Next week, humanitarian and development experts from around the world will convene in Brussels for the annual AidEx conference to discuss resilience and sustainability and even debate whether the aid system is a new form of colonialism.
Below, IRIN, a media partner of this year’s AidEx conference, offers a preview of the 13 and 14 November meeting.
In recent years, the concept of resilience has been hailed as a bridge between the worlds of disaster risk management, climate change adaptation, development and humanitarian aid - a tall order, to say the least. Yet aid groups often fail to see eye-to-eye on the ground. Discussions at this year’s AidEx will explore the realities of resilience programming and consider ways to better close the divide between humanitarian and development action.
Rainer Frauenfeld, a risk reduction and recovery adviser for UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and a speaker on the “significance and interconnected nature of sustainability and resilience”, said: “The challenges this and future generations are facing require joined-up thinking, action and learning.”
Virginie Louis, a communications officer for the European Union Red Cross Societies, which will also be represented at the conference, added, “It is also important to recognize that the building of community resilience cannot be achieved by a single actor, and that integrated, multi-sectoral approaches are needed both at the community, national and international levels.”
In line with this multi-sectoral approach, a consortium of 19 humanitarian NGOs will showcase the Start Fund, which will provide “impartial assistance to communities affected by crises,” said Tegan Rogers of the Start Network. It is a multi-donor pooled fund, and it is intended to collaborate with industries outside the humanitarian sector, including private companies.
As the aid sector works to build resilient communities, it often seeks to strengthen local NGOs and first responders. Empowering local actors means decentralizing the governance structures of the humanitarian system, but is decentralization possible given the conditions usually recommended for humanitarian operations, including alignment with the dominant principles, standards and practices of the sector (such as the Sphere Standards)? If these conditions are removed, will it be possible to build a new consensus on appropriate rules for humanitarian action without those rules being imposed by powerful international organizations.
Some in the humanitarian world believe that even the search for consensus would ultimately lead to the imposition of norms perceived as “Western”. Genuine empowerment of local responders can be achieved only if various kinds of approaches, based on local contexts, are accepted, they say.
These are issues the Save the Children UK's humanitarian affairs team will explore in the panel discussion they are hosting, "A new consensus or a new colonialism?".
“Our AidEx panel discussion will consider whether consensus is possible or even desirable. Our own paper will propose that, in fact, it is necessary to accept and promote different models of assistance if decentralization is to involve the devolution of power, not just of risk and responsibility,” said Juliano Fiori, a humanitarian affairs adviser at Save the Children.
The UN and other aid agencies deliver billions of dollars of aid every year. But procuring that aid can affect the sustainability of food production and consumption. For instance, if an aid agency provides large amounts of maize in a community where many farmers already sell maize, this assistance could lead to a crash in local maize prices, impoverishing farmers and leading to more food insecurity.
This year’s AidEx will include a discussion of sustainable procurement, which the UN High-level Committee on Management Procurement Network (HLCM PN) defines as that procurement that "integrates requirements, specifications and criteria that are compatible and in favour of the protection of the environment, of social progress and in support of economic development, namely by seeking resource efficiency, improving the quality of products and services, and ultimately optimizing costs.”
For example, sustainable food aid programmes might attempt to source food locally, reducing shipping costs and supporting local industries while still providing assistance to those who need it.
Niels Ramm, a procurement specialist and the project manager of the UN Global Market Place, the UN system's procurement portal, will be addressing this session. He says, "While there is no formal mandate on sustainable procurement, as yet, many agencies are looking to operationalize sustainability considerations within their procurement processes. Agencies are invariably at different stages of this integration process."