This blog post was first published in October 2020 in the Humanitarian Accountability Report 2020. Page 45.
Meeting Core Humanitarian Standard Commitment 4: Humanitarian response is based on communication, participation and feedback.
They are treating us like we are ignorant… I know what is best for me, why don’t you all just listen. There, in my opinion, is the solution for this sector.
Salama Mohammed Bakhalah. Board member, Loop, United Kingdom
As a sector we have made progress in creating systems that ensure accountability and recognise the need to communicate with communities and people affected by crisis. However, despite the growing awareness of the need, there has been no significant shift in practice. Data corroborates my own experience that as a sector we still have a long way to go.
I believe that to operationalise these systems and make them work better for local communities, the sector needs to decentralise the discussion. What holds the sector back from meeting its Commitments is that discussion takes the form of a centralised, global approach that simply states what form best practice should take. It is often forgotten that all people are different, even if the nature of crises are often similar. In some instances the sector still treats people receiving aid as though they are children who do not know what is good for them, and have little to contribute.
People know what is best for them.
People do know what is best for them, and they are often working hard to deliver solutions with no resources. They deserve to be given space to express this knowledge. We need to take the answers from the community and shape the feedback mechanism and the response based on those answers. The sector needs to learn from them, and not the reverse.
In a country such as Yemen, where 80 per cent of the population needs some form of humanitarian or protection assistance, one individual could be receiving food, shelter, water, education and other forms of support from more than one humanitarian agency. How can we expect one person to be able to provide feedback to all of these different organisations, when each one will have its own approach?
The act of providing feedback in this case becomes a burden in and of itself.
As a sector, I believe that we are still treating these Commitments as a box-ticking exercise. Donors need to know that their money is being put to good use; humanitarian actors want to prove that they are meeting all of the Commitments. In reality, to what extent are we genuinely meeting the true purpose of these Commitments? When we say that people have shaped the response, at what stage are we asking people for their views? Is it after the project has been written, approved and confirmed? If that is the case, what are we really asking of them? In instances where humanitarian partners have been able to collect information on the views of the population in the response to a crisis, the system has proven to be very slow to include or take into account those views.
On a visit to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Lahj, Yemen, a woman told me that, “They are treating us like we are ignorant, like we do not know anything. I know what I want, and I know what is best for me, why don’t you all just listen.” There, in my opinion, is the solution for this sector. We simply need just to listen to the people, to listen to what they really want. That includes listening to them about the ways they share their views and opinions and then adapting to what is already being deployed, rather than asking them to adapt to us and giving them preconceived options to comply with.
Salama Mohammed Bakhalah. Board member of Loop.