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Tom Mitchell is head of the climate change, environment and forests programme at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) announced the findings of its Multilateral Aid Review (MAR) last week. The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) finished rock bottom of the table of 43 agencies a result deemed poor that all core funding is being withdrawn.
While many in the disasters community would agree UNISDR has considerable shortcomings and has suffered from mission creep, its aim to guide and co ordinate the efforts of a wide range of partners to achieve substantive reduction in disaster losses remains vital.
DFID review recognises UNISDR unique role, saying it is aligned to the government priority objectives, particularly on climate change However, DFID criticises the organisation for allocating aid in line with a strategy (unfair as it does not allocate aid), and focusing too much at national level rather than on international co ordination (probably fair).
DFID says failings in a 2005 evaluation still remained by 2010 and that UNISDR cannot clearly point to its influence on disaster risk reduction (DRR) outcomes on the ground (unfair as it is a co ordinating body).
In the context of describing UNISDR role as unique and well aligned with government priorities, the decision to stop funding rather than placing it on measures warrants investigation. Possible reasons for DFID decisions are as follows:
1. UNISDR is just so expensive that the UK tax payer cannot afford to support it. Wrong. Funding to UNISDR was just per year from 2006 2009 and less in 2010 (7 percent of UNISDR budget). Removing the support equates to one hundredth of the savings sought by Liverpool City Council.
2. DRR is not a priority for DFID, so funding UNISDR makes no sense. Wrong or at least I hope it is wrong. DFID has a DRR policy, albeit old, invests in DRR projects and wants to be an active participant in the UNISDR organised Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in May this year. It has just seen a large amount of UK aid to Pakistan washed away in the floods and wants to increase money to Pakistan. Disaster losses were the highest ever for many developing countries in 2010, and December Cancun Agreement highlights DRR as a central pillar of adaptation to climate change, something DFID has recognised in its forward planning for programming adaptation finance. Also, DFID Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) is widely tipped to recommend a significant refocusing of effort towards DRR and resilience building, but it is difficult to see how this can happen effectively without engaging UNISDR, something politically tricky now DFID is withdrawing finance.
3. DFID has a better agency ready to step into UNISDR shoes. Very unlikely. agencies have been annoyed that UNISDR has got too big for its boots, none has the mandate or political space to replace it. DFID actually acknowledges this implicitly in the review. system.
4. DFID is just following the trend of other donors in ending their funding for UNISDR in 2011. Wrong. Many of UNISDR top donors have already agreed their support for 2011, and DFID stance is the most public display of dissatisfaction. Other donors may choose to follow DFID decision, though this is unlikely. While the 2010 evaluation of UNISDR highlighted problems,
the reforms recommended in the of the Hyogo Framework for Action, due to be announced next week, will buy the organisation more time and support. Politically, DFID decision will make it more difficult for Britain to leverage influence on DRR, and creates a problem for the work of UK NGOs and researchers, many of whom lead key international DRR processes. These UK ambassadors will now find themselves under pressure to explain the actions of their government.
5. A co ordinating agency is just not sexy enough in an era of and a few had to get the chop. Very likely. agencies will never sound as sexy to the government coalition as 213 million children or 160 million mosquito nets Andrew Mitchell had to show his colleagues he was as ruthless as them when it came to tough decisions, particularly when under pressure to justify ring fencing aid to his party and the British public. DFID likely judged that stopping support for UNISDR would create less political fallout than ending money to higher profile agencies.
6. UNISDR did not fill out the form well and will never come out strongly in a bottom up, value for money assessment. Very likely. The MAR assessment methodology included country visits, surveys, questionnaires and external evaluations. I would argue that the MAR was comparing apples and oranges very different types of agencies where a bottom up evaluation of for money will never favour an international inter agency coordination mechanism. The evaluation of UNISDR provided by the MAR highlights considerable shortcomings in the methodology for organisations of this kind. To what extent were other agencies asked about UNISDR co ordination abilities, its strategic positioning, and its importance for the development project given the increasing prevalence of disasters?
7. There are poor links between the review processes and DFID has demonstrated a lack of foresight. Very likely. The MAR says: several organisations are subject to review through other processes . [the humanitarian organisations are covered by the HERR] . decisions have not yet been taken [about funding] Simply, DFID should have put off making a decision about UNISDR until the HERR is out. With the HERR recommending strengthening of risk reduction systems, somebody should have pointed out the short sightedness. DFID has some great people working on DRR but they are dispersed, few in number, tend not to be specialists and lack voice in senior decision making processes. It is high time for this to change.
It is difficult as an outsider to pin the decision to drop UNISDR on any single reason, and it is likely to be a combination of the above. Nonetheless, it does not seem right or logical to me, and I hope the HERR will stimulate a rethink. Unfortunately the political damage has already been done,
and I look forward to UNISDR response.