Channelling Aid to the Local Level: Is It Working?

In this article published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations, Jimm Chick Fomunjong from the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) takes the word on challenges and opportunities of localising aid funding.

© UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan via Creative Commons

Humanitarian aid is crucial to support conflict- and disaster-ridden contexts, be it globally, regionally or locally driven. The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection has risen exponentially in the past year alone. 160 million people will be assisted by the UN and its partner organisations in 2021, and $35 billion will be needed (OCHA, 2021). Aid delivery this year also bears the difficulty of integrating the response to COVID-19. However, the biggest challenge for humanitarian actors is that “despite good intentions, the humanitarian system is still set up to give people in need what international agencies and donors think is best, rather than giving people what they themselves say they most need”, as stated Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

It has been five years since the Grand Bargain was launched in 2016 to bridge the gap to locally led action and progress seems to be slow. The Agreement followed the acknowledgement that the lack of adaptation of aid to singular contexts was producing ineffective aid action. Inclusion of most vulnerable groups could also be enhanced through a more local approach. In 2020, mechanisms put in place to reach the local level allocated a total of $863 million to intended receivers. The total allocation of humanitarian funds reached, however, $24,8 billion (OCHA, 2021).

But, why should aid be allocated to the local level? And why, despite international mechanisms to implement localisation, does most of it still only go towards funding international actors? In his article, Jimm Chick takes the experience of Ghana to explain where and how funds are allocated and why it hinders more efficient action. Local actors and organisations, including civil society, directly witness events on the ground in contexts of conflict, disaster or other crises. Knowing the context makes them the most effective identifiers of needs and implementers of aid. Effectiveness in this case also means that they can better include vulnerable groups and comprehensive ad-hoc approaches that build resilience in the long term. However, very often donors fail to see this potential or might willingly not acknowledge it. Funds go through international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) or multilateral agencies before reaching local organisations. Only rarely do funds reach local organisations directly and even then, they are sub-contracted and forced to comply with targets of the giving organisation. These mechanisms build inequality, hinder local coordination and undermine the relevance of local organisations.

The solution to these issues started with the Grand Bargain Agreement. However, the implementation of the Agreement has not reached expectations. Especially after the last year and a half of the ongoing pandemic it is more evident than ever that local actors hold the power to quickly and effectively respond to crises. Inclusion starts at the local level.

To read more about the localising agenda and humanitarian aid, please follow this link.