Report No. 40 to the Storting (2008-2009)

Norway’s Humanitarian Policy

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2 Introduction

2.1 Humanitarian challenges

Developments in Georgia, Gaza, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2008 and 2009 demonstrate that unresolved conflicts can flare up at any time and give rise to new humanitarian suffering. Complex and protracted conflicts, such as in Afghanistan, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, require extensive, coordinated international efforts to help the victims, end the conflicts and prevent new suffering.

In addition to conflicts, natural disasters have a decisive influence on people’s lives and living conditions in many parts of the world. Climate and environmental change is now a key cause of three out of four humanitarian disasters. These challenges require better coordination between humanitarian efforts, on the one hand, and development policy, on the other, in relation to preventive measures before and after a disaster.

The ongoing financial crisis threatens the humanitarian effort by increasing vulnerability and reducing contributions to the UN agencies and other humanitarian organisations. We must be prepared for such events to put the international humanitarian system under pressure also in future. How the international community should deal with these challenges and how Norway can best contribute are therefore questions with many part-answers that will influence our overall foreign and development policy.

Figure 2.1 Gaza after the hostilities in January 2009.

Figure 2.1 Gaza after the hostilities in January 2009.

Photo: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Textbox 2.1 The financial crisis, food crisis and humanitarian efforts

The world economy is currently experiencing its biggest downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s. The crisis has major consequences for the price of goods, private remittances, capital flows and aid budgets. The populations of many countries will be more vulnerable to humanitarian disasters, while countries at risk will have fewer economic resources at their disposal in a crisis situation.

The most immediate and dramatic consequence for many poor people in developing countries is the discontinuation of remittances from relatives who work abroad. Foreign workers are often the first to go when there is a downturn in the employment market. In many countries, contributions from the diaspora amount to more than aid and foreign investment combined, according to the white paper Climate, Conflict and Capital .

African countries are among those hardest hit by the crisis. The World Bank, for example, expects that Angola’s GDP will be reduced by 23 per cent – a reduction that can be compared with that experienced by the US in the 1930s. Countries such as Ghana and Tanzania – which were well on their way to achieving Millennium Development Goal 1 – will now probably not succeed in halving the proportion of the population who live in poverty by 2015. The number of poor people will probably also rise in regions such as Central and Eastern Europe.

The financial crisis followed immediately in the wake of a global food crisis. Tens of millions of people were thrust into a situation of hunger and malnutrition. Poor people spend as much as 75 per cent of their income on food. Families who already live on a subsistence minimum have had to forgo education and health services for their children and use their scarce resources on food instead.

The food crisis has been overshadowed by the financial crisis, but it is not over and it is being exacerbated by the difficult economic situation. Countries that are already struggling to counteract the negative consequences of high food prices are poorly equipped to deal with the effects of a global economic downturn.

The financial crisis is also putting the multilateral system to the test. We are already seeing disturbing signs that both government and voluntary contributions to humanitarian organisations may decline. This could have negative consequences for the work of humanitarian organisations. Norway must contribute to counteracting such a development. The Government will maintain Norway’s already extensive humanitarian contributions. We will urge other donors to fulfil their commitments.

In the long term, however, the multilateral system may emerge stronger from the crisis. The need for strong international organisations and cooperation has become clearer, particularly in relation to the economy. When the private loan market grinds to a halt, the international financial institutions are the only bodies that can lend money to developing countries or countries in economic crisis. Another direct consequence of the crisis is the important discussion about reform of the multilateral system, which we are now witnessing the beginnings of.

Seen from a humanitarian perspective, conflicts, climate and environmental change and poverty all have one common denominator: vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance is about helping people in need irrespective of political or other factors. Respect for human rights is the basis for humanitarian activities. Everyone in need is entitled to the necessary protection and assistance. We therefore have to improve our understanding of how crises affect individuals. We must adapt policy instruments to better suit the challenges individuals face in their everyday lives, thus putting them in a better position to look after themselves and deal with future crises.

While the Storting allocated around NOK 1 billion to humanitarian aid in 1992, the humanitarian budgets for 2009 amount to around NOK 3 billion. The requirements concerning the quality and results of humanitarian activities are increasingly stringent. Humanitarian aid is often allocated under pressure of time, in unstable situations and to countries and regions with weak or absent institutions. There are therefore many risk factors in relation to humanitarian aid. The growth in the numbers and breadth of partners and projects is a challenge for our administration.

