POLITICS

The Australian Case to Fight Humanitarian Disasters As One

There's a serious push to unite charity groups as a 'one-stop shop'.

02/08/2017 9:04 AM AEST | Updated 02/08/2017 11:08 AM AEST
Oxfam Yemen / Omar Algunaid
10-year-old Noran with Oxfam hygiene kits as part of a cholera response in Yemen.

CANBERRA -- The idea is making public donations to humanitarian disasters an easy "one-stop shop". Pooling the funding, resources and effort to fight drought, famine and disease and getting money, food, clean water and medicines to where they are needed the most.

We are all pretty much a cynical, distrusting bunch, right? Just how do we know our dollar-a-day is actually helping people at death's recurring door?

There are so many disasters. Some, like famines, keep coming back. And so do the requests for money.

Now, as HuffPost Australia can reveal, there's a serious push in Australia to follow other developed nations -- including just recently the United States -- to shake up and simplify the donation procedure for charities and aid groups. To get the groups to act together as one to establish a joint appeal mechanism for humanitarian responses.

Such a coalition, if it works well, raises a disaster's profile and donations, while running down overhead costs. But does everybody win? Could someone or some group miss out?

AFP/Getty Images
A young survivor surrounded by debris caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban in the eastern Philippine island of Leyte on November 11, 2013.

A joint funding mechanism for aid donations has been done in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K, where the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has been operating.

Just last month, on July 17, the Global Emergency Response Coalition was created by eight US-based humanitarian relief organisations -- CARE, International Medical Corps, International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision -- to raise public awareness in the U.S. and fight hunger and famine in the horn of Africa.

Even Hollywood actor George Clooney stepped in to help out the new united aid front.

So could it work in Australia? It has been attempted before, but advocates tell HuffPost Australia that now the time is right.

"The more we do together, the more synergies there will be," veteran aid figure Richard Young declared.

"I think it is a really critical time with the massive funding gaps there are globally at the moment for humanitarian responses."

Young has been working in the humanitarian sector since the 1980s. He's been a director of the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, a coalition of six NGOs and the Australian government.

Like virtually everyone in the sector, he knows Australians are cynical, especially over recurring disasters such as famines in the horn of Africa. He insists transparency and accountability are vital to this project working.

"We need to show to the Australian public that we are a cohesive group and actually join with one voice to say that this particular disaster is the one we would really like the public to get behind and justify why that is," Young told HuffPost Australia.

Ian Wishart, the CEO of Plan International Australia, agrees. He's been behind an earlier push to unite the groups.

"Rather than a cacophony or agencies, there would be consistent voice," he told HuffPost Australia.

"This simplifies how Australians can donate. Rather then having to see a list of 10 or 15 charities, they know they can just give to the cause and it will be used in the most effective way."

In practice, for a potential donor, a single portal, a phone line or website, would be created for a humanitarian disaster or emergency.

There's a just-released discussion paper written by Josie Flint of the Humanitarian Advisory Group talking about the ins and outs of an Australian joint funding mechanism. There would be governance procedures for those groups who sign up, reporting and accountancy firms would be brought in and the funding would be distributed according to a fixed percentage or "fair market share" for the groups involved.

Based on overseas models, the stakeholders would say how they want the money spent, based on their capacity to use the money most effectively on the ground.

Young cites the Canadian experience where a funding call for Haiti from its one-stop shop ended up with 85 percent of donations coming from people who have never donated before.

And for the groups involved, pooling resources would save money, like creating "one voice" advertising and media to get the message out.

"It would be a significant saving on overhead costs. More money would be going to the people in need," Young said.

"And we sincerely hope to get the Australian Government on board and for them to provide seed money to it as well."

HuffPost Australia has reached out to the office of the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for comment. Ian Wishart said the Minister and Department (DFAT) have signaled in the past that they would welcome the plan to unite.

While it may fix a few problems for the aid sector, a joint funding mechanism isn't being touted as a cure-all.

Flint's discussion paper acknowledges potential challenges such as the prospect of individual agencies losing out on funds, even if there is increased revenue for a broader consortium. Smaller agencies in particular could lose out.

There may be competition problems for such a coalition if the major humanitarian agencies choose not to take part. There also may be administrative issues in getting it all to work, or even trust issues between individual agencies, perhaps it would be seen as a dilution of an agency's brand.

And it may take time for the public to become aware of such a coalition, leading to a general drop in donations.

Several aid groups did not get on board the last time it was proposed. Ian Wishart said the proposal got close, but failed at the board level.

"So I have to say at this stage there are a couple of agencies at the board level who don't agree with this," he said.

"I think there needs to be a renewed push for this to happen. I think we should set it up and get going and then those agencies who previously expressed that they don't support it may be they can be persuaded by the fact that it is up and running and join it."

Richard Young insists this is worth doing.

"We need to be developing a narrative where the Australian public can get on board to make long term sustainable impact," he said.

"I think we have a duty to show that a significant proportion of the funding that the Australian public gives does go right to those people most in need."

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