Going beyond what works: using data and evidence to improve the humanitarian aid system.

Author:Puri, Jyotsna

Is the humanitarian aid system doing the right things? And, is it doing the right things right? Can data help increase the effectiveness of humanitarian aid? On the face of it, these questions seem redundant. One would assume that improved data would surely result in more effective humanitarian aid delivery. The answer, however, is "maybe" at best: more data does not always translate into better humanitarian action or quality of care.

In 2014, the budget for humanitarian aid amounted to $24.5 billion. The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report (2015) noted that there was still a shortfall of 38 per cent in terms of unmet need. With the current refugee crises, resources from traditional official development assistance (ODA) budgets have been shifted to humanitarian aid. Nevertheless, there is a need for more funding and the shortfall is unlikely to be met in the next decade. It is, therefore, not surprising that aid and donor agencies are concerned about the effectiveness and impact of their assistance. Currently, 93 per cent of people living in extreme poverty live in countries that are affected by humanitarian crises. Clearly, each dollar of aid needs to be used to help alleviate their suffering.

As the world prepares to meet at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016, it is an opportune time to consider if humanitarian aid is being distributed effectively. Indeed, the humanitarian sector already employs a variety of ways to understand whether this is being achieved. In this respect, the humanitarian system has come a long way from an earlier era, in which the intention and action of providing assistance were deemed to be sufficient. Most humanitarian aid programmes today, to the extent possible, conduct rapid assessments, collect routine programme data, carry out perception surveys, and perform real-time monitoring and evaluation, all of which contribute critically to understanding and implementing assistance activities.

The current data revolution is allowing data to be collected more easily and enhancing the ability to illustrate, visualize and analyse data. Data collected in faster, better and smarter ways can help inform many aspects of humanitarian aid. The table on page 41 summarizes some ways in which different kinds of data can be used to better inform the humanitarian system. It is clear that better data is required to understand if humanitarian aid is principled, timely, appropriate and effective.

Despite advances in data collection, we need more than simple data to inform...

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