IMPACT

Aid Dollars Should Go To Local Groups After Crisis Hits, Major Charities Say

International organizations often don't understand the "context" of the issues the way national groups do.
A female villager named Ramaya clasps her hands as she pleads for food after an aid relief helicopter lands at the remote mou
A female villager named Ramaya clasps her hands as she pleads for food after an aid relief helicopter lands at the remote mountain village of Gumda, near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake in the Gorkha District of Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)

LONDON, May 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The chaos of emergency responses to crises such as the Syria war and Nepal earthquake could be drastically eased by shifting more of the world's aid billions to local relief groups, some of the biggest international aid charities said in a survey.

A Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of 25 aid agencies, including large revenue-generating charities headquartered in the United States and Britain, also revealed scepticism that local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) can meet donors' compliance standards.

Fifty international organisations working in each country - Nepal and Syria - were contacted in the anonymous survey ahead of the first World Humanitarian Summit later this month, where the proliferation of local NGOs and the role they should play in aid response will be on the agenda.

The gathering of governments, aid agencies and private companies in Istanbul on May 23-24 comes as officials warn of ever-increasing humanitarian needs due to conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.

ICRC officials watch as a truck from the Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carrying internatio
ICRC officials watch as a truck from the Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) carrying international aid crosses arrives in the rebel held village of Teir Maalah, on the northern outskirts of Homs, as they make their way to Al-Rastan, north of the central Syrian city of Homs, on April 21, 2016. The Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross will deliver the aid to some 120,000 civilians in and around the Homs province town of Rastan, ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek told AFP. / AFP / MAHMOUD TAHA (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images)

To help ease pressure on an overburdened aid system, up to 90 percent of international charities operating in Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake surveyed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation said bilateral funding from governments and U.N. agencies should go directly to national-level organisations.

"(Foreign) relief agencies coming into Nepal after the earthquake had no understanding of the context," said one international aid group in the survey.

"While partnering with local NGOs seems to have delayed the response, it may well have made it more effective in other ways and built capacity for the future," the NGO said.

Just over half of aid agencies with programmes in Syria said bilateral funding should go directly to national organisations.

The charities in both countries, which worked with partners in almost all cases, were split on how much cash should be channelled to local NGOs from multilateral pots, such as the U.N. response plans and appeals.

Twenty-three international charities, including Oxfam and CARE, have agreed to adopt an initiative called Charter for Change, which commits them to passing on 20 percent of their humanitarian funding to national organisations.

This photo taken on January 21, 2016 shows a Nepalese woman holding a child near temporary shelters in the Nepalese village o
This photo taken on January 21, 2016 shows a Nepalese woman holding a child near temporary shelters in the Nepalese village of Laprak. Nine months after a massive earthquake hit Nepal, thousands of survivors are now fighting sub-zero temperatures in flimsy temporary shelters, awaiting government help to rebuild their homes. The threat of landslides had forced families in the remote village of Laprak, close to the quake's epicentre in western Nepal, to relocate to a site a thousand metres higher. AFP PHOTO / POOJA PANT / AFP / POOJA PANT (Photo credit should read POOJA PANT/AFP/Getty Images)

National and local groups' share of the total funding pie halved to 0.2 percent in 2014 from 2012, and their share of the money received by all NGOs also fell to 1.2 percent, according to UK-based research group Development Initiatives.

But this figure can vary across country contexts and funding streams. In Syria last year, 10 percent of that country's U.N. emergency response fund went to national groups, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Of the organisations responding to the survey, 60 percent of those working in Syria and around 80 percent of those active in Nepal said more than one fifth of global direct funding should go to local NGOs.

It was unclear whether the results reflect the views of the entire humanitarian sector as some of the largest agencies with annual budgets of over $2 billion, including Save the Children and World Vision International (WVI), did not complete the survey.

WVI spokesman Steve Panton said putting local people and organisations in charge of their own aid responses was non-negotiable. "The challenge is how to get there," he said.

