The Time To Deliver On Humanitarian Financing Is Now 

The Time To Deliver On Humanitarian Financing Is Now 

You may have heard of the ‘humanitarian financing gap’, as the aid sector grapples with rising humanitarian needs and aid budgets that can’t keep up. UN agencies and NGOs have been calling the alarm on this growing financing gap for months, especially for so-called ‘forgotten crises.’ From Burkina Faso to Haiti, from Myanmar to Sudan, the aid system is buckling under pressure from rising humanitarian needs, and a failure to deliver on funding commitments: in 2023, only 40% of overall humanitarian funding needs were met (OCHA/FTS 2024). 

Fittingly, the two key themes of this year’s European Humanitarian Forum, which is being held in Brussels from 18 to 19 March 2024, are ‘the funding gap and prioritisation’ and ‘forgotten crises and fragile humanitarian environments.’  The European Union and its Member States are rightly proud of their generous support for humanitarian action, together making up the world’s second largest donor after the United States, allocating over 10.04 bn USD in 2023. EEA states like Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Norway already spend more than the UN’s target of 0.7% of GNI for aid spending – a target the UK enshrined into law in 2015, only to abandon it in 2020

But the contrast between these generous aid commitments and what trickles down to local civil society and local communities in crisis affected countries – often the first and last responders to any crisis – is starker than ever. We received a call over the weekend from the Coordinator of an Emergency Response Room (ERR) running IDP camps in Darfur region in Sudan telling us they have only $5,000 USD left to provide vital humanitarian services to half a million displaced people in a region of Sudan larger than Sweden or Germany.  

Grassroots mutual aid groups in Sudan like the ERRs have been delivering the bulk of humanitarian assistance in Sudan since the outbreak of conflict there in April 2023, in the absence of any large-scale international humanitarian response. Data collated by local responders in Khartoum state show how mutual aid groups like ERRs have largely had to rely on philanthropy from Sudanese people and the diaspora to keep delivering vital humanitarian assistance to communities affected by the crisis.  Despite claims from donors and international partners that they are providing direct and indirect support to mutual aid groups in Sudan, to date such groups have received a pitiful $0.8m USD in direct support since the start of the crisis.   

For donors and international humanitarian partners, these may appear downstream effects –they have allocated money for humanitarian response to UN agencies and INGOs, as well as earmarking increasing amounts for local civil society partners as part of their localisation commitments. Indeed, some donors (such as Germany) are restricted by national laws in what types of organisations they can fund directly.   

But for those at the sharp end – local civil society and local communities affected by crises – these excuses appear as cant that increasingly rings hollow. According to UN OCHA and IOM, Sudan is now suffering the world’s largest displacement crisis, with 8.1m people displaced inside and outside the country as of 23 February 2024, with the highest proportion (37%) displaced from Darfur region.  ERRs in Darfur have requested support, but feedback from donors and international partners has been slow. When challenged on this, they blame the lack of humanitarian access, bottlenecks caused by systems and processes, transitional phases, and spiralling humanitarian needs on the ground. In the meantime, mutual aid groups are forced to suspend or close down their humanitarian operations due to lack of funds – indeed, it may be unethical for them not to do so, given their reliance on local volunteers impacted by the crisis. 

In 1984, the world mobilised to respond to famine in Ethiopia after the Irish pop star Bob Geldof famously demanded that the public donate for famine relief, in the face of institutional inertia and a lack of political will. However, there was another undocumented famine in Darfur in 1984-1985 which did not receive the same global attention. 40 years later, hunger again stalks the land in Sudan – which presents the largest food security crisis on the planet – as it does in Gaza, Haiti, and Tigray. On behalf of mutual aid groups and local communities responding to crises, humanitarians should be demanding donors and international partners to “give them the money, now!”  

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