International humanitarian aid provides relief to tens of millions of people each year: in 2007 to more than 43 million people through UN humanitarian appeals alone. However, it is also often too little, too late, and unpredictable, or inappropriate to the needs of communities, including specific groups such as women and girls. The UN-led reforms since 2005 to improve humanitarian aid have begun – but only begun – to make a difference to this variable performance.Oxfam International published its analysis of the successes and challenges facing humanitarian action in a major report, The Right to Survive, in April 2009. This note now considers one specific recent reform: the development of ‘pooled funds’. This reform has coincided with increased competition for humanitarian resources – at the same time as the need for humanitarian aid is growing.Based on Oxfam’s experience, this note considers the successes and failures of these funds to date and makes suggestions for their continued improvement. Recognizing that pooled funds are here to stay, Oxfam argues for constructive engagement with them to ensure that they are fit for purpose, and proposes that donors not only hold the UN pooled funds to account for their performance, but also ensure diverse humanitarian funding in order to enable an effective humanitarian response and to reduce transaction costs. Some of our topline recommendations:
- Improvement in pooled-fund management structure and contractual relationships.
- Improvement in the needs assessment and allocation processes for all pooled funds.
- Better engagement of national and local governments in the allocation, coordination, monitoring, and evaluation of pooled funds when politically appropriate.
- Ensuring that donor governments maintain some bilateral funding directly to humanitarian agencies for specialized, flexible, rapid or longer-term strategic response.
- Strengthening of accountability, through allowing greater participation and oversight by local actors.