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Measuring the iceberg: the opportunities and limits of better tracking of resources beyond international humanitarian assistance

Working papers

Written by Barnaby Willitts-King, John Bryant

This paper explores the hypothesis that the resources for crisis response that the humanitarian system knows about and tracks constitute the ‘tip of the iceberg’: in other words, only a sliver of a much larger and potentially more significant mass of resources that it does not see, know about or ‘count’. The purpose of exploring this question is to understand the scale, nature and use of these other resources, as a way of improving the prioritisation of resources and the allocation of international funds.

The paper considers a number of thematic areas and arguments:

  1. What is behind the sector’s current appetite to know more about crisis financing? There is growing interest in understanding humanitarian financing from a wider range of sources beyond simple North–South resource transfers or funding through the formal, international system. Such an interest comes both from within formal policy circles, and from the changing political and economic realities of many developing countries, including the growing prominence of ‘new’ donors and aid actors, the increasing interplay between development, migration and security, and a drive for more nationally owned and locally-led humanitarian responses against a backdrop of chronic underfunding.
  2. Will tracking and better understanding of other resource flows enable a better response? Tracking resource flows is often seen as an important enabler of accountability, efficiency, coordination and targeting. We examine some of the claims made, and how and to what extent ‘data’ really is a critical enabler of a better response.
  3. What doesn’t tracking tell us and what else do we need to know? Accurately and adequately understanding other resource flows may also be about how we assess ‘needs’, capacities, networks, markets and economic opportunities, as well as how the contributions of crisis-affected people, their networks and other domestic actors factor into our understanding of the total available resources and their uses for crisis response, recovery and beyond.
Barnaby Willitts-King, Lydia Poole and John Bryant