Interview of Co-chairs of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing

Visit of the UN Secretary General's High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing co-chairs to Moscow

In May this year the UN Secretary General announced the appointment of a High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing to address one of the most important challenges facing the humanitarian system today, namely the growing gap between the increasing numbers of people in need of assistance and sufficient resources to provide relief.

The two co-chairs of the Panel, European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva and HRH Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak, Malaysia are visiting Moscow as part of the overall outreach on the work of the Panel. They will be conducting a series of meetings and consultations with Russian authorities and stakeholders active on humanitarian affairs. Ahead of the visit, UNIC Moscow has had an opportunity to discuss their work.

Why was the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing created?

The world is experiencingnatural conflicts and natural disasters on an immense scale right now. The direct consequence is a massive increase in the number of people in need of aid. Globally, more than 100 million women and men, children and adolescents currently require life-saving humanitarian assistance.

About 80% of the global humanitarian needs we see annually are caused by conflicts many of which last longer; they are becoming protracted. People find themselves displaced for longer and longer periods – the average duration of displacement is now 17 years. Currently more than 60 million people worldwide were displaced by conflict – the highest figure ever recorded, and a record high for the third year in a row. On average 43,900 people a day are fleeing violence throughout the world. This is an important factor which is ultimately responsible for the growing aid requirements.

Natural disasters are also growing in frequency and severity – for instance in 2013, there were 880 major natural disasters, and over the past decade, on average 106,000 people lost their lives every year in natural disasters. The overall trend, driven by climate change, is clear: more extreme weather events, more droughts, more floods and more typhoons. Perhaps most worrying of all, we are seeing the emergence of regions – such as the Sahel - where the impacts of chronic natural disasters and conflict intersect and magnify each other.

As a result, one of the most important challenges facing the humanitarian system today is that there is a growing gap between the increasing numbers of people in need of assistance and the resources needed to provide relief. This gap was the primary motive which led the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to decide to create the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing.

What is the purpose of your visit to Russia?

The UN Secretary-General expects recommendations from his Panel which will ensure that the urgent issues surrounding humanitarian financing can be tackled. Before we can issue these recommendations we need to reach out to various partners. Russia plays a hugely important role on the international stage. We want to discuss the global state of humanitarian affairs and humanitarian financing in particular with high-ranking counterparts in the Russian government. But we also want to reach out to religious leaders to seek their views. In short, we are here for an open dialogue on a topic which concerns us all: how to best help those in dire need wherever they live.

What are the ideas of the Panel to address this situation?

Let us focus on three concrete ideas our Panel is currently considering. First, if a donor supports a humanitarian response, the donor will want to know how exactly the moneyis used and perhaps most importantly what positive impact the contribution makes. The Panel willrecommend the creation of a transparency platform which will make it easier to understand and track humanitarian financial flows and their impact.

Second, when donors give humanitarian funding, they often insist on earmarking the money for very specific purposes. The Panel will call on donors to increase the flexibility of funding whenever possible.

Third, remittances are a very important financial factor in humanitarian contexts. Our Panel is currently discussing if financial institutions could lower these fees in specific humanitarian contexts, thereby ensuring that more money arrives quicklywhere people need it urgently.

Our ideas will feed into the first ever World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016.

Do you distinguish between natural and man-disasters in your work?

Yes we do. A very large portion of those in need require assistance because of a steadily increasing number of conflicts. As of June, 60 million people worldwide were displaced by conflict – the highest figure ever recordedand a record high for the third year in a row. In 2014 alone 13.9 million people were newly displaced – an average of 42,500 people every day.

At the same time, natural disasters are also growing in frequency and severity –think of the terribleearthquake which devastated parts of Nepal recently. Driven by climate change, we can see one worrying overall trend: more extreme weather events, more droughts, more floods and more typhoons.

Regardless of whether people are affected by war or by natural disasters, what is important is that the humanitarian response is well coordinated among all thoseinvolvedin relief operations.

The UN and humanitarian organisations are often criticised for being too bureaucratic and lacking in effectiveness. Is the Panel addressing this question?

We do not necessarily agree with this criticism. UN agencies like the UN High Commissioner of Refugees, UNICEF or the World Food Program are effective in many humanitarian contexts. They often do an excellentjob – let's think of the support they are givingto millions of Syrian refugees, to people in need of help in Afghanistan or their local response to Ebola in Liberia or Sierra Leone. Yet, they always can do better.

One way of improving the delivery of aid is for instance to focus more on cash instead of in-kind assistance. If markets are still functioning, cash gives victimsof a humanitarian disaster more dignity: people, and particularly women, can choosewhat to spend the aid on instead of receiving what others thought they needed. The cash also gets injected intolocal economies which creates additional benefits for local communities.

The government supporting the UN is one thing but how can citizens or companies support humanitarian action? How would this work in Russia?

The Russian government is a very important humanitarian donor. For instance lastyeartheRussian Federation supported the World Food Program alone with more than US$66 million, funds that made a difference from Afghanistan to Armenia.

But we hope that private giving to humanitarian causes will increase globally because humanitarian funds still come predominantly from governments around the globe.

In Russia, citizens can support trustworthy organisations. Humanitarian assistance is a noble cause and it should have the broadest possible support – in Russia as well as everywhere else on this planet.