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Say the word “humanitarian” and the image that may spring to mind is a rugged professional, seasoned by crises around the world and with an international humanitarian agency logo emblazoned across her sturdy backpack. She steps to the tarmac after flying across the world to help save lives. This humanitarian, and many like her, is part of a proud tradition of global solidarity that has contributed enormously to the recovery of communities in crisis.
But even as we have built up this important tradition, we seem to have forgotten about the humanitarians at home. In 2013, some 16 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers worked in their own communities to assist more than 110 million people affected by crises. Local NGOs, church groups and the private sector have likewise played critical roles in supporting their communities in times of crisis. Many disaster-prone state governments have substantially improved their capacity and readiness for disaster risk management in recent years.
Yet, our international humanitarian “system” still finds it hard to see past that international aid worker on the tarmac. Today, less than 1% of international disaster relief funds are directly channeled to local humanitarian organizations and less than 5% goes to the affected state government. As described in the 2015 World Disasters Report, these domestic authorities and civil society organizations still often feel side-lined in decision-making during humanitarian response operations.
The World Humanitarian Summit may help us to start to square this circle. The “Grand Bargain” process between major donors and agencies has made financing of local actors one of its central pillars of change. A number of the Summit’s events are expected to emphasize the need to support a stronger local role in humanitarian response – while bearing in mind that there will always be an important role for international actors, particularly in the politicized environments of armed conflict. This is an opportunity to ensure that more people in crisis are served faster and more effectively in their own communities. Let’s not miss it!