QUAKE VOLUNTEERS

More than half of the organisations polled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that are working in Nepal said they either strongly agreed or tended to agree that collaborating with local NGOs enabled them to reach more people affected by the disaster.

Two big tremors last April and May killed 9,000 people, injured more than 22,000, and damaged or destroyed more than 900,000 houses, forcing many to brave freezing temperatures in shelters made of tarpaulins and corrugated iron sheets.

In this May 2, 2015 file photo, a Nepalese boy stands outside his village with a signboard asking for help in Pauwathok villa
In this May 2, 2015 file photo, a Nepalese boy stands outside his village with a signboard asking for help in Pauwathok village, Sindhupalchok district, Nepal. A year after a set of devastating earthquakes plunged Nepal into chaos and economic decline, one question remains on everyone’s mind: what if it happens again? Scientists have been warning Nepal and other Himalayan countries for years that quake risks in the region are high. But while citizens are preparing for the worst by building sturdier homes and stockpiling emergency supplies, experts say officials still have a long way to go in preparing for possible, if not probable, disaster. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

Bibek Pandit, a 21-year-old engineering student who volunteers with Youth Action Nepal (YoAC), a local NGO, was in his bedroom at home near Kathmandu when the quake hit.

He and a friend rushed to a neighbour's house where a six-year-old girl and another child were buried by rubble.

"No one else could have reached the family in time as where they lived was quite remote," Pandit said.

The Nepali NGO used Facebook to mobilise 1,700 volunteers to work in half of all 14 affected districts in the days after the quake, providing food, shelter and other forms of assistance to people in need, said Bhawana Bhatta, its general secretary.

Bhatta, who set up the NGO in the quake-prone region in 2003, said local knowledge was vital to reach remote areas, some only accessible by foot.

"We knew which village to go to and what relief materials to supply, so we were prompt in delivery," Bhatta said.

After the disaster, YoAC joined forces with German international NGO Misereor. This was a fruitful relationship, Bhatta said, but other international NGOs became frustrated by the length of time it took to vet potential collaborators.

"On many occasions a small organisation does not possess the documents required to allow them to be screened," said one UK-based charity in the survey.

"There was a high level of bureaucracy which hampered the ability of humanitarian organisations to reach the most vulnerable people affected by the earthquake," said another NGO.

"TRUST DIVIDE"

While opinions differ on how much to include local groups and beneficiaries, those in favour believe "equitable relationships" between foreign and national agencies are key.

"It is finding those organisations that are interested and willing and have a long-term vision about how they want to build their capacities," said Philip Tamminga, a freelance consultant on implementing global humanitarian standards.

But there was a need for some international agencies to bridge a "trust divide", he added.

Syrian refugee boys help their family to collect shoes to be added under a fire to boil water outside their family's tent at
Syrian refugee boys help their family to collect shoes to be added under a fire to boil water outside their family's tent at a refugee camp in the town of Hosh Hareem, in the Bekaa valley, east Lebanon, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, including more than six million children. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

"There are lots of ... still quite paternalistic attitudes in the way the international aid sector relates to local communities, local organisations and authorities," he said.

In the run-up to the summit, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has made clear that governments must reform the way they handle humanitarian crises, which are taking an unprecedented toll on civilians.

OCHA has estimated nearly 88 million people are in need of humanitarian aid in 2016, which will cost around $20 billion.

"We need to be much clearer as to how do we empower local people, working more collectively, in collaboration with local NGOs and others," said OCHA chief Stephen O'Brien.

But, at the same time, the aid system needs watertight methods of ensuring accountability and transparency, he said.

"Wherever the money is raised, people want to know it reaches its intended target and really met the needs of the most vulnerable," O'Brien told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Click on the links for full results of the Thomson Reuters Foundation surveys on Nepal and Syria.

For more on the World Humanitarian Summit, please visit: http://news.trust.org/spotlight/reshape-aid

(Reporting by Tom Esslemont; editing by Megan Rowling and Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

 

PHOTO GALLERY
Nepal Earthquake, May 12, 2015