Blog Partnerships for Humanitarian Relief

Partnerships for Humanitarian Relief
With protracted conflicts around the world in difficult settings and involving non-state actors, humanitarian institutions such as the Red Cross are challenged by tougher operating conditions and stretched budgets.

NGOs are looking to forge partnerships with the private sector, including financial institutions, to magnify the impact of global relief efforts.

Recent terrorist attacks in Western cities such as Brussels and Paris highlight how the political and social instability in developing regions has spread to the developed world, Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told participants at the AIC 2016 on April 8. “The world has changed enormously and zones of fragility and a high degree of violence are now the new normal in our society.”

Prolonged conflicts such as in Yemen and Iraq are of deep concern, Maurer said. In Syria, health, education and infrastructure systems are simply not functioning, leading to mounting deaths due to non-communicable diseases in a war-torn country that had once been a middle-income economy. Complicating the landscape for humanitarian organizations in such conflict zones is the meddling of major powers, making relief operations, particularly frontline activity even more difficult, if not impossible. In eastern Ukraine, for example, the ICRC alone is on the ground. “Neutral humanitarian space is no longer recognized so it is harder to deliver services,” Maurer explained.

All this has put enormous stress on the budgets of relief organizations including the Red Cross. National governments continue to be the main source of funds, but participation is weak. Only 25 countries account for the $25 billion in humanitarian funds deployed annually. “These dynamics have to change,” argued Maurer. “Yet they can only change if there is a political solution. But can we wait for the politicians?”

The way forward is to involve the private sector more, especially in such efforts as addressing the fragility of urban areas in developing economies or managing the influx of tens of millions of migrants from conflict zones to developed countries, particularly in Europe. “We are looking for more meaningful partnerships with the private sector,” Maurer said, who noted that businessmen founded the Red Cross 150 years ago. For example, it has joined with ABB to shape energy solutions for Red Cross operations and is working with Novartis to pursue programs for tackling non-communicable disease in conflict environments.

At the beginning of this year, the ICRC and the Belgian government began a partnership to launch a Humanitarian Impact Bond to raise $30 million to support physical rehabilitation services for people with disabilities in countries affected by conflict and violence. The aim is to develop more such financial instruments that would be of interest to social impact investors. “We don’t give out handouts anymore,” Maurer observed. “There is a different attitude in humanitarianism. Today, it is about giving people the capacity to get out of the situation they are in.”

Watch the full replay of Peter Maurer’s keynote address