I’m feeling very depressed: solving the relief/development divide, part 2.Posted: January 31, 2011
Let’s summarise the state of play.
Finding 1: DRR types are now, and always have been, a bunch of miserable buggers.
Now look, before we go any further, I’m not making scurrilous comments about a crucial species of the genus Aidworkus for shits and giggles. It brings me no pleasure. But it must be done for the explanatory power it brings to the failure of emergency response and longer term development programmes to get on in theory, and get it on in practice.
Put simply, mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction into both of these disciplines is critical to ensuring their overall coherence; the success and sustainability of all aid interventions; and thus peace, poverty-reduction and ponies for everyone. But such mainstreaming efforts are a non-starter if its practitioners are so miserable and dull on a personal level that no one wants to go to the pub with them, where all relationships and innovations of any note are brought into focus. Seriously, YOU try buying rounds with someone who wants to talk about how the professional nirvana they seek is “a well-regulated, highly functioning market in appropriate insurance, re-insurance and micro-insurance services.”
Lest you be unconvinced by the previous post’s literary insights, and still believe that that DRR and its exponents are in fact wildly popular, let me offer you something more quantitative. Namely, an analysis of the relative budget lines of a core actor in the global humanitarian system for emergency response versus explicit disaster preparedness / risk reduction programming.
ECHO budget, 2009: €931m
DipECHO budget, 2009: €33m
DipECHO budget as proportion: 3.5%*
Invariable level of ‘indirect costs’ that ECHO is willing to provide to NGO grant recipients: 7%
How popular is DRR to a core donor of the humanitarian system, compared to even the grudgingly offered vestigial one-fourteenth of slushy money that keeps the lights on and tea hot in international NGO headquarters, generally 3000 miles or so from the nearest aid beneficiary: ABOUT HALF AS POPULAR
Finding 2: Miserable buggers are unpopular, and they don’t get much funding.
Okay. But so far, so what? As a fairly notable man once asked, What Is To Be Done? Again, please allow me to turn to reasoning via cultural approximation or we’ll be here all week. The following scene establishes the ground truth that the closest representation of a DRR adviser in contemporary popular culture, is Marvin the Paranoid Android.
Again, if you’re having a spot of bother with your literary interpretation, allow me to assist.
You might also have noted early in the scene the incomprehensible jargon used by the two-headed aid worker which the local waiter didn’t understand. You might have noted later in the scene an enthusiastic mention of a “multi-cluster quark drive,” thus identifying for us the OCHA representative.
But the dead giveaway is the location of the scene: the “restaurant at the end of the universe” where everyone-but-Marvin are enjoying “wine, food, a little personal abuse and the universe going foom.” If you don’t find that instantly recognizable as allegorical of the aid caravan and its employees in the midst of a severe humanitarian crisis, I suggest you get out more. And Marvin – our poor, miserable, depressed, brain-the-size-of-a-planet paranoid DRR android – well he’s been here all along, waiting and worrying about things here for millions of years before this lot blow in.
The reason I’ve established to you that DRR advisers are our very own Paranoid Androids so that I can play you this. It is the very fulcrum upon which the salvation of the entire aid industry rests.
Finding 3: Making incredibly lovely noises about miserable buggers though, well, that leads to critical acclaim, extraordinary popularity, and a truckload of cash.
Digest that, and stay tuned for the shocking conclusion in this three part series:
(iii): shocking conclusions and implications for further research.
* (Yes, I know that’s a gross oversimplification because of all the DRR funding within mainstreamed approaches and blah blah blah blah snore, but if you’re going to moan about rigour in a series of posts like this, can I suggest there’s probably a lovely Global Fund audit report or twelve you’d rather be reading?)