the onset of the crisis are slowly eroded (Dubois 2018). Responsibility cannot just lie with humanitarian actors, and there is a shared need to re-build institutional capacities as part of any recovery initiative.

Your task

  • Why is it important to strengthen the links between humanitarian and developmental actors?

Think of a context such as Haiti where there are recurrent humanitarian crises and deep underlying vulnerabilities.

  • How might the links between development and humanitarian interventions be improved through greater accountability?

  • Were these links to be improved, what improvements might you see in a future humanitarian response?’

References

CHS Alliance (2018) Humanitarian Accountability Report. Geneva: CHS Alliance

Dubois, M. (2018) The New Humanitarian Basics. London: ODI

Luna, E. et al. (2009) ‘Pathways to Accountability for DRR: The Role of Civil Society Organisations’. Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction for Natural Hazards: Putting Research into Practice. held 4-6 November 2009 at University College London

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Management and Accountability

Coventry University