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Midyear update: Outsourcing risk to local responders

Growing pressure and rising fatalities

A local responder educates about Ebola in Congo IFRC
Karungi Shamillah, 27, a Red Cross volunteer in her own community in Majada, Uganda, close to the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, educating communities about Ebola.

Remember those 10 crises and trends to watch in 2019 we presented back in January? We’ve been keeping an eye on them, reporting on how areas from climate change to political transitions in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo are impacting humanitarian needs and response. With 2019 just about half over, it’s time for an update.

Here’s what’s changed over the past six months, what we’re paying special attention to, and how it may affect the lives and livelihoods of people on the ground. Look for two updates every day this week, including today's on Congo and South Sudan and on outsourcing risk to local responders.

Be sure to share your thoughts – and ideas for our continuing coverage – at [email protected] or @thenewhumanitarian

When facing limited access and high levels of risk, the humanitarian sector relies on local staff and organisations to deliver life-saving aid. These local aid workers may have better access, but are they also equipped with a fair share of resources to stay safe?

What’s new: 

Local humanitarians continue to shoulder a disproportionate and rising share of the risk when aid workers become targets in humanitarian emergencies. The vast majority of aid workers killed have always been local, but the per capita fatality rates for local staff have risen steeply, according to a new analysis by the Aid Worker Security Database. There’s a growing push for partnerships between international organisations and local ones – fuelled in part by the aid sector’s localisation reforms, which aim to empower grassroots responders. But these partnerships are often far from equal. Local aid groups say they’re hamstrung by short-term funding that may cover the cost of a one-off project, but not the resources to stay safe. The widespread practice of subcontracting donor-funded projects is the norm, and analysts say there’s evidence the model itself can even incentivise risk. A recent study by InterAction, a US-based NGO alliance, found that local NGOs in insecure areas of South Sudan and northeastern Nigeria were competing to lower their costs to win UN and donor projects.

Why we’re watching:

The aid sector’s risk imbalance is as lopsided as ever. Humanitarian organisations have promised to revamp aid and boost direct funding to local NGOs. But, for now, the lion’s share of resources still trickles down through unequal partnerships, local groups say. Nevertheless these local workers and organisations are on the front lines of crises and they’re taking on more responsibilities in humanitarian responses – with or without the funding to manage their growing risk. This is also a factor for local women-led organisations, which may see added gender-based threats in their work. These organisations tend to be newer, smaller, and just as dependent on inadequate subcontracted funding

Keep in mind:

The latest high-profile test for aid worker safety is in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where frontline Ebola responders face distrust and have been attacked in sceptical local communities. There’s now a consensus that a locally led response is crucial to controlling the outbreak. What remains to be seen is how well local health workers will be supported.

(TOP PHOTO: Karungi Shamillah, 27, a Red Cross volunteer in her own community in Majada, Uganda, close to the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, educating communities about Ebola.)

Read all our midyear updates: Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2019

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