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Inklings | Who’s providing aid in Gaza (according to Gazans)

Notes and musings on how aid works, from The New Humanitarian’s policy editors.


Welcome to another edition of Inklings, where we explore all things aid and aid-adjacent unfolding in the wilds of Geneva, on the front lines of emergency response, or in the cramped corners of humanitarian conference rooms.

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Today: A new bid to “confront” the humanitarian system, who’s providing aid in Gaza (according to Gazans), and a bashful flag-raising.

On the radar|

‘We need to shake the tree’: A new commission aims to reimagine the humanitarian system by confronting the international architecture at the heart of a “broken” model. The CHH-Lancet Commission on Health, Conflict, and Forced Displacement launched this month with a goal of challenging humanitarian conventions – and a name that’s ripe for an abbreviation. It’s chaired by Paul Spiegel, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health (the CHH in the equation), and includes 20 or so academics and humanitarians from around the globe. Its manifesto, published in The Lancet, is promising “systemic changes and bold recommendations”. The commission says it will re-evaluate humanitarian principles, “deconstruct colonial legacies”, and “champion localisation”. It will include working groups with people affected by crisis. It will look ahead to the implications of artificial intelligence and the climate emergency on humanitarian health, and explore faster financing models. Come to think of it, it’s sort of like an episode of Rethinking Humanitarianism.

  • Early inklings: There’s a clear reformist mindset. “There’s something going wrong in our system that we need to rethink,” co-chair Karl Blanchet, director of the Geneva Centre of Humanitarian Studies, told me. “We need to shake the tree a little bit.” An advisory committee includes non-Western donors; UN agencies may be asked for input but aren’t part of the commission. Some broad early inklings: Pooled funds geared for quick financing in a 24-hour window to a select few aid groups that prove their value; a different role for UN agencies; measuring aid effectiveness through impact; viable funding for local aid; a clearer role for the diaspora.
  • Next steps: The commission had its first meeting in January. It aims to submit a draft for review next May, and launch recommendations by 2026. Keen observers may note: That will mark a decade since the sector’s big reform jamboree, the World Humanitarian Summit, sparked thousands of commitments and slightly fewer results.

Griffiths hoists a flag: Humanitarians are used to reform proposals, of course, and some of these ideas come from within the machinery. At this week’s European Humanitarian Forum in Brussels, UN relief chief Martin Griffiths spoke of a “step change in how we deliver assistance”, and name-dropped his so-called flagship initiative, which aims to streamline coordination and give people who use aid a voice. Currently a pilot project in four countries, the flagship, Griffiths allowed, is “perhaps ludicrously” named.

  • Meanwhile: The New Humanitarian had boots on the ground as humanitarians and politicos converged in Brussels. My colleagues Namukabo Werungah and Ebele Okobi took part in discussions on media coverage of neglected crises and the future of the humanitarian system (there’s that theme again). “Humanitarianism’s existential crisis was on full display” in a cramped Flagey venue, colleague Will Worley told me, describing a “shared angst around spiralling crises, funding cuts, and the inability to see through localisation promises”. Keep an eye out for his takeaways from the forum.

Who’s working in Gaza? Fewer than 10 international NGOs have managed direct operations in Gaza since Israel’s siege began, according to a new report from aid analysts Humanitarian Outcomes. And INGOs appear to have fewer than 50 international staff on the ground – combined – Abby Stoddard, the research group’s founder, told me. For all the talk of funding for UNRWA (or for that matter, who’s fundraising in the name of Gaza), it’s worth tracing what the aid footprint actually looks like beyond the UN’s embattled agency for Palestinian refugees. The report is part of the SCORE series, which are perceptions surveys that try to groundtruth reach and effectiveness by interviewing people who use aid (in this case, 810 people in Gaza by phone in February).

  • Who people talk about: Gaza’s biggest aid provider, UNRWA, is “by far the most present and effective”, respondents said. Others mentioned include: the Ministry of Social Development, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the UAE’s Red Crescent, ICRC, the Palestinian NGO MA’AN, celeb chef José Andrés’s World Central Kitchen, the development organisation Global Communities, and MSF. Also: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan are playing prominent roles in aid, interviewees said.

Data points|

What type of aid is getting through Israeli blockades? For those who received aid, 98% said they received food. There’s a link between poor humanitarian access and the prominence of food – it’s easier to deliver, and requires less staff, presence, or expertise than medical aid, for example. But the proportion of food as aid in Gaza is “notably high” compared to other crises that Humanitarian Outcomes studied (where 46% of people cited food).


FIF: The World Bank has a new page for the long-awaited loss and damage fund, complete with a handy FAQ (h/t Harjeet Singh). After much debate, the World Bank will host the loss and damage fund as a temporary “financial intermediary fund” for four years.

VUCA: When management theory collides with UN training, you get alphabet soup. The UN System Staff College (UNSSC) is advertising a new round of training for directors: “Today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world is challenging us to rethink our typical problem-solving approaches,” a Linkedin post reads. Shout-out to the sole commenter, who writes: “How do you think future leaders will manage the transition from VUCA to BANI (brittle, anxious, non-linear, incomprehensible)?”

End quote|

“Not all humanitarian action is good humanitarian action, not all business is good business. And we need to be deliberate about how we define each one.”

Colleague Jacob Goldberg has this solid interview with Access Now’s Giulio Coppi, who authored a report looking at the awkward intersection between humanitarian aid and private tech firms.

The future-minded analysis has an intriguing foot in the past: “The first humanitarian businessman was also an exploitative colonial settler.”

The Inklings newsletter: Have any tips, recommendations, or indecipherable acronyms to share? Get in touch: [email protected]

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