The cat is out of the bag--we are running out of money to pay for the world's humanitarian needs. Fortunately, it is now in front of us, refusing to be ignored. For that we have United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to thank, as it was his decision to appoint the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, tasked with finding solutions to the challenge of funding humanitarian action.
And what did our nine-member panel find? The cat was probably never in the bag in the first place. For decades, humanitarian financing has staggered forward on a wing and a prayer, susceptible to the vagaries of political fashion, the public mood and a legion of factors that should have no place in determining the fates of the 125 million children, women and men who today rely on goodwill to make it through to the next sunrise. For too long we have been in denial about this state of affairs.
Over many months we spoke with hundreds of people working in what some call the global humanitarian system, others the aid industry; there is no consensus on how to define this complex system of aid. What emerged most prominently in the dialogue was a frustration with the status quo and an urge to find a sustainable funding model.
One of the first problems we encountered was that the true scale of the funding gap could not be established with any degree of certainty--a fact that astonished a panel that includes economists and financiers. We encountered deep suspicion among donors that humanitarian organizations have for years been inflating figures in a bid to compensate for funding gaps. In effect, the organizations anticipated that their calls for a certain amount of money would fall short. For example, a $100 million appeal would usually only be met with a $60 million response. Wherever and whenever we looked for reliable figures reflecting the full extent of the funding chain, from donors to the people needing the basic survival package of food, water and shelter, we came up against opacity.
Thus, we defined the gap ourselves, using the accepted global standard of $1.25 per day per person as the bottom line to survive. We came up with a gap of $15 billion between the estimated present level of need and the amount of financial resources available on an annual basis. Depending on where one is standing, this sum is either huge or minuscule, or it may fall somewhere in between. The world spends around $25 billion a year on humanitarian...