Humanitarian Quality and Accountability Initiatives

The ineffectiveness of international actors in preventing and responding to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 drew attention to the need to dramatically improve the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver on the promise of assistance and protection. The Rwandan experience led to the Joint Evaluation on the International Response to the Genocide which recommended for the international community and humanitarian actors to strengthen systems for improving accountability to beneficiaries of assistance. The recommendations emphasized a commitment to establishing mechanisms for consultation with affected populations and to highlight the power held by actors when delivering such aid.

At the onset of a humanitarian crisis, affected populations are often confronted with a breakdown in government and social services, severely diminished infrastructure and life-threatening situations. In order to affect greatest change and assistance to disaster or conflict stricken populations, humanitarian agencies and workers must be cognizant of their power and use it responsibly. In most circumstances, affected populations have little influence or control over decisions that affect their daily lives. Humanitarian quality and accountability emphasizes focus on two principles and mechanisms: (1) those by which individuals, organizations and States account for their actions and are held responsible for them; and (2) those by which they may safely and legitimately report concerns, complaints and get redress where appropriate. When implemented, it means that crisis affected populations are able to influence decisions about the help they receive and can complain if they feel the “helping power” was not exercised well.

In recent years the humanitarian community has initiated a series of inter-agency initiatives in order to improve accountability and quality performance in humanitarian action. Humanitarian accountability emphasizes the needs, concerns, capacities and disposition of affected populations and explaining the meaning and reasons for actions and decisions. Humanitarian accountability strives to be intrinsic and inseparable from the fundamental principles of humanitarianism. Its goal is to ensure that all humanitarian work is planned and implemented in a way that respects the views, capacities and dispositions of disaster survivors.

    Accountability in humanitarian interventions is of particular importance for the following reasons:

  • Acute needs: Survivors of conflict or natural disaster have acute needs due to trauma, displacement and disruption of social and economic systems
  • Lack of choice: Survivors usually do not have a choice in how relief is administered, therefore preventing ways to give feed back or voice complaints if services are inadequate
  • Lack of voice: Survivors lack access to formal procedures and mechanisms for decision making about relief provided
  • Donor-survivor disconnect: Lack of access to donors prevents proper aid delivered leading to inefficiency and lack of influence to meet beneficiary needs

The most known to date initiatives are the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project. In 2003 representatives of ALNAP, HAP, People In Aid and the Sphere Project began meeting together on a regular basis with the aim to share common issues and harmonize each other activities where possible. Since 2006 this group of four has been joined by:

  • Coordination SUD (Solidarité, Urgence, Développement) which brings together over 130 NGOs conducting humanitarian emergency of development aid, protection of the environment, human rights groups with disadvantaged populations and educational activities for international solidarity and advocacy
  • Groupe URD (Urgence Réhabilitation Développement) whose area of expertise is humanitarian action and post-crisis reconstruction. Groupe URD aims to help improve humanitarian practices and consequently improve the situation of crisis-affected populations. In recent years, Groupe URD focuses its work on themes which are specific to each operational sector (Nutrition, Water and sanitation, Protection, Urbanism) as well as on cross-cutting issues such as aid quality, the environment, disaster risk reduction and prevention and LRRD.
  • Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB), is a collaborative capacity building project aimed at improving the speed, effectiveness and delivery of humanitarian response programs. The ECB Project is a partnership between six non-governmental organizations and implements programs in one region and five countries known as consortia.

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