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Improving the impact of Ireland’s

humanitarian aid

A submission on the proposed White Paper on


Ireland’s Official programme of Overseas
Development Assistance, 2005

By:

Robert Kevlihan, B.Comm, M.Acc, ACA, MA(IR),


Faculty on Special Appointment,
Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research,
Almaty, Kazakhstan

Email: rkevlihan@aol.com or rkevlihan@hotmail.com


Contents

Description Page

Executive Summary 3

Introduction 4

Characteristics of Complex Emergencies 4

Irish Government Response – two case studies 5

Lesson Learned 5

Recommendations 8

Appendices 10

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Executive Summary

This paper reviews recent patterns in Irish humanitarian and other assistance, noting
the increase in scale of this assistance both in absolute and relative terms. This increase
in scale has not been matched by an increase in analysis of Irish government
humanitarian activities. This paper seeks to begin to address this gap through a review
of Irish government initiatives with respect to two particular humanitarian crises –
Sudan and Angola, and consider lessons learned that may be applicable to Ireland‟s
humanitarian assistance programme more generally.

The paper concludes that Development Co-operation Ireland has largely taken an ad
hoc and reactive approach to long-term humanitarian crises such as Sudan and Angola.
Despite an intermittent commitment to providing funds for „forgotten emergencies‟,
patterns of disbursement of humanitarian aid largely depends on short term
considerations, rather than on any long term strategic commitment of resources to
particular countries suffering from humanitarian emergencies.

This short term approach to humanitarian assistance has been combined with a „stove
pipe‟ approach by DCI funding sources that can be utilized in humanitarian
emergencies – with funding for different activities that might complement each other
(such as emergency relief, conflict resolution work, human rights and other
developmental activities) managed in different stand-alone funds without any overall
co-ordination. As a result, little thought is being given to maximizing the scope and
impact of Irish assistance in ways that might over the long term assist in addressing
underlying causes of conflict, rather than simply the horrendous humanitarian
consequences.

It is this author‟s view that Ireland needs to rethink its approach to managing its
humanitarian aid, in order to develop an approach to long term crises that seeks to
maximize the overall impact of Irish assistance and to draw together what are currently
disparate strands of Irish assistance. Detailed recommendations include the following:

Recommendations

1. DCI should develop a comprehensive strategic planning process for long term
complex emergencies

2. The Department of Foreign Affairs (including DCI) should be explicit in


adopting a multi-pronged approach to long term humanitarian emergencies

3. DCI should maintain a permanent presence in-country in countries suffering


from long term humanitarian emergencies

4. DCI should use the planning process and its permanent presence to improve the
overall impact of DCI‟s assistance in complex emergencies

5. The Department of Foreign Affairs should have a mechanism that allows for a
comprehensive review of Irish government activities where they are politically
sensitive and / or may impinge on humanitarian concerns

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Introduction
Irish humanitarian assistance has grown exponentially in recent years, mirroring a
related growth in the overall development assistance programme. However, unlike
other sectors of DCI‟s portfolio, where significant innovation has taken place (for
example in the development of MAPS and HAPS programmes), the basic mechanisms
and procedures used by DCI in the disbursement of humanitarian aid have not changed
significantly.1

Disbursement decisions with respect to Irish humanitarian assistance to NGOs still


rely, to a large extent, on short term needs of the day, and where there is no urgent
crisis, the quality and variety of proposals received rather than on any co-ordinated or
strategic approach with respect to particular humanitarian emergencies. While
supplemental Irish government emergency assistance to UN agencies is frequently
based on UN Consolidated Annual Appeals that include a strategic planning
component for the country / emergency, these represent overall humanitarian
intervention strategies on the part of UN agencies (and to the degree that they
participate in developing the document, NGOs), and as such are not a sufficient basis
for Ireland to plan how its assistance will fit within the overall strategy. Such plans
also run the risk of being driven by the funding requirements of UN agencies, rather
than the broader funding requirements of the entire humanitarian sector, including
state structures, NGOs, and other groups (for example church groups).

