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What to expect from DFID's Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

Written by Sara Pantuliano

DFID’s Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) will report to the Secretary of State for International Development early next week in the context of fierce public debate about the state of public finances.

What is the HERR?

The review, chaired by Lord Ashdown, aims to shape the UK Government’s response to rapid-onset emergencies. Protracted humanitarian crises such as those in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are outside the remit of the review, despite the fact that these crises account for the vast majority of humanitarian spending.

Based on the terms of reference the review will focus on the following key issues:

Ensuring value for money and impact: Disasters are expected to become more frequent and more complex over the next ten years, and as a result of increased scrutiny in the UK on the appropriate use of public resources, the review has been looking at ways to maximise the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and its impact on the ground.

Skills and expertise: Effective leadership has long been a critical shortcoming of responses to crises, both acute and protracted. The taskforce has looked at how DFID can ensure that its own humanitarian experts strengthen the leadership of the international system, including through the secondment of DFID staff to the UN and through training. Expertise is thought to be particularly lacking in critical sectors such as protection, shelter and early recovery.

Coordination with the UN, humanitarian organisations and the private sector: Delays and duplication of effort between donors and operational agencies have characterised the response to several recent crises, and the review is expected to suggest ways to enhance coordination between the different elements of the humanitarian response system.

Coordination with the rest of government: The review of current coordination arrangements will include an analysis of how DFID can better coordinate with the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The suggestions that the review will make in this regard will be particularly significant given current debates on the politicisation and securitisation of aid in the UK and beyond.

Aid delivery: The review will also look at the prepositioning of aid material in key hubs, so that it can be made available quickly and efficiently when crises strike.

Technology: The review has been examining ways to maximise the use of new technologies such as mobile phones, satellite mapping and innovations in food assistance. Mobile technology has been used in a number of humanitarian contexts, especially in relation to cash transfers and to track population movements. DFID helped set up the Humanitarian Innovation Fund earlier this year, which aims to identify and test new technologies and processes with a view to improving humanitarian practice.

A radical rethink?

Recent events in Japan highlight once again that preparedness and effective and timely humanitarian action are crucial to mitigate the impact of rapid-onset disasters on affected populations. The HERR has been analysing the contribution humanitarian action can make to the resilience of affected communities. This requires a radical rethink of the way the aid system operates, moving beyond the binary division between humanitarian action and development assistance.

Within the Humanitarian Policy Group we believe that the international humanitarian community needs to become more sophisticated in the way it provides assistance to people affected by disasters. Aid needs to be more appropriate, more timely and delivered in accordance with basic principles of humanitarian action, regardless of fiscal pressures and security priorities. Donors like DFID have the potential to lead the way.

HPG will be reviewing the HERR next week to analyse whether it really does represent a bold step in the right direction.