Aid system failing to meet its commitments to people in crisis

  • New report reveals the aid system is falling short when it comes to meeting core accountability commitments to people affected by crisis.
  • Unless leadership of organisations across the aid system ensure that accountability to those they serve is non-negotiable, already vulnerable people risk being exploited, abused or ignored and precious resources care used ineffectively.
  • Yet there is evidence of hope – organisations can change. The report finds that aid organisations which use the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality & Accountability to measure and improve their work overtime are making the improvements needed to be more accountable to those they serve.

The aid system is not fully delivering on its core accountability commitments to people affected by crisis despite years of strong rhetoric and high-level promises.

This is the finding of a new report drawing on seven years of global humanitarian data, system-wide studies, and extensive expert thought.

Released 27 September 2022, CHS Alliance’s Humanitarian Accountability Report 2022: Accountability is Non-Negotiable paints a stark picture of how aid is delivered. It uncovers a system that, despite its noble aims is struggling to learn from and change for the people it sets out to help.

Estimates put the number of people in need of assistance at 274 million this year alone, an increase on previous years.

“As the UN General Assembly draws to a close, we are under no illusions about the scale of  the challenges ahead in making sure humanitarian aid reaches those in need.” says Tanya Wood, Executive Director, CHS Alliance.

“While a number of dedicated organisations are making progress, the system as a whole needs transformational change to base its work on people facing crisis.

“Again and again, the same pattern appears: a system that is not listening to or taking seriously people facing crises – the sole reason our institutions and programmes exist.

“This is a dangerous way of working. It risks already vulnerable people being exploited or abused – as we’ve seen yet again with recent news of widespread sexual abuse allegations against aid workers in South Sudan.

“Overall, the aid system needs to do much more to fundamentally change its culture; change its mindset and put the dignity, agency and rights of crisis-affected people at the core of how it responds.”

Entrusted with immense public and private resources, the aid system is expected to bring relief and hope. This trust requires more than good intentions; it demands recognition of the vast power differences between those delivering aid and those receiving it. The people with less power in this relationship must be able to hold those with power to account for their actions.

The report finds this is not the reality for the majority of people caught up in conflict, natural disasters, food insecurity or extreme poverty.

Despite this concerning finding, the report does see strong signs of progress and hope. Aid organisations which monitor and measure how they work against a universal accountability standard over time do change how they work and become more accountable to those they serve.

Tracking long-term data, organisations who measure how they meet the Commitments of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality & Accountability make the strongest gains against some of the hardest to tackle systemic issues.

This group of organisations now listen more when people affected by crisis tell them what they think – and crucially – they change how they work because of what they hear.

The report finds these organisations made particular progress against one of the biggest failings that repeatedly shames the aid system – sexual exploitation and abuse of people facing crisis by aid workers.

Drawing lessons from the analysis, literature and expert thought, the report urges leaders from all side of the aid system to take up the CHS Alliance’s Accountability Manifesto, which calls for:

  1. The views of crises-affected people to direct all work.
  2. Strong and vocal leaders to drive a whole-of-organisation approach to accountability.
  3. Recognition of local leadership’s potential to accelerate greater accountability.
  4. A collaborative and collective approach to make accountability to people affected by crisis a non-negotiable throughout the aid system.

Reactions to the report – extracts from the report’s forewords:

Martin Griffiths Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said:

“Emergency response is of course urgent, essential. It’s the nature of the thing. People in dire straits may forgive some rough edges in the services they receive. But it matters tremendously how we work. When we fail, as we do too often in sexual abuse, exploitation, or harassment by aid workers; making at-risk groups even more vulnerable; or undermining local leadership, we should ask ourselves some tough questions. Did we miss the warnings of the people in question? Did we check in with them enough? And if we were even partially aware, why didn’t we take decisive action? I’m delighted that so many organisations are making dedicated efforts to put people affected by crisis at the core of their work. Yet what this report shows that these efforts are not always systematic, nor consistent enough, and that good intentions are never enough. It does show the many ways to make our policies and accountability goals a reality. Leaders, managers and boards can help drive this change just by paying attention.”

Gloria Soma, Founder and Director, Titi Foundation, South Sudan said:

“I know what it’s like to not be listened  to. It’s not until you have been ignored  – at the very time you most need help  and support – that you understand  how it feels. The feeling is the same if you’re ignored by a person, an organisation, or a system which has more ‘power’ than you. That’s why I wholeheartedly welcome this report. The Humanitarian Accountability Report gives us a much-needed, honest look into how well the aid system is listening to and hearing the people who are experiencing the worst the world has to offer. The report helps us to face up to what happens when things go wrong. It also proposes actions that can be taken today to protect the rights and dignity of people in  the most vulnerable of situations.”

Watch a short video of the report’s key findings and action calls:

Next steps:

    • Hear from the experts, see the headline accountability trends and explore the data on the interactive HAR 2022 microsite.
    • Read CHS Alliance’s Executive Director, Tanya Woods’ blog on her five lessons-in-a-line from the HAR 2022.
    • Read online or download an Executive Summary of the HAR 2022 in English or français.
    • Read online or download the full report: HAR 2022.