human development, social justice and sustainable social systems

Respect first responders and give more attention to local actors

The importance of enabling local communities to act as humanitarian actors is often overlooked from major donors, who tend to focus more on the respect of standards than on the urgency of delivering fast and effective life-saving support.

This was the main message of Dr Win Tun Kyi, National Director of Caritas Myanmar, to the audience of the European Development Days debate on the Grand Bargain, which is the biggest global humanitarian deal produced during the World Humanitarian Summit in spring 2016. The Grand Bargain is composed of 10 main chapters, and the debate focused on three of them, namely (1) the impact of administrative simplification in humanitarian aid processes, (2) the importance of multi-year planning and funding, and (3) the implementation of localisation of aid.

Dr Win Tun Kyi contributed to the discussion on localisation, which is about opening a direct line to local actors in order to enable them to respond as quickly and effective as possible. Localisation is generally considered in terms of direct funding but it goes well beyond that aspect, as Caritas Ireland (Trócaire) explains in its paper: “More than the Money – Localisation in practice”. In this context, the work of Caritas Myanmar has been praised internationally as a good practice of localisation, hence the participation of Dr. Win in the debate.

Localisation enables local communities to react and start saving life within the first 24 hours while official help takes at least 5 days to get organised,” said Dr. Win Tun Kyi when explaining how local groups are already responding when the official response starts. Official help takes time because standards needs to be checked and ensured. “All in all, it can take up to 1 month before the big amounts of money start to roll in,” he explained, “but victims cannot afford that time, humanitarian response needs to be eased up to enable fast  life-saving actions to take place“.

With the support of only three pictures and the stories behind them, Dr. Win Tun Kyi managed to make his case clear for the audience:

International WASH standards are very strict about the quality of water. Children in the picture are victims of an armed conflict in an area nearby. The conflict has made access to water very difficult, so the water spot in the picture was the only available safe source they could reach in that moment. “Probably this water violates some standards, but these kids are used to boiling it and making it usable. The alternative would have been the complete lack of water. Spontaneity is more important than standards when it comes to save life within the first 24 hours”, said Dr. Win Tun Kyi.

The perception of risk often depends on specific situations.  The men in the picture are from the area and can swim very well. It would look odd and embarrassing for them to wear bulky standardised lifesaving jackets. Dr. Win’s point was “that what can be perceived as taking a risk from an international standard point of view, it is not really a risk for locals and this should be respected”.

With this last picture, Dr. Win Tun Kyi showed that when investing in external actors only, overlooking the available human resources within local actors, donors are de facto depleting the potential of local response. Lives are threatened when locals are not enabled to respond within the first 24 hours, in areas that only them can access so quickly.

In general, the debate has been a brilliant occasion to clarify the gap that still exists between reality on the ground and what donors expect, such as high standards of reporting, boxes to tick, etc,”said Silvia Sinibaldi, Caritas Europa’s director of the Humanitarian Aid Unit.

Along with Dr. Win, the panel was composed of a representative of DG ECHO (Androulla Kaminara), World Vision (Julian Srodecki) and the German Government’s aid agency (Alexander Sultan-Khan).

Their presence was a clear added value to enable a stronger conversation around all this in order to continue the journey to achieve global commitments in a coordinated and comprehensive way,” explained Silvia Sinibaldi.

Caritas family at the event

Caritas Myanmar’s Dr Win was not alone during the event. Representatives from Caritas Española, Caritas Belgium International, Trócaire, CAFOD, Cordaid and Caritas Europa’s secretariat attended the discussion, showing the strength of the Caritas family.

Note: The session that was co-organised by Caritas Europa (with the active support of CAFOD and Trócaire) and in collaboration with DG ECHO, the German Federal Aid Agency, World Vision, Action Against Hunger and NGO Voice.