Cabaero: Localizing aid

Nini Cabaero
·2 min read

WHEN a calamity strikes, international aid agencies are among the first to respond. That is how the aid community works. They go to where help is needed.

A study by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) pointed, however, to the country’s reliance on international aid agencies when local organizations are best positioned to act on disasters.

The HHI study released in late October said that this reliance on international actors means the Philippines is not realizing its full potential for utilizing local organizations to bolster the country’s disaster risk reduction and climate change activities.

It is true international help is always welcome when disaster hits a part of the country. When typhoon Rolly (Goni) hit Bicol last week leaving 20 people dead and some P5 billion in property damaged, the European Union and the Caritas Internationalis were among those that responded immediately.

When you’re down, it’s natural to welcome help from others so you can pick yourself up. Although, ideally, you build strength to be able to get back up after every setback.

“Our research points to the continued central networked role international aid agencies play in the Philippine disaster system. Further progress is needed to ensure that local agencies are empowered to respond without international support,” the HHI said in a statement. The HHI is Harvard University’s humanitarian research center.

It said international actors were found to be the top “influencers” or those well-connected organizations that spread information quickly across the network. But, the study also said, a shift in the role of international actors within the system is expected over time. “It is common for international actors to eventually transfer their roles of fostering local system connectivity to a range of emerging local leaders at all levels,” it said. This process of “localization” puts local actors in the forefront with institutions leading in disaster preparedness and response.

Community-based organizations and nongovernment organizations as well as local government units are best positioned to respond to disasters. They know the situation well, they stand to benefit from the recovery of the community and there is no language barrier for them.

What hamper their efforts are usually their limited funds and resources and at times a lack of agreement on priorities. These groups are willing to respond to the disaster and do more, even leaving their families to fend for themselves as they try to help others. But there are limits to what they can do and it doesn’t help when the leadership diverts the aid.

Then, there is the matter of corruption by shameless government officials taking advantage of the emergency situation to make money from other people’s misery. The little money that should go to the victims gets diminished further because of crooks in government.

Build on the local organizations’ ability to respond to disasters but look also into the reasons for the country’s reliance on international aid agencies.