Donors and agencies alike have long sought means of improving the performance, accountability and transparency of humanitarian action. Whilst a proliferation of NGO and agency initiatives followed the Rwanda genocide of 1994, it was not until 2003 that donor governments took the important step of agreeing a foundation for improved performance in their own humanitarian policy and practice.

At an international meeting in Stockholm in 2003, donors committed to a set of principles and good practice designed to make responses to humanitarian crises more effective, equitable and principled. In October 2004, a second international meeting was held in Ottawa to reaffirm and review progress on these commitments.

The ‘Good Humanitarian Donorship’ (GHD)initiative, as it has become known, seeks to address many of the weaknesses in the humanitarian system, including the need for better coordination, investment in prevention and preparedness and flexible, timely and predictable funding. This is an important agenda. It is also a challenging one. In the context of significant unmet humanitarian needs in ongoing crises in countries such as Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, the massive donor response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004 is a stark reminder of the distance GHD still has to travel before its commitments to impartial and equitable funding, according to need and on the basis of needs assessments, are translated into practice.

Given the importance of good donorship and the potential of GHD to address many of the challenges that confront the humanitarian system, why has more not been said about the initiative by those involved in humanitarian action? Could NGOs and agencies use GHD more effectively as a platform for their advocacy towards donors? What is the scope and potential of this agenda to improve the humanitarian response in countries like the DRC and Burundi, where the principles and practices are being piloted? And what level of commitment have GHD donors demonstrated, individually, within the European Union or other fora, such as the OECD Development Assistance Committee?

The articles in the special feature of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange consider these and other dilemmas at the operational and policy level, from experiences of the GHD pilots in Burundi and the DRC, to efforts to improve needs assessments and strengthen the UN Consolidated Appeals Process, to donor policy in the EU and the US and efforts within fora such as the OECD-DAC to take the initiative forward.

This issue also includes articles on a range of other subjects of concern to policy-makers and practitioners in the humanitarian sector. We hope you find it interesting and, as always, we welcome your feedback.

Issue 29 articles