Moreover, humanitarian efforts influence political processes in the countries concerned. Humanitarian measures can generate political dialogue and have a conflict-reducing effect. The situation in Aceh after the tsunami in 2004 and the experiences from the relief efforts in Burma following cyclone Nargis in 2008 are examples of how international humanitarian efforts are perceived, for better or worse, as an instrument of governments’ foreign policy, including relief work in connection with the growing number of natural disasters.

When many aid organisations and a lot of emergency aid are brought into complex and vulnerable areas, there is always a risk that international aid may have an unintentional negative effect on a violent conflict. Humanitarian actors must ensure that they do not contribute to an escalation or prolongation of a conflict through their efforts. They must be conflict-sensitive (cf. the precautionary principle of “Do No Harm”). As an active actor in the humanitarian field, Norway is obliged to take these dilemmas and considerations seriously. Increased investment in Norwegian and international research on humanitarian questions will be important in this context.

Norway’s humanitarian engagement is part of an overall foreign and development policy focus on peace and sustainable development as formulated in Report No. 13 (2008-2009) and Report No. 15 (2008-2009) to the Storting. This white paper expands on Norway’s policy of engagement in the humanitarian arena.

2.2 Robust administration of humanitarian aid

In autumn 2008, the Office of the Auditor General presented a performance audit of the effectiveness of Norwegian humanitarian assistance. 1 The results of the audit were considered by the Storting on 23 March 2009. 2 The objective was to assess the extent to which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ administration of humanitarian funds is satisfactory and the extent to which the goal of swift and effective assistance of good quality is achieved.

The performance audit points to the extensive international humanitarian challenges in situations in which Norway’s humanitarian policy and assistance form part of a combined effort. The Office of the Auditor General concludes that positive results and outcomes are achieved for a large number of people as a result of Norway’s humanitarian contribution. Norwegian humanitarian assistance largely achieves its goal, namely to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and in the wake of humanitarian crises. At the same time, however, the Office of the Auditor General found weaknesses in the administration of humanitarian funds.

The audit provides a good basis for the further development of Norwegian humanitarian assistance, for example as regards administrative capacity, the follow-up of grant recipients and challenges relating to the reporting of results. Work has already started on following up the performance audit. In September 2008, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a five-year strategy for the Government’s humanitarian policy, which forms the basis for this white paper. The strategy addresses many of the challenges pointed to in the performance audit, and they are expanded on in this white paper.

The Government emphasises that the administration of humanitarian assistance must ensure flexibility and the ability to act quickly in order to meet changing humanitarian needs. Humanitarian assistance differs from long-term development assistance in this respect in particular. We cannot, therefore, bind up too large a proportion of humanitarian assistance in long-term commitments. All funding does not have to be equally flexible, however. In 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has initiated pilot projects for multi-year cooperation agreements with selected humanitarian organisations concerning priority countries and themes. Efforts are also being made to improve coordination between different forms of assistance (humanitarian aid, transitional aid and long-term development assistance), on both Norway’s part and internationally, in order to ensure as seamless transitions as possible.

In order to follow-up of the strategy and the performance audit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ administrative capacity will be increased, among other things through the establishment of a separate administrative section in the department that administers humanitarian aid. A newly established central control unit in the department will, for example, be tasked with preventing and responding to financial irregularities and strengthening the administration of the department’s budgets. New tools have been introduced in connection with the administration of grants that will help to make this work more efficient. Norwegian foreign missions have been assigned clearer responsibility for following up humanitarian aid. The Ministry cooperates closely with the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).

The Government wishes stronger focus on the achievement of goals, quality assurance and efficiency, among other things through the systematic use of evaluations and reviews. Recipients of Norwegian humanitarian aid grants will be increasingly required to budget and report on the basis of results. Norad and international organisations and learning networks have a key role to play in this context. More knowledge, research, learning and evaluation are required, and we are strengthening our efforts in these fields.

A separate plan has been drawn up to follow-up of the Office of the Auditor General’s investigation. Through these changes, the Government wishes to further develop and improve the Norwegian humanitarian model, which is based on humanitarian law and on internationally accepted principles for humanitarian assistance, an active multilateral engagement and close cooperation with the Red Cross movement and NGOs.



Document No. 3:2 (2008-2009), the Office of the Auditor General’s investigation into the effectiveness of Norwegian humanitarian assistance.


Recommendation No. 150 (2008-2009) to the Storting.