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ACF review of humanitarian reform


Summary of review1

Action contre la Faim (ACF) has published a review of recent humanitarian reforms that include the Cluster Approach, new humanitarian financing mechanisms and the introduction of a Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) and Principles of Partnerships2. While ACF believes that Humanitarian Reform is a positive step, the review has concerns regarding roll out of the reform and believes that there are major issues that urgently need to be addressed before proceeding further.

The reforms were launched in 2005, since which time ACF's engagement with the reforms has been on an ad hoc and largely case by case basis. The review is based on the past three years of experience and on a series of internal consultations that took place during 2009. At the beginning of 2009, questionnaire-based feedback was received from eleven Heads of Mission across the ACF International Network, two of ACF's representatives in the Global Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and Logistics Rapid Response Team, and the Head of the Emergency Pool in ACF-France. Two working groups were formed at the headquarters of ACF-France. The first working group was comprised of personnel from key departments (mainly operations, techniques, logistics and finances). The second working group was comprised of members of the ACF-France board. These groups discussed and analysed information regarding ACF's experiences around the operational, technical and financial components of the reform.

The review states that ACF's policy is to actively participate in the Humanitarian Reform framework, at both global and country level. However the organisation would like to reserve the right to limit participation in cases where and/or when:

  • The implementation of the Humanitarian Reform may enter into conflict with ACF principles and/or the ACF Charter.
  • The Principles of Partnership are not strictly observed.
  • The added value to the humanitarian operations in the areas ACF is working is not demonstrated.

ACF considers that each situation will require specific analysis that will, in turn, decide their level of engagement and participation. ACF remain concerned regarding certain key issues, such as the risk of politicisation of aid previously experienced in places like Ethiopia, Afghanistan or Zimbabwe, and the extension of United Nations (UN) integrated missions. The reform may serve to potentially align political, military and humanitarian objectives within specific contexts, and could possibly merge these aspects under a single country leadership. ACF feels it would be prudent not to commit to such a systematic and equal participation at country level.

The principles recommendations described in the ACF Review are:
Accountability and partnership
Develop an effective partnership through the unconditional respect for Principles of Partnership There is an improvement in inclusiveness for all humanitarian actors in the coordination process. However, the strict respect of the Principles of Partnership in the rollout of the Reform remains a challenge, especially when it comes to the principles of equality, transparency and results oriented approaches.
Ensure the implementation of the recommendations from independent evaluations The tangible benefits of the partners' actions towards beneficiary populations are increasingly assessed through independent evaluations of the Reform. However, gaps in the implementation of their recommendations are often perceived.
Improve accountability towards beneficiaries Concrete measures should be taken by the humanitarian actors to improve and show accountability to beneficiaries within the framework of the Humanitarian Reform. There needs to be an improved dialogue and coordination on assessed needs, planned responses, results achieved and gaps so that the system better serves populations affected by disasters.
Improve coordination of humanitarian action by standardising the country Cluster role and processes The Cluster implementation presents a very mixed picture, a high dependence on personalities and a lack of consistency. There are a number of good practices emerging in the roll out of the Cluster approach which could enhance its impact and efficiency.
Further contribution by humanitarian funding to cover NGO resources allocated to coordination Increasing coordination implies more cost for the participants in the Reform process. The extra time and costs of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are not usually covered by extra resources dedicated to coordination functions. When NGOs are requested to play an active coordination role, the costs of this should be acknowledged and covered for NGOs equally, as they are for UN-lead agencies, through humanitarian financing.
Strengthen inter-Cluster coordination There is a danger of the Cluster approach reinforcing the barrier between sectors. The global coordination is a critical area where the office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) can establish its added value in providing solid support and link between the different sectors. Facilitating inter-Cluster assessments to emergency situations and cross-Cluster strategic planning should be prioritised by all actors involved.
Humanitarian financing
Ensure direct funding to guarantee timely transfer of funds in rapid-onset emergencies Recent examples of the use of pooled funding mechanisms in rapid-onset emergencies have resulted in delays in getting funds to implementing agencies. Direct funding in specific contexts should be a priority to ensure an efficient and timely humanitarian response.
Design accountability lines and funding schemes for Cluster lead-agencies High levels of transparency and timeliness in the allocation of humanitarian funds are crucial. Accountability lines and funding schemes must be designed in order to increase the transparency and to draw a line between the lead-agencies responsibilities of coordination, funding and programming. The management of the funds should be under the responsibility of the coordination team and not under the chief of the agency implemented programmes.
Increase the predictability and efficiency of humanitarian funding through standardised Pool Fund/Common Humanitarian Fund (PF/CHF) allocation procedures across countries Clear guidelines and criteria for the prioritisation of funds should be established together with strategic and technical advisory boards to support the HC in its decision process for PF/CHF allocation. NGOs should be represented in those boards and independent audits should be conducted.
Set a clear and adequate overhead costs policy when funding is passed through to NGOs and reduce transaction costs. Inadequate management of funds can directly decrease the efficiency of the process and cause financial losses, mainly through the multiplication of administrative layers and duplication of the overhead costs.
Improve humanitarian leadership by standardising the HC role and functions The roles of HC and Resident Coordinator (RC) should be clearly separated, and no longer be combined, especially in tense political contexts. In addition, efforts should be made to regulate, standardise and reinforce the role of the HC, according to the different contexts.


1ACF Network Discussion Paper. ACF and Humanitarian Reform.

2The Global Humanitarian Partnership (GHP) has established the following Principles of Partnership to set out a common understanding of and approach to partnerships: Equality, Transparency, Result-oriented approach, Responsibility, Complementarity. These provide a template to gauge coordination between agencies.

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