Such an ad hoc approach makes sense with respect to sudden onset emergencies
(particularly natural disasters such as the recent tsunami) that cannot be predicted.
However, it does not offer a good fit to other types of emergencies, such as the on-
going intermeshed series of conflicts occurring in Sudan since at least 1983, the
devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in responding to emergency
needs in Northern Uganda because of the conflict between the Ugandan government
and the Lords Resistance Army, for example. Such longer-term complex and
intractable emergencies require a longer-term approach.

Characteristics of Complex Emergencies


Complex emergencies are typically long term and caused by a combination of political
and, often, natural, factors. Sudan provides a case in point. The current phase of the
conflict there began in 1983 with the attempted imposition of a form of Islamic
(shar’ia) law on the whole country, including the largely non-Muslim south. However,
the roots of the conflict go deeper, dating from the legacy of colonial rule and an
earlier related conflict lasting from 1956 to 1972. The recent upsurge in violence in
western Sudan further complicates an already complicated picture with conditions in
the country varying from an immediate and urgent on-going humanitarian crisis in
Darfur, to precarious but somewhat stable conditions in much of the south of the
country due to an on-going peace process and ceasefire arrangements.

Broadly speaking, then, complex emergencies are often characterized by conflict –


both between the government and other insurgency groups, and between different
ethnic groups often mobilized by the larger political conflict, abysmal „normal‟ living
conditions for most of the country‟s population and the sudden onset of acute crises

1
This paper is based in the authors experience working as a humanitarian aid worker in Sudan (1997 –
2000) and Angola (2000 – 2002) together with concurrent and subsequent research and publications that
arose from that experience and a related consideration of Ireland‟s role in these humanitarian
emergencies. A list of relevant publications published by the author on this topic is attached in
Appendix 1.

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within this broadly abysmal context that result in sharp peaks in death rates in short
periods of time. Baseline „normal‟ conditions in these situations frequently meet
internationally recognized standards for „emergencies‟ (in terms of under five
mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, severe and global malnutrition rates etc),
justifying a longer term humanitarian commitment to providing some kind of safety
net to protect the most vulnerable.

Sudden onset crises within these contexts often result from local conditions – upsurges
in violence, natural disasters (drought, flood etc), and are frequently especially
difficult to respond to because of on-going conflict. It doesn‟t take much to push
populations already on the brink of survival over the edge. Humanitarian agencies
response to such sudden onset situations are frequently assisted by prior strategic
positioning – being in the right place at the right time also involves a long term
commitment to likely or recurring hot spots within these countries.

In short, the kinds of complex emergencies this paper is focusing on are typically man
made, and comprise some of the largest and most severe humanitarian emergencies in
the world today. Current examples include Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo,
Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, Cote D‟Ivoire, Colombia and Afghanistan.

Irish government response – two case studies


This paper synthesizes information and recommendations gathered in a review of the
Irish government‟s response to two humanitarian such crises in recent years – that of
Sudan, mentioned above, and of Angola, a country that suffered from a severe conflict
from independence in 1975 until 2002. The lessons learned from these two case
studies are drawn from field research and a number of recent publications on these
topics by the author, including:

“Irish Bilateral Aid to Sudan – from modernization to conditionality: lessons learned and
future prospects” in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 15 (2004).

“Sanctions and Humanitarian Concerns: Ireland and Angola, 2001 – 02” in Irish Studies in
International Affairs, Vol. 14 (2003), pp 95 – 106.

„Becoming a “player”: Ireland and Aid Conditionality with reference to Sudan‟ European
Journal of Development Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, June 2001, pp. 68 – 84.

“Between a rock and a hard place: Irish Aid and Foreign Policy Response to crisis in Sudan
1998-99” in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 11 (2000), pp 217 – 231

These papers review Ireland‟s political and aid relationships with these two countries
during on-going humanitarian crises. They explore tensions between political and
humanitarian objectives and the resulting compromises that have been made, and
critique the effectiveness of Irish political involvement (limited as it has been) in these
two crises. Copies of these articles are included as a separate appendix for further
reference.

