Creating a More Equitable Lens for Supporting Overlooked Countries Struck by Disaster

June 20, 2023
19 Sept 2022. Torotorow IDP camp, Somalia

Economic turmoil, long-lasting conflicts, the climate crisis, and shockwaves from the Covid-19 pandemic have sparked humanitarian crises that disproportionately affect the world’s most vulnerable populations. Too often, international systems treat crises as though they are short-lived. Many countries are stuck in a protracted state of emergency as a multitude of factors prolong crises and delay response. The process for breaking this cycle starts with developing a deeper understanding of how humanitarian disasters can escalate over time and why certain regions are unable to receive enough of the critical support they need, and educating donors on how they can utilize existing funding mechanisms to get their support to charities quickly.

Each year, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) releases the Emergency Watchlist Report, a list of the twenty countries most at risk of experiencing new humanitarian crises in the coming year. These twenty countries are home to just 13% of the global population and account for a mere 1.6% of global GDP. Yet they represent 90% of people in humanitarian need, 81% of people globally who are forcibly displaced, 80% of people that are acutely food insecure, and 89% of conflict-related civilian deaths. And, despite contributing just 1.9% of global CO2 emissions in 2019, Watchlist countries are vulnerable to some of the world’s most intense climate disasters, uprooting people from their homes in search of safety and assistance. For the past decade, this report has helped the IRC determine where to focus its emergency services and lifesaving support to make the greatest impact.

In order to address the unprecedented, and still growing, demand for humanitarian aid, organizations understand the critical necessity of scaling up their response. However, they risk falling behind without donor support, including diversified types of giving such as Donor Advised Funds (DAF).

Case Study

Tabetha, an IRC WPE case manager, animates the women during a "coffee, tea and talk" session at the Women and Girls Safe space in Jamjang, South Sudan, Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. Image courtesy of the International Rescue Committee.

Among the top ten countries in the Watchlist, three are in East Africa: Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. There are three key accelerators that are driving record levels of need there—climate change, conflict, and economic turmoil–which are propelling long-standing crises to new extremes and, in some instances, sparking new crises. The region is emblematic of “system failure,” meaning the international community has not confronted the global challenges of conflict and climate shocks, allowing record numbers of people to fall into humanitarian need.

Topping the Watchlist, Somalia and Ethiopia are currently experiencing multiple climate shocks and an acute hunger crisis. According to UNHCR data, over 1.7 million people had been internally displaced in Ethiopia and Somalia as the region experienced their longest and most severe drought on record, where many lost their lives to starvation. And then in March, extreme flooding displaced more than 700,000 people. Homes, schools, and health facilities were destroyed along the banks of two rivers in southern Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, washing away what little crops and livestock people had left following the droughts, and escalating the ongoing hunger crisis.

Conflict within the region is intensifying an already dire humanitarian situation. Nearly 100,000 people fleeing conflict in the Laascaanood area within Somalia have arrived in Doolo, a remote area in Ethiopia that itself was hard hit by the drought. And, ongoing fighting in Sudan, which began on April 15, has displaced almost 400,000 people (over 300,000 internally displaced within Sudan and almost 100,000 fleeing to Chad, Egypt, and South Sudan)—this number will continue to grow if nothing is done to foster peace. This combination of conflict and extreme levels of food insecurity and malnutrition has created one of the worst food insecurity emergencies in the world. And due to those ongoing conflicts , humanitarian organizations are unable to deliver aid safely and effectively, hindering their ability to reach people in need.

For many Watchlist countries, importing grain from Ukraine was an essential buffer against catastrophic food insecurity. In Somalia, continued conflict and a climate change- fueled drought had already limited local food production, causing them to import 90 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia. When the war in Ukraine prevented the export of grain shipments, many Watchlist countries like Somalia slipped deeper into a humanitarian crisis and battled life-threatening food shortages.

The region’s humanitarian needs are inextricably connected with global events and the ripple effects of all these compounding crises must be considered for donors as the humanitarian responses in Somalia, Ethiopia, and South Sudan remain severely underfunded. Without properly investing in resilience building, we will see a longer-term impact on the population in the region.


Disaster Response Donations & Long-Term Support

Traditionally, when a disaster or emergency is covered in the media, donors are asked to make immediate donations, which usually end up being one-time gifts in response to short-term needs. These response gifts represent generous levels of support that are concentrated immediately after disasters strike. In the first four days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, over $900 million was raised to support refugees and Ukrainians suffering from the effects of the war. But responding organizations and government agencies need sustainable funding to drive clearly defined outcomes that help communities return to a more resilient state. And, many disasters that are overlooked by the media don’t even receive an initial inflow of grants.

In this context, Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) represent a pool of potential funding that NGOs find it difficult to tap into. According to the National Philanthropic Trust’s 2022 DAF Report, there has been substantial growth in DAFs in recent years, particularly in outbound grantmaking. In 2022, grants out of DAFs totalled $45.74 billion in 2022, with an overall compound annual growth rate of 23.4% from 2017 to 2021. DAF assets in the United States exceed $234 billion.

A DAF is versatile, quick, and efficient when it comes to making gifts to charitable organizations all over the world. A DAF is a separately identified fund or account that is maintained and operated by a sponsoring organization. After a DAF is established, the donor can advise a grant from the DAF to a United States 501(c)(3) registered charity or to an international charity that meets the compliance standards of Expenditure Responsibility (ER) or Equivalency Determination (ED). Once a charity is fully compliant, funds can be rapidly deployed by the sponsoring organization, allowing the charity to quickly put the money to work and address community needs.

For 501(c)(3)s and organizations that have undergone Equivalency Determination, donors can fund unrestricted grants, meaning that the charity can determine where those funds go without having strict reporting requirements. This funding option is particularly appealing to charities working to drive the greatest impact in local communities, while also retaining the flexibility to shift these funds in response to growing needs and emerging crises. When a disaster strikes, DAF donors should consider how to best support their chosen charity, whether that’s through an unrestricted grant so the charity can choose what needs to address or sustained funding so the charity can provide a robust, long-term response to their community.


What Can I Do to Help?

The analysis presented in the Emergency Watchlist Report serves as a wake-up call and a call to action for global leaders and the public. More investment needs to happen, particularly in overlooked regions that desperately need funding to support humanitarian crisis response and build community resilience. By utilizing a DAF, donors can feel empowered to meet the call to action and make grants in an efficient, and importantly, compliant way to charities that need it the most.

These ongoing humanitarian emergencies demand both immediate response and long-term, resilience funding from the international community; and DAFs offer a unique and sustainable revenue solution to organizations like the International Rescue Committee. The strategic support of DAF donors and platforms can help make an immediate and long-term impact for people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover, and rebuild their lives.

About the Author Organizations

About CAF America

Charities Aid Foundation America (CAF America) works with philanthropists looking to support charitable organizations around the world by providing the infrastructure necessary for high-quality, regulatory-compliant grantmaking and maintaining a worldwide network of high-quality, fully vetted charity partners. CAF America’s worldwide reach translates into more than $4.6 billion in donor funds and over 1.8 million eligible organizations in 135 countries.

About the International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) helps people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover and rebuild their lives. We deliver lasting impact by providing health care, helping children learn, and empowering individuals and communities to become self-reliant, always with a focus on the unique needs of women and girls. Founded in 1933, we now work in over 40 crisis-affected countries as well as communities throughout Europe and the Americas.

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