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IRIN - Aid and Policy


Iraq’s rebuild billions, Africa’s week of drama, and Oxfam’s seismic sex scandal: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 14:31:35 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Spotlight falls on sexual abuse in the aid sector   By 26 February, government-funded NGOs have to report to British aid minister Penny Mordaunt on their policies to combat sexual exploitation and abuse (letter here). They also have to ensure sub-grantees have equivalent measures. Oxfam remains under investigation by the regulator and has announced tougher and more extensive provisions for its staff.   While Oxfam squirms, the fallout is spreading: the Norwegian Refugee Council has suspended a staff member connected to the scandal; Sweden has suspended funding to Oxfam and is checking whether it too failed to act on a 2008 warning; in France, questions remain for Action contre la Faim about how it recruited Roland van Hauwermeiren even after he had been thrown out of Oxfam Haiti.     Speaking from Belgium, van Hauwermeiren has denied most of the allegations. But former and current Oxfam staff members have revealed further cases, celebrity backers have walked away, and one researcher's collection of news and commentary frenzy has over 60 links. Oxfam's supporters admit it has to face the music but say it would be wrong for it to be treated as an exception while other aid agencies avoid the spotlight by sheer chance. It would be perverse to penalise Oxfam for successfully unearthing abusers in its ranks, they argue. On Wednesday, MSF joined a growing list of agencies in releasing figures on investigations, complaints, and dismissals. On the same day, Dutch politician Ruud Lubbers died. This former head of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, was likely the most senior UN official ever to step down over sexual harassment. Meanwhile, lurid allegations of 60,000 rape cases committed by the UN have been slapped down by lobby group Code Blue as "irresponsible fearmongering".   Iraq’s long road ahead   This week, donors, politicians, aid agencies, and investors met in Kuwait to discuss the reconstruction of Iraq after three years of war against so-called Islamic State. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said it’ll take $88 billion. Only $30 billion was pledged this week. Although some news reports focused on the shortfall, Iraq never anticipated (or really asked) for the full sum: most of the money is expected to come from the government itself and private investment. Rebuilding isn’t the only game in town seeking open pockets though. The UN's soon-to-be-released Humanitarian Response Plan is expected to ask for $569 million to provide aid in 2018, and its newly launched Iraq Recovery and Resilience Programme – focusing on reconciliation and supporting survivors – asks for another $482 million this year, plus an additional $568 million “to help stabilise high-risk areas”. It all sounds like a lot of money. But as we reported from Mosul’s Old City this week, in the rubble of where the city’s final battle against IS was fought, the most vulnerable Iraqis need a lot of help. The discussions in Kuwait, and even the pledges – well intentioned as they may be – are pretty abstract concepts for those who right now have no choice but to scavenge for scrap metal on top of collapsed homes and still-rotting corpses.   In Afghanistan, a year of “appalling human suffering”   More than 10,000 civilians were killed or injured in Afghanistan as a result of armed conflict in 2017, according to figures released this week by the UN mission there. It's a drop from 2016's total, but part of a rising trend in casualties over the last nine years. In 2009, when the mission began releasing this data, there were fewer than 6,000 recorded casualties.  allowtransparency="true" frameborder="0" height="450" id="datawrapper-chart-zX0CZ" scrolling="no" src="//" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important;">  Did you miss it? EU migration deal with Sudan under the microscope Plenty has been written ab[...]

Why cash as aid risks becoming a passing fad

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 10:33:57 +0000

A fad is a behaviour by a group of people for a short period of time, think ice bucket challenge, man buns, screaming Yolo. A trend is different. It implies movement. It marks the direction in which something is changing. So, when it comes to empowering people out of shock and poverty, is giving people money instead of stuff a longer-term trend or just a passing fad?   The ”State of the World’s Cash” report launched yesterday by the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) places cash (as a means of delivering relief aid) very much in the  trend camp. While it produces new information and some interesting insights into current debates, it doesn’t provide much as to the strength of this trend to survive into the future. I believe three issues could condemn “cash as aid” to the dustbin of fads.     1 We can't get along   Humanitarian agencies struggle to coordinate to generate collective impact. In general, the system is so complex and the incentives so skewed that the effectiveness of coordination is unpredictable.   Today’s report, as well as additional research CaLP and others have produced, notes that inefficient coordination of parallel cash projects carries high costs. Duplication means wasted resources that should be getting to people in need.   Cash transfers have become popular in part because they are cheaper to do than in-kind assistance. In a humanitarian sector facing massive pressure and mounting needs, cost efficiency is and will continue to be a powerful driver.   But inefficient coordination risks making cash more expensive than in-kind assistance. Think duplication in banking fees to process transfers, duplication in staff processing payments, duplication in resources spent to conduct market assessments after a crisis. If cash turns out not to be the cost-efficient option due to a lack of coordination, this could kill the momentum and turn the would-be trend into a fad.   Signs of change   Over the last year, donor governments have increasingly called for greater optimisation in the way aid is provided. Some now argue for a single, unified channel of cash delivery. Despite some pushback, humanitarian agencies have recognised that the tide has turned. Initiatives like the NGO Collaborative Cash Delivery platform have taken steps towards building a truly efficient approach. The World Food Programme, the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR), and UNICEF are also trying to improve their coordination. However, large contracts tend to still go to the large players. There are also private sector actors claiming to fix the coordination issue, like the Smart Communities approach launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, affiliated to Mastercard, as well as other technology-based startups.   2 Short-termism   Humanitarians operate in the short term of saving lives. We are focused on the moment, and this is usually not fertile ground for trends. This short-term focus permeates our work and shapes our strategic engagement in many different and often damaging ways. Myopic vision in humanitarian innovation has translated into products that are not sustainable (e.g. flaws in data protection systems), and others that are not scalable (e.g. incompatible solutions for beneficiary identification). Short-termism has made us addicted to the chimera of immediate feedback from beneficiaries as proof of impact. Short-termism in private-public partnerships has made us focus on product development instead of strategic change.   The sector desperately needs visionary leaders and resources to create space to build the future amongst the chaos in which we operate. The future of “cash as aid” depends on this.   Signs of change   The “State of the World’s Cash” report flags “financial inclusion” (issues around the poorest being unable to get banking services and credit) and linkages to social security safety nets as two areas of contention. On the one hand, linking cash transfers to the sustainable development goals and other longer-term poverty reduction efforts could br[...]