Humanitarian Health Action

Proceedings from the WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Phuket, Thailand, 4-6 May 2005

Government donor funding policies and practices

43. The generous response of government donors from around the world was a characteristic feature of the tsunami experience. But participants debated the extent to which the agreed principles of "Good Humanitarian Donorship" were put into practice. The earmarking attached to individual donor contributions did not always reflect community-level needs. Consistent tracking of resource flows and reliable data on aid pledges, commitments, and disbursements, are essential for planning and accountability. Funding methods - ranging from the establishment of funding pools to tight earmarking - influence both the ways in which agencies behave and the efficiency and effectiveness of their programmes. Several reviews are now being undertaken with a view to reforming the financing and management of humanitarian responses to crises and disasters. The goal is to devise a more rational system that matches available resources to needs, thus reducing inter-agency competition for funds, disputes over "who does what", and the occasional tendency of donors to select the most visible projects.

44. Some of the frustrations expressed by donors centred on information provided by agencies and their accountability for resources used. Donors reported receiving inconsistent messages from agency field offices and from their headquarters, particularly in respect of what was most urgently needed. They called for more consistency and predictability at different levels within individual agencies, better tracking of project implementation and more rigorous reporting systems that indicate how funds are being used. Within the tsunami response, some donor agencies felt that there was an excessive focus on curative health care and not enough on the delivery of public health interventions in peripheral areas.

45. Participants heard that funding needs to be available rapidly, and capable of being directed to priorities. Those who receive funds need sufficient flexibility to be able to respond to changing needs. Funding decisions should be made with minimal transaction costs. The burdens of proposal writing, reporting and accounting can be considerably reduced with more harmonization of requirements among donors. A coordinated assessment of needs can reduce transaction costs and increase value for money. Funding for new disasters and crises should not adversely affect the provision of resources for meeting needs from ongoing crises (especially those out of the gaze of the media) or divert resources from other health sector needs. Funding decisions should not exacerbate existing inequities between population groups or nations.