Catherine Bragg, former Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Deputy Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said international humanitarian aid is no longer governed by a monolitic authoritative, formal humanitarian system, but now involves a multitude of actors including regional organizations who are developing their own coordination mechanisms and member states who are developing their own capabilities and structures.
She said one of the most positive developments in humanitarian affairs over the past five years is that middle-income countries have increased their capacity to coordinate and respond to disasters within their jurisdiction.
“I think that what we need to do is to accept that OCHA is not going to be the only coordinating body for international humanitarian affairs in the future," Ms. Bragg said.
She also said there is no longer one authoritative information source."You try to have access as much as possible from different information systems," she said.
But with this expanded system comes challenges in coordinating aid efforts. “How do we make sure that we can still all aim towards the same humanitarian objectives and not trip over each other or [over] the things that coordination is about?” she said. “What I have come to realize is that we need to establish a kind of common norms and standards between the different types of actors when we are parading in the same theater and towards the same humanitarian objectives.”
Ms. Bragg said that different kinds of aid are being instrumentalized and have different objectives, but "we need to have a distinctive form of aid that is purely about saving lives and alleviating acute human suffering. And that distinctive form of aid has to be neutral and non-instrumentalized and as impartial as possible.”
“Now, the fact that we fall short of all of these ideals in a lot of instances does not mean that they don’t matter; it just means, that as all human endeavor, we can’t be perfect. And we should strive to be perfect, and strive for that ideal."
The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Senior Policy Analyst, International Peace Institute.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Jérémie Labbé: I am here today with Catherine Bragg, former Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Deputy Head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. You held this position from late 2007 to early 2013. Catherine, thank you very much for joining us at the Global Observatory today.
Let me ask you first a fairly broad question to start with. What are the three or four most positive changes that you witnessed within the humanitarian system during the five years that you spent in your former position?
Catherine Bragg: I think that's a very, very good question, and as I leave my former position, I did spend some time thinking about just what have been the changes in the system itself. I think that the first thing I would mention is our collective attempt to be more inclusive over the course of the last five years. For example, by about 2008-09, the number of projects by NGOs in the consolidated appeal surpassed 50%, and I think that was a very good sign. If you recall that in the beginning, 20 years ago when we first started, the numbers of NGO projects were roughly about 10%. So, I think that is a very good trend.
And also, I think that increasingly, member states are getting involved in the humanitarian system as well. A good example is the CERF, the Center Emergency Response Fund, currently is being contributed to by 126 countries out of 193 members of the UN. That's an exceedingly high level of participation. And we are also seeing more and more member states interested in contributing to pool funds and also contributing to the consolidated appeals as well. So, I think that those are all good signs of inclusivity; we can certainly all do more.