Lessons Learned
The following lessons can be learned from Irish government engagement with Sudan
and Angola.

1. Development Co-operation Ireland largely has taken an ad hoc and reactive


approach to long-term humanitarian crises such as Sudan and Angola. Despite

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an intermittent commitment to providing funds for „forgotten emergencies‟,
patterns of disbursement of humanitarian aid largely depend on the priority of
the day, rather than on any longer term strategic commitment of resources to
particular countries (or regions) suffering from humanitarian emergencies.

2. In times when there is no high profile emergency to deal with, DCI funding to
humanitarian emergencies revolves around periodic reviews (three to four
times a year) of emergency funding requests that involve a cycle of
consultations with stakeholders. While DCI can and do indicate to NGO
partners in the run up to these funding decisions particular countries for which
they wish to fund activities, this tends more to reflect shorter-term needs of the
day than any longer term funding commitment to particular crises. Such an
approach is also somewhat dependent on the nature of NGO proposals received
in any particular funding round.

3. More broadly, DCI do not have an overall plan when it comes to managing the
overall mix of assistance it gives in such crisis situations. It‟s current „stove
pipe‟ approach to funding – where funding for different activities that might
complement each other (such as emergency relief, conflict resolution work,
human rights and other developmental activities) are managed in different
stand-alone funds without any overall co-ordination, results in a hit and miss
approach to DCI‟s overall portfolio impact in any given humanitarian
emergency. A recent evaluation of DCI‟s assistance to Afghanistan2 noted that
agencies there had accessed six different funding schemes and could have
accessed another four. Such diffusion of effort is both administratively
cumbersome and expensive, particularly given staffing shortages documented
in the same report within DCI.

4. Given the lack of any „real time‟ synthesis with respect to Irish assistance to
humanitarian emergencies (as opposed to ex-post evaluations such as the
Afghanistan evaluation noted above), it would appear that no one person or
team within DCI is responsible for planning, monitoring and evaluating all DCI
funded activities in any given humanitarian emergency. As a result, it is
doubtful that anyone is actively managing or monitoring the combined impact
of DCI‟s portfolio in such situations.

5. Consequently, little overall thought is being given to maximizing the scope and
impact of Irish assistance in ways that might over the long term assist in
addressing underlying causes of conflict, rather than simply responding to the
horrendous humanitarian consequences of these crises.

6. In countries where DCI does have a country level planning process because of
the presence of a bilateral aid programme, on-going planning activities appear
to focus on the bilateral aid programme alone, and not Ireland‟s broader aid
engagement with the country. This is particularly dangerous when bilateral aid
countries are suffering from on-going conflicts in particular regions. For
example, Ireland had a bilateral assistance program in Sudan from the mid
1970s until its closure in 1998 yet no attempt was made to co-ordinate that
programme with on-going Irish humanitarian assistance in other parts of the
country nor was there any serious analysis of the extent to which Ireland‟s

2
DCI, 2004, Public Expenditure Review of Support to Afghanistan 2000 to 2003, DCI, Dublin, p 36.

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intervention in Sudan may have contributed (in however small a way) to
developmental imbalances within the country by concentrating for many years
on one of the wealthier regions. The same could be said of Ireland‟s current
engagement with Uganda, where DCI‟s recent evaluation of the Uganda
Country Strategy3 indicates no consideration in the 2000 – 2003 strategy of the
on-going conflict driven humanitarian emergency in the north of the country.

