Who are the real aid heroes?

Who are the real aid heroes?


The humanitarian landscape has changed dramatically over the past decades. We are an interconnected world, with global trends, such as climate crises, demographic change, financial and energy sector pressures, or shifting geopolitical factors. These factors have increased people’s needs with fewer safety nets.

The United Nations and other non-governmental entities exist to fill gaps in services   left by governments, whether for lack of ability and resources, or all too tragically in some case by design. But there has also been an important shift in the number and nature of actors involved in humanitarian action, also increased risks to those providing these essential services. Local civil society organisations and local communities are on the front line of crisis response, delivering life-saving interventions despite the risks they can face. This includes diasporas- whether remotely, or in person. 

“Creating a table of our own amplifies the possibilities to transform our nations. Diasporas’ engagement not only inspire the fruits of development but embodies localization ideology.”

Dr. Magalie EmileBacker
Co-Founder and Board Member, Haiti Renewal Alliance (HRA)

You don’t need to be working with an NGO to be celebrated. There have been many acts of courage during the pandemic such as being on the frontlines of COVID-19 treatment, providing a safe space for girls and women during lockdowns, and providing food to vulnerable people. Thus, this year’s theme ‘It Takes a Village’ is apt. Indeed, it takes a village to support someone in a humanitarian crisis. 

The current international ‘aid architecture’ is over 70 years old, and dates back to the post-WWII era. UN agencies and INGOs have done some amazing work in this time to respond to natural and man-made crises, developing impressive logistical systems capable of mobilising, and scaling up, resources for emergency response. Yet in the 21st century there are ongoing shortfalls between the resources pledged by governments and others for humanitarian emergencies, what resources they actually deliver, and the increasing scale of humanitarian needs around the world. Moreover, UN agencies and INGOs often have to operate according to strict mandates and humanitarian principles that can limit their ability to act.

One result of this is that local civil society organisations, local communities, and the diaspora are already filling gaps in humanitarian systems. From Afghanistan to Ukraine, from Bangladesh to Syria, they deliver vital services and provide badly needed financial resources and relief supplies. Even from a distance, diaspora resource mobilisation, philanthropy, and knowledge exchange provide significant additional resources for humanitarian action – diaspora remittances alone are outstripping bilateral ODA and FDI in many countries and tend to increase in times of crisis. 

There is increasing recognition of this by international humanitarian partners, who at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit agreed the ‘Grand Bargain’ to deliver greater ‘localisation’ of aid, shifting greater power and resources to local organisations in crisis-affected countries. The subsequent ‘Grand Bargain 2.0′ agreed in 2021 emphasises greater support for local and national responders as well as greater transparency.

Nevertheless, progress in achieving this has been limited, even moving backwards over recent years as the proportion of resources made available to local and national responders has shrunk from 2% to just over 1%. This risks creating parallel and unequal humanitarian systems that are in competition, rather than being complementary.

With ever greater humanitarian needs around the world, it will indeed take the whole village to meet these needs and build resilience against future crises, which are being exacerbated by climate change.

So on this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we would like to celebrate the efforts of all the everyday heroes, from UN agencies and INGOs to local communities and organisations, and the diaspora. Together, we can build a better world for all.


About World Humanitarian Day

In 2008, the United Nation General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. This was to commemorate the 22 humanitarian workers killed in a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, on 19th August 2003, including the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. 

Each year on 19th August, World Humanitarian Day advocates for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. 

For more details please visit: https://www.un.org/en/observances/humanitarian-day

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