Making Humanitarian Response More Effective

Authored by Catholic Relief Services

CRS Experience

Catholic Relief Services has provided humanitarian assistance to people in need for more than 70 years. In 2015 alone, CRS reached over 13.2 million people, investing $264 million in 46 countries through our emergency preparedness, response and recovery work. In response to natural disasters and complex emergencies, CRS works to save lives immediately, and then supports communities’ recovery by assisting them with livelihoods and shelter, disaster risk reduction and strengthening civil society. In addition, CRS helps communities around the world prevent future man-made disasters through peacebuilding programs that promote forgiveness and help rebuild trusting relationships between households and communities affected by violence. The agency also supports programs that prepare communities for recurring shocks attributed to climate change and natural disasters, and helps mitigate their impacts through disaster risk reduction. CRS participated in the InterAction humanitarian pledge of $1.2 billion from 2016-2018.

Recommendations to the U.S. Government

The World Humanitarian Summit’s Grand Bargain outcome ushered forward commitments to make the humanitarian system more targeted and effective to meet unprecedented humanitarian need. We remind the U.S. government of these commitments and emphasize the following:

  1. Robust funding for humanitarian assistance is not the solution, but still very necessary.  The World Humanitarian Summit brought forward broad recognition that additional funding for humanitarian needs is not the solution to a system that is “not just broke, but broken.”1 However, robust funding is still needed to meet humanitarian needs as they continue to grow with unceasing conflict in Syria and more extreme weather events globally. CRS emphasizes the particular need for disaster risk reduction funding to prevent shocks at the outset, and recovery funding when the emergency is no longer in the public eye.

  2. Follow the mantra: “local first.” The Grand Bargain recognized the import of non-traditional actors and emphasized the indelible role of local and national actors as first responders. Much aligned with the Catholic principle of “subsidiarity,” which emphasizes the primacy of the smaller entity closest to the situation at hand, CRS promotes the primary role of local actors in decision making during a humanitarian response. We commend the U.S. government’s current plans to establish country and regional-based pooled fund mechanisms led by INGOs to allow greater access to funding for local NGOs. In addition, CRS recommends the U.S. government grant long-term funding to NGOs and partners to help build the capacity of local institutions through direct accompaniment, job shadowing and peer-to-peer support, which have proven effective in strengthening local institutions.2 We also recognize the need to perform research to better understand how local NGOs are best able to respond to emergency humanitarian needs, as well as participate in and influence the humanitarian infrastructure.

  3. Continue to hone cash-readiness of implementers. The Grand Bargain brought forth a series of commitments to bring to scale cash-based assistance that goes hand in hand with longer-term responses for the displaced. Multi-sector cash programming can meet basic needs, uphold individual dignity to make decisions about how best to meet these needs, and support local markets. To do so, the U.S. government will have to plan for and fund the necessary supports for putting cash-based systems in place, including addressing the sector-specific mandates of donor agencies which are limiting, supporting NGOs to build cash readiness of local partners, sharing learning, and carrying out pre-crisis market assessments in high-risk environments within ongoing development programs.

  4. Look at long-term needs in humanitarian emergencies. More and longer-term funding for humanitarian assistance should be linked to DRR and development approaches to build up communities that are most prone to the effects of shocks and stresses. This is particularly relevant to the unprecedented 65 million people who are forcibly displaced and living away from home for years, if not decades. This will make it possible to effect change over the long-term so vulnerable communities are better able to cope with disasters in the future.

  5. Promote an integrated approach to emergency assistance. Integrating emergency assistance with protection, peacebuilding and other technical areas makes responses more effective. In complex crises, emergency assistance should be preceded by conflict analysis, and integrate peace-seeking solutions such as building social cohesion, working through local faith institutions and addressing issues of justice and poverty. Similarly, disaster risk reduction activities should be integrated into emergency response as often as possible, and funded more generously to help people in high-risk areas prepare for future shocks.

  6. Lead difficult efforts to reform the United Nations. With less funding available to respond to growing humanitarian needs, particularly the long-term needs of the displaced, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the humanitarian system is critical. While the World Humanitarian Summit and UN Summit on Refugees were prime opportunities to address some of the systematic inefficiencies of the current system, they remain unaddressed. Therefore, we call on the U.S. government, as a primary donor to the U.N. and its humanitarian causes, to lead efforts to make the system work better-- first and foremost to hold the U.N. accountable to its Grand Bargain commitment to “break out of silos and collaborate much more”.3

    The U.N. has an important role as a convener and coordinator that can tap into local networks and expertise, and help establish integrated response strategies and, as appropriate, act as logistics manager. Rather than the U.N. also acting as donor, funding should take the most direct and least costly route to implementers, such as through the creation of a rapid response fund to get funding expediently when emergency strikes, managed and programmed directly by NGOs. The U.S. government should also seek and support alternatives to the current humanitarian system, such as an “integrated response,” or “neighborhood,” approach.4 With one lead NGO assigned to an area or neighborhood, identifying multi-sectoral needs, registering participants and coordinating response activities in collaboration with local state leadership and affected populations would be streamlined.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Poidatz at

1 Dickinson, Elizabeth. Humanitarian System Just Broke or Also Broken? Devex, May 24, 2016.

2 From interviews with CRS partner organizations in India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, including five Muslim faith-based community organizations, two Caritas members, and two religious communities.

3 United Nations, Department of Public Information, Secretary-General Calls World Humanitarian Summit Unique Chance to Show Solidarity with 125 Million People in Immediate Crisis, SG/SM/17648-IHA/1390, April 4, 2016.

4 “Integrated Response Approach: Discussion paper” accessed online at


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