7. DCI‟s long distance engagement with such crises, with management from
Dublin supplemented by occasional monitoring visits and evaluations, also
makes the nature of Ireland‟s engagements more fragile, particularly when
other concerns impinge. A case in point was the Irish government‟s attempts to
bring political pressure to bear on the parties to the Sudan war in 1998. 4 These
initiatives, while laudable, ultimately proved short lived because of broader
Irish concerns with respect to maintaining Irish / US relations in the wake of
the US bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in retaliation for the
East Africa embassy bombings. Ireland went from having an intensive
diplomatic engagement with Sudan over a period of five months (from April
2000 to August 2000), including visits to the country by the Irish Ambassador
based in Egypt, the Minister of State (Liz O Donnell) and the Minister for
Foreign Affairs (David Andrews), to a situation where Sudan was simply
dropped from the Irish government agenda in the wake of the US bombing.
A longer-term engagement by the Irish government with the humanitarian
crisis in Sudan would have provided the Irish government with a politically
more robust platform from which to work on a longer term basis.

8. Ireland‟s initiatives with respect to Angola suffered from a related problem of


mixed humanitarian and political concerns. Appointed Chair of the UNITA
Sanctions Committee during the country‟s tenure on the Security Council,
Ireland did a relatively solid job of managing its responsibilities. However,
Ireland also failed to take a broader view of the conflict there, failing to use it‟s
influence as chair of the committee to bring pressure to bear on the Angolan
government for extensive human rights abuses (including scorched earth
tactics) its forces were committing against their own people. In this case,
Ireland‟s political focus seemed to be on doing a good job within its strict
terms of reference as chair of the UNITA Sanction‟s Committee, rather than
taking a more holistic policy approach.

9. Ireland also failed to recognize or attempt to monitor the negative humanitarian


impact of the sanctions it was assisting to enforce in Angola. Evidence since
the end of the war indicates that this impact was severe (see Angola article in
attached appendix). While highlighting the negative humanitarian implications
of sanctions Ireland was helping to enforce might have made enforcement of
the sanctions more difficult to defend politically, such information should have
been made available in the public domain – for example by being considered in
the report of the sanctions committee itself.5

3
DCI, 2003, Evaluation of the Uganda Country Strategy, 2000 – 2003, DCI, Dublin.
4
See: Between a rock and a hard place: Irish Aid and Foreign Policy Response to crisis in Sudan 1998-
99” in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 11 (2000), pp 217 – 231
5
It is to be noted that the sanctions themselves did not preclude the delivery of humanitarian assistance
that might have mitigated the atrocious humanitarian conditions in UNITA areas. Humanitarian

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Recommendations

1. DCI should develop a comprehensive strategic planning process for long term
complex emergencies
DCI should develop country strategic plans for long term complex humanitarian crises
that seek to maximize the impact of Irish assistance, and co-ordinate all Irish
government assistance being programmed in-country – including funds programmed
separately through bilateral aid, MAPS, block grant or other funding channels. Such a
strategic planning approach should involve key stakeholders – including NGO partners
that are receiving DCI support, UN agencies (WFP, UNICEF etc.) and others (state
institutions, church and local civil society groups) and should build on some of the
strengths of DCI‟s current humanitarian programme. However, implementing such a
planning approach should not mean that DCI‟s programmes come to look like
everyone else‟s. Ironically, because (unlike other donors), DCI does not currently have
a permanent presence in-country, and does not have a planning process for its
interventions in humanitarian emergencies, it is less susceptible to the kinds of donors
consensus‟s that can build up around where to fund and not fund and what kinds of
activities to fund. As a result, DCI is often a source of particularly valuable funding for
NGOs for that reason – allowing a measure of novelty and innovation – or allowing
response to less fashionable areas of the country, than would otherwise be possible.
This important niche should not be lost should a transition to a comprehensive
strategic planning process be made.

