Why Beyonce is Teaming up with the United Nations

This graph offers some insight:

That’s from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, beter known as OCHA. When a manmade or natural disaster strikes, the UN and NGOs like the Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and Oxfam are like global first-responders. They swoop in, set up refugee camps, begin immunizing newborns, bring in food and water, set up medical services and provide any number of basic services caring for the health and welfare of vulnerable populations.

Coordinating and delivering these services is what the UN does best. It is also one of the most chronically under-funded aspects of the UN’s work.

The chart above shows the 20 current major relief operations being overseen by the UN, from providing relief to people in the Phillippenes affected by a devastating Typhoon last year, to the ongoing crisis in Somalia. Each of these appeals have one thing in common: they receive far less funding than what is required to fully respond to the crisis.

This is partly how it is set up to be. Aside from one small UN fund, there is no standing reserve earmarked for emergencies. When a crisis strikes, the UN must go to donors hat-in-hand, each and every time.  This results in situations where relief efforts for places like Haiti or Sudan routinely receive less than half of what is required to feed or immunize every person who needs a WFP ration or diptheria vaccine. As of today, of the $8.7 billion that is needed for these 20 disasters, only $4.2 billion has been committed. That leaves a funding gap of nearly $5 billion.

Enter Beyonce. August 19 is World Humanitarian Day — timed coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq. Beyonce is leading an effort by OCHA to do some awareness raising about global emergencies and inspire individuals around the world to do something humanitarian. The campaign is called I Was Here. Beyonce even composed a song for the occasion which will debut on the 19th.  Here’s her PSA.

To be sure, a day of awareness raising on social media will not close that $5 billion funding gap, but it will help key more people into the important work of OCHA and humanitarians around the world. That helps. If we are ever to close the chronic funding shortages for humanitarian emergencies, we will need people in donor countries demand that their governments help close the funding gap. Should some of the people who take action on the 19th can be co-opted into the cause, Beyonce’s day of action will have been a success.

UPDATE: Here the Song and video for Beyonce’s “I Was Here,” filmed at the UN.