What’s a donor? The Humanitarian Response Index.

Development Policy05 Jun 2009Thea Hilhorst

One of the phenomena of development practice today are indices. The Human Development Index of UNDP has become a highly influential policy instrument, and everybody is familiar with the index of Transparency International. One of the questions that always comes up is how solid indices are? Transparency International measures perceptions of corruption, does that really reflect the level of corruption in countries? Last week I attended a presentation by Philip Tamminga from the Spanish NGO DARA that has developed the Humanitarian Response Index. The index measures the performance of donors in the humanitarian field and is based on the principles of Good Humanitarian Donorship. The Netherlands at the moment ranks number 6 out of 22. The main areas of investigation are how donors respond to needs, how they support local capacity and recovery, how they work with partners, how they apply standards and how they incorporate learning and accountability.One of the most interesting questions that followed from the presentation is: Who is a donor? The Index only looks at the national sources of humanitarian contributions. It does not take into account the fact that money flows through long chains before it reaches the end-users of humanitarian goods. A large proportion of funding goes to agencies of the United Nations, such as OCHA, UNHCR and UNICEF. These agencies implement few programmes, but mainly act as channel to sub-contract funds to implementing agencies (who may in turn sub-contract local agencies). No wonder that many agency representatives interviewed for the index state that they see little difference between the bilateral donors, but have much more to say about the donor behaviour of the UN agencies. Labels of who is donor and who is implementing are far from clear, and depend on whose perspective one takes. Policy actors view the UN as humanitarian agencies, but in the eyes of practitioners they are really donors. This year, the Index will also look at the performance of UN agencies. The report will come out in November. I am looking forward to the results.