From the ground up: it's about time for local humanitarian action

A May 2020 report published by Dr Larissa Fast and Christina Bennett for the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG), From the ground up: it's about time for local humanitarian action, brings together two years of research about local humanitarian action.

Although the role of local actors in responding to humanitarian crises and disasters has received more attention in the wake of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, all too often their contributions go unrecognised or unsupported. Local humanitarian action, however, is not a new phenomenon; local actors have always been at the forefront of responses to conflict, famine, natural hazards, or health crises.

The report focuses on local responses to the crisis, examining four themes of capacity and complementarity, financing, dignity, and protection. Fast and Bennett conclude that ‘it's about time that local contributions are acknowledged, supported and prioritised.’ The report identifies obstacles to change, in the form of different understandings of local, differing concepts of value, and unequal power dynamics, and identifies three key lessons:

  • Humanitarian action is always stronger with local action. Local humanitarian action is not always better, but without it, humanitarian action is always worse (19). 
  • Effective and local humanitarian action is not a zero-sum game that implies reduced roles for international humanitarian organisations or increased roles for local actors. Instead, it requires a focus on complementary action that best supports the needs of those affected by crisis (20).
  • Power is both the greatest resource and greatest impediment to effective local humanitarian action. The existing power dynamics embedded in the formal humanitarian system must be confronted and transformed (20-21).

To launch the report, the Humanitarian Policy Group invited Larissa to present the report findings in their webinar Global crises, local action: a humanitarian reset in response to Covid-19?. The launch featured co-author Christina Bennett, the former Head of HPG and now the Chief Executive of Start Network, as well as Gloria Soma, Executive Director of the Titi Foundation and Minnie Anne-Mata Catub, from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.

To document the contributions of local actors and changing relations between international organisations during the COVID-19 crisis, HPG has launched an online mapping tool.

Read the full report or the executive summary to find out more.

Find out more about local humanitarian responders during COVID-19.

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