US Aid Reshuffling on Haiti Shows the Need for a Contingency Disaster Fund for Humanitarian Relief

The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) is the lead American agency on humanitarian relief efforts like the one underway in Haiti. The problem is, it is just one office within the relatively small U.S. Agency for International Development.  When an unexpected crisis like the one in Haiti hits, this small office gets stretched pretty thin.  Now, in order to respond to the disaster in Haiti, OFDA has to ration its limited resources to meet needs in Haiti.  Accordingly, OFDA announced an across-the-board 40% cut for all regions to which they already provide humanitarian assistance. Refugees International explains what this cut means on the ground in places where OFDA assistance is already saving lives.

In Somalia, where 3.2 million are in need of humanitarian assistance, program cuts may result in health, water and sanitation shortages and likely lead to increased mortality rates. The cuts may also destroy the extremely delicate networks that have been developed over time to ensure that humanitarian assistance can be delivered in places where there is extreme violence and insecurity. Rebuilding those networks will not be easy. Moreover, the international community suffers from “donor fatigue” in Somalia. So while hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for Haiti relief and recovery efforts from the private sector, it will be more challenging to raise funds for Somalia’s equally compelling crisis.

In eastern DR Congo, more than one million people remain internally displaced due to ongoing violence between armed groups. U.S. funding for the humanitarian crisis has been crucial in the wider international efforts to meet the needs of the Congolese people. Funding from OFDA has been able to sustain vulnerable populations with lifesaving assistance. Increased U.S. funding towards efforts to protect victims of sexual violence in the DRC has also played a vital role in responding to and mitigating one of the main protection concerns for women and girls. And in areas where displaced people have begun to slowly return home, OFDA funds have been crucial in supporting people who are rebuilding their homes and their lives. Efforts being made to create a more stable and peaceful Congo could easily unravel as U.S. funding dries up, even if only temporarily. The gains being made here, particularly for those returning home, remain fragile and need to be strengthened and secured if they are to hold.

Refugees International recommends that the United States Congress establish a contingency fund for unanticipated emergencies. It warns that “without such a fund, it is plausible and perhaps even likely that when a new crisis dominates the headlines next year, the people of Haiti may experience similar funding cuts as they continue their recovery.”  I concur. It is also important to remember that we are not talking about huge sums of money, at least in budgetary terms.  This is one of those cases where just a little cash could go a long way.    

Image: Flickr (UNDP)