Emergencies are bound to happen. While there have been dramatic improvements in disaster preparedness and increased attention to mitigation, the outcomes of natural or man-made disasters are mostly unpredictable. In recent years we have seen a slew of catastrophes take the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world: from the tsunami in Southeast Asia to the earthquakes in Chile, Haiti and, most recently, Japan.
Emergency response tends to be immediate and focused on the short-term. Lives need to be saved. Relief needs to be coordinated. Survivors need to be assisted. After three to six months many relief organizations wrap up their missions or decrease their staff numbers. What happens next?
At the Global Fund for Children we believe it is imperative to support local grassroots organizations in their efforts to respond to what can otherwise be an extremely overwhelming task. This strategy should be focused on long-term support, combined with technical training to strengthen community grassroots organizations, to create sustainable efforts that go beyond our financial support. While technical capacity to perform emergency relief might not be the primary focus of the organizations we support, we have a great opportunity to financially support those who are on the ground and know firsthand what is best for their own communities.
Even before the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti was repeatedly dubbed “the republic of NGOs.” With a population of slightly less than 10 million, it is estimated that there are more than 3,000 NGOs independently operating throughout the country. While the presence of the international aid community is important, recovery and renewal support for any country should be funneled directly at the grassroots level. Millions of dollars have been kept in the hands of the large international NGOs. Only a small percentage has gone directly to locally led community grassroots organizations.
Members of the global philanthropy community can shift this power parity and empower those in the field not only in Haiti but also elsewhere around the world. By financially supporting those with the richest knowledge of their communities and focusing on capacity building, we are not only strengthening a sector that rarely gets funded. We also are ensuring that after the curtains go down, the lights are shut, and the international community leaves in the wake of a disaster, there will be local groups ready to carry on with the show.
Sandra Macías del Villar is associate program officer, Brazil and the Caribbean, at the Global Fund for Children.