Moving Toward Greater Accountability in Humanitarian Aid

In the late 1990s, the international humanitarian community started several initiatives to improve accountability to international refugees and other beneficiaries of humanitarian aid.

How’s it going?

Dr. Mark Foran ( M.D., M.P.H. ), an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, visited NYU Wagner to speak to that question — and how he and others have been moving it along with research.

He was the guest presenter in this second to last installment for the semester of “The Conflict, Security, and Development Series.” This series at NYU Wagner has attracted top-notch, cutting-edge researchers, policy makers, and practitioners who’ve discussed creative and effective approaches to helping refugees in conflict and post conflict arenas. The final installment will be Tuesday, March 6 with Dr. Vilma Balmaceda. The series will pick up again come the fall.

The Feb. 28 forum with Dr. Foran provided 40-plus listeners with a chance to appreciate the complexity and nuances involved in designing a research-based process by which the quality of humanitarian relief — from the standpoint of the recipients, principally – can be assessed and, where necessary, improved.

Dr. Foran’s research seeks to move the humanitarian aid community toward accountability standards, performance indicators, and data gathering procedures around NGO’s common aims. He is developing them for the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, a voluntary association of many of these organizations, and many large and influential ones.

What’s ultimately needed, he believes, are methods for surveying recipients of humanitarian assistance about their sense of security, sense of hope for the future, empowerment and understanding of who has helped them and whom they can turn to. It’s not enough, he said, for evaluators to conduct site visits at NGO offices abroad and ask questions of staffers. They must go into the field and survey refugees themselves. This, he said, may be the only truly solid way to assess an NGO’s impact beyond fundamental first questions of refugee mortality , morbidity, and nutrition.

In his more hopeful moments, no doubt, Dr. Foran envisions the creation of an accountability index for humanitarian relief organizations , one that could be easily read by world leaders and the general public, based in large part on such carefully designed surveys of the people the NGO’s seek to help. The funding will materialize if and when more NGO’s realize the value – to them and their beneficiaries – of devoting more than “00.1percent” of their annual budget to accountability programs.

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