No magic answers: Good Humanitarian Donorship in the DRC
by Wendy Cue, Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA March 2005

There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding … and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.Noam Chomsky

The objective of piloting the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) principles and good practice in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is to test them in a complex emergency. Given that GHD encompasses issues to do with international humanitarian law, needs-based funding, strategic planning and the promotion of standards in humanitarian practice, the pilot would seem to represent an opportunity for more coherent and effective action to save lives and alleviate the suffering of the DRC’s most vulnerable people. This opportunity has not, however, been grasped, and there has been little discernible impact on the ground. Why?

Since it was conceived in 2003, the DRC pilot has been hampered by the lack of a clear vision statement and communications strategy. Different stakeholders have different perceptions of what a GHD pilot is – and what the outcomes should be. How to reach these outcomes is also not clear. There is a lack of common understanding as to the process and methodology to be used to implement the pilot. Lead donors have focused on technical improvements, such as needs assessment, thereby avoiding some of the difficult larger questions, such as whether the funding available is in proportion to need. The lack of a common needs assessment format is cited as an impediment to decision-making, but on the other hand the humanitarian priorities in DRC are generally well known. While improvements in effectiveness, efficiency and accountability can still be made, the time and energy it takes to gather comprehensive up-to-date information in a constantly changing situation should be measured against whether enough information for decision-making already exists. Are we debating the size of the bandage while the patient is losing blood? Are we missing the primary goal – increasing humanitarian financing and action in the DRC?

Origins and development

The origins of the GHD pilot in the DRC lie in efforts to strengthen the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP), as first called for by the 2003 Montreux donor retreat on coordination. DRC was selected as a pilot country because it met GHD implementation group criteria: it had a CAP, a strong UN presence and a large donor presence, and it is a ‘forgotten’ crisis. As the period of application is 2005, 2004 was about helping to shape the pilot, with meetings of the pilot sub-group in Geneva in December 2003, and in Kinshasa in July 2004. Representatives of the lead donors, the US and Belgium, visited the DRC in December 2003.

Fourteen impact indicators were developed to measure changes in donor behaviour in the DRC as a result of the pilot, covering issues such as the flexibility, timeliness and appropriateness of funding, the promotion of good practice, advocacy for safe humanitarian access and measures to strengthen local capacities. The country visit provided recommendations on how to implement the pilots in the field. These included assessing needs in terms of vulnerability, ensuring a comprehensive common strategy and communicating clear directions from headquarters to local donor counterparts.

OCHA commissioned a baseline survey on the status of donor funding and behaviour in 2004. Impact would then be measured by collecting the same data at the end of 2005. The survey team found a lack of information about the GHD pilot among humanitarian actors in the DRC, and difficulty in gathering measurable data against the indicators selected by donors because the indicators were not specific enough, and not linked to concrete goals or objectives. The survey report identifies constraints, and recommends priority actions for improvement. Some of these constraints and recommendations are discussed below.

Challenges and constraints

First, lack of clarity about the purpose of GHD in the DRC, and the lack of information about it in the field, led partners to wonder what was expected of them, what collective actions were needed and how the outcomes would be measured.

Second, GHD is a voluntary initiative. As such, it resembles humanitarian agencies’ use of IASC policy as ‘soft law’, which OCHA attempts to disseminate in the field. As OCHA knows only too well, coordination works best when there is either the authority or the incentive to coordinate. GHD donors in the DRC are grappling with the same issue – the lead donors, the US and Belgium, must find a common incentive around which to motivate other donors to dedicate both financial and human resources to GHD. At present, this incentive is missing.

Third, there is a need for an agreed framework or methodology to develop, articulate, respond to and monitor a common humanitarian strategy around which GHD participants can coordinate. At the GHD meeting in Kinshasa in July 2004, the pilot sub-group encouraged participants to attend the forthcoming OCHA-led common humanitarian strategy workshop, the results of which formed the basis of the 2005 CAP for DRC. However, despite its unique role as an inter-agency strategic planning tool, the CAP has not been considered a credible enough framework for GHD because it was seen as too UN-focused. Moreover, while the strategy reflected in the 2005 CAP document attempts to communicate priorities, key information, such as vulnerability indicators, is still missing. Many humanitarian projects are not included in the appeal, limiting its value as an overview of needs, activities and impact. Without a framework to enable information to be gathered together in one place, it is difficult, if not impossible, to answer the question of whether we are meeting priority needs.

A fourth challenge is developing a shared analysis of needs to support the elaboration of a common strategy. A fundamental principle of GHD and of the DRC pilot is that funding decisions must be based on a solid assessment of need. In 2004, little progress was made in using common needs assessment. While the DRC was to pilot the IASC-endorsed Needs Assessment Framework and Matrix (NAFM), only the health sector (with WHO consultants) produced a draft report.