2. The Department of Foreign Affairs (including DCI) should be explicit in


adopting a multi-pronged approach to long term humanitarian emergencies
Having a co-ordinated approach would allow DFA (including DCI) to adopt a more
coherent multi-pronged programme approach in such contexts. This could include
political initiatives – including the use of UN mandated peacekeeping forces, and on
the assistance side, integrating humanitarian assistance to other types of assistance.
Ireland already has a significant peacekeeping presence in Liberia and has received a
recent request to commit troops to southern Sudan. This increased engagement in
peacekeeping in Africa necessitates some consideration of possible co-ordination of
Irish political and humanitarian engagements, without compromising fundamental
principles of humanitarian action. On the assistance side, DCI should consider a
programme approach to all assistance provided in long term complex emergencies –
including humanitarian assistance, funding for human rights and democratization,
supporting local civil society, MAPS and HAPS funding and in the case of bilateral aid
countries also suffering from humanitarian crises (for example Uganda, or Ethiopia in
some years), allowing development and humanitarian assistance to be better co-
ordinated. Adopting a programme approach to what are at present diffuse funding
arrangements will reduce levels of administration associated with the current
multiplicity of funding schemes.

3. DCI should maintain a permanent presence in-country in countries suffering


from long term humanitarian emergencies
DCI should consider establishing and maintaining its own presence in these countries
to oversee this process and to manage what is an expanding humanitarian aid program.
The role of this office would be to manage programmed three year country-specific
humanitarian assistance budgets (with a mechanism for disbursing supplemental funds
to the office if there is an upsurge in emergency needs) and other funds devoted to

assistance was not delivered to UNITA areas principally because neither the Angolan government nor
UNITA wished to see such humanitarian assistance delivered.

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complementary conflict related programming in-country (for example Human Rights
and Democratization funding). Such a presence should follow the pattern of DCI‟s
Development Co-operation Offices by being quasi-diplomatic, but differ in staffing
mix, because of the nature of these crises. These offices will require at least one
political officer from the Department of Foreign Affairs, supported by staff with
technical competence in public health, nutrition, emergency relief, water / sanitation,
protection work, democratization, human rights, security analysis and any other
sectoral activities added to the country portfolio. Given cost considerations, some of
these competencies could be hired on a short term basis as required, with a relatively
small core staff presence.

4. DCI should use the planning process and its permanent presence to improve
the overall impact of DCI’s assistance in complex emergencies
Maintaining a permanent presence will allow DCI to better monitor and evaluate the
performance of implementing partners – both UN agencies and NGOs. The recent DCI
evaluation report on Afghanistan notes the lack of transparency inherent in current
reporting mechanisms of UN agencies6 and the inability of DCI to identify agencies
that are performing less well without a permanent presence.7 Having a permanent DCI
presence on the ground would address these issues.

5. The Department of Foreign Affairs should have a mechanism in place that


allows for a comprehensive review of Irish government activities where they are
politically sensitive and / or may impinge on humanitarian concerns
And finally, in those (rare) situations in which Ireland becomes politically involved in
these countries – as in, for example, the case of the UNITA Sanctions Committee, the
Irish government should conduct a comprehensive review of the nature of its
involvement to ensure that any political action taken is consistent with the
humanitarian principles which Ireland espouses, and utilizes any opportunities which
such political involvement might afford to best effect.

6
DCI, 2004, Public Expenditure Review of Support to Afghanistan 2000 to 2003, DCI, Dublin, p37.
7
DCI, 2004, Public Expenditure Review of Support to Afghanistan 2000 to 2003, DCI, Dublin, p 26.

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List of Appendices

Appendix 1

“Irish Bilateral Aid to Sudan – from modernization to conditionality: lessons learned and
future prospects” in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 15 (2004).

Appendix 2

“Sanctions and Humanitarian Concerns: Ireland and Angola, 2001 – 02” in Irish Studies in
International Affairs, Vol. 14 (2003), pp 95 – 106.

Appendix 3

„Becoming a “player”: Ireland and Aid Conditionality with reference to Sudan‟ European
Journal of Development Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, June 2001, pp. 68 – 84.

Appendix 4

“Between a rock and a hard place: Irish Aid and Foreign Policy Response to crisis in Sudan
1998-99” in Irish Studies in International Affairs, Vol. 11 (2000), pp 217 – 231

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