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From the ground up: it’s about time for local humanitarian action

Research reports

Written by Larissa Fast

Hero image description: tree_web-01.png Image credit:Hannah Bass and Vecteezy Image license:© HPG

Achieving a more ‘local’ response to humanitarian crises has been an explicit ambition of the formal humanitarian sector for several decades. Yet examples of progress are isolated, and have yet to tip the humanitarian system towards a more substantial and sustained shift. 

Between 2017 and 2019, HPG researched local humanitarian action from a ground-level perspective across four key themes: capacity and complementarity, financing, dignity and protection. This report synthesises what we learned:

  • Humanitarian action is always stronger with local action.
  • Effective and local humanitarian action is not a zero-sum game of reduced roles for international humanitarian organisations and increased roles for local actors.
  • Power is both the greatest resource and greatest impediment to effective local humanitarian action: the power relations embedded in formal humanitarian structures must be confronted and transitioned to reflect new possibilities.

Our work shows that the barrier to greater local action is not a dearth of capacity, but instead the reluctance of international actors – donors, United Nations agencies and international non-governmental organisations – to cede power. The necessary shifts in the system will require effort and will take a generation to embed, but they are long overdue.

Local humanitarian action is not a new phenomenon. Local organisations have been the engine and energy of humanitarian response for some time. It’s about time that local contributions are acknowledged, supported and prioritised.

Larissa Fast and Christina Bennett