The complexity and volatility of the DRC crisis, and the wider international context, pose additional constraints and challenges. For example, increased humanitarian access tends to reflect the state of the peace process, rather than changes in donor behaviour. The principle of ensuring that funding of new crises will not adversely affect ongoing ones was put to the test by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. It remains to be seen whether funding for the DRC in 2005 will be maintained at similar levels to previous years.

Recommendations for 2005

First, selecting an agreed objective and communicating this objective to partners in the DRC will help to foster a stronger commitment to action and clarity of purpose. In-country briefings and the dissemination of progress updates may help to keep partners motivated and on-track.

Second, the scope of the pilot should be focused on a smaller area of action. This can be done either by selecting a small number of key GHD impact indicators, or limiting the pilot’s geographic scope. During the initial phases of the pilot, the practicality and viability of covering the complete territory of DRC were already being questioned. Limiting the number of variables would allow indicators to better reflect impact.

Third, incentives to adhere to the pilot would help to hold GHD participants to the agreed objective. Both donors and agencies need to dedicate financial and human resources at the field level to follow the pilot and reach targets. Saving lives and alleviating suffering should be incentive enough to foster more active engagement, but there is a need to demonstrate how adhering to the GHD pilot contributes to this end. While donors lead the pilot, the opportunity to make a difference requires commitment by OCHA, UN agencies, members of the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) and other partners on the ground.

Fourth, the pilot group needs to send a clear message on the use of the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)/CAP as the strategic planning process. This was agreed right at the outset of the GHD. The 2005 CAP mid-year review will be an opportunity to strengthen the 2005 CAP. If donors send a clear message to get partners on board, analysis and ownership will be strengthened. Financial incentives may encourage the participation of implementing agencies. A more accurate picture of who is doing what, as well as a map of implementation, will help to guide the allocation of additional resources.

Better reporting to OCHA’s Financial Tracking System (FTS) will facilitate the monitoring of financial response against estimated needs. One way to do this would be to use the CAP as a reference document that represents total humanitarian needs and, ideally, includes all humanitarian requirements in-country. The FTS would monitor contributions against these requirements, and the monitoring and reporting of programme implementation would be done through the CAP programme cycle. An alternative, for those agencies who appeal or receive funding outside of the CAP, would be to share information on requirements, contributions and implementation, so that CAP requirements can be adjusted downwards where needs are being met through a different channel.

Finally, OCHA, in its coordination role, needs to work harder to bring coherent analysis to different needs assessment information, and compile this information into a needs assessment matrix. Donors can support this effort by instructing partners to share assessment information and participate in the development of the assessment matrix. OCHA should also serve as a central repository for assessment mission reports and baseline data.

All those involved in humanitarian response in the DRC agree that there are enormous needs, that resources are inadequate, and that there are too few operational actors on the ground with response capacity. A significant increase in funding would arguably make more of an impact than technical improvements to programming. Is not the fundamental goal of the GHD to fund according to need? Improvements can still be made in assessments and information flows, and programmes can be made more effective. But if the international community responded to the crisis in the DRC truly on the basis of humanitarian need, much more of an impact would be made.

The GHD principles represent a donor code of conduct, encouraging coherent donor behaviour in response to humanitarian needs in the DRC. However, GHD’s potential remains poorly understood among partners on the ground, and its outcomes are hard to identify. What it actually means, in terms of improving the lives of Congolese displaced by war, without adequate shelter, health care, schools, is as yet hard to measure.


Wendy Cueis Humanitarian Affairs Officer, OCHA. Her email address is cue@un.org. This article represents the author’s personal opinion and does not reflect the views of OCHA.


References and further reading

Jens Martens, ‘Rethinking ODA: Towards a Renewal of Official Development Assistance’, Global Policy Forum, 2001, www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/develop/oda/2001/04rethinking.pdf.

Johan Von Scheeb and Markus Michael, Joint Assessment of Health Status and Health System among Crisis Affected Populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Independent Consultancy Report presented by WHO for the Needs Assessment Matrix Pilot in DRC, June 2004, www.reliefweb.int/ghd/index.html.

Toby Porter, An External Review of the CAP, 18 April 2002, www.reliefweb.int/library/documents/2002/ocha-cap-ECOSOC-18apr.pdf.

Nicola Reindorp and Peter Wiles, Humanitarian Coordination: Lessons from Recent Field Experience, study commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, June 2001, www.odi.org.uk/hpg/papers/evaluations/ochacoordination.pdf.

David Bassiouni, Report of the IASC Review of the Consolidated Appeals Process, April 2002.

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