Nicholas Rutherford is the event director of Aidex, the global humanitarian aid and development event.
If a week is a long time in politics, then imagine what 13 years in development and disaster management are like.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have had some notable successes -including a halving in the number of people living in extreme poverty - and a corresponding rise in the proportion of people who now have regular access to clean drinking water. But with just over a year until the deadline and more than 2.5 billion people still going without adequate sanitation, life has clearly stood still or not improved quickly enough for a huge number of the world’s poor.
Meanwhile, the poor bear the brunt of a hotter, more crowded planet, rapid urbanisation and water and energy shortages. These mega trends, already far more pronounced than they were in 2000, will accelerate further, as severe flooding, drought and resource conflicts threaten to wipe out or undermine the progress that has been made in these areas.
Big questions still remain over what framework should follow the MDGs and how radical it should be. But it is clear that the new approach must be less silo’d and take a more holistic and sustainable approach to development and disaster management.
The attitude of the international community has certainly changed. The MDGs embodied the mood at the turn of the millennium but the political and economic optimism that underpinned them is a distant memory as Europe and much of the rest of the world continues to feel the fiscal chill of shrinking domestic and overseas budgets. Yet, in spite of this, European public support for humanitarian and development aid remains strong with polls showing that a sizeable number of Europeans still think the EU should continue to support humanitarian efforts.
In a way austerity has given fresh momentum to a strand of thinking that has been doing the rounds in humanitarian circles in recent years. With the aforementioned mega-trends already complicating the way disasters are managed (think Haiti or the drought in the Sahel) humanitarians have started to shift their approach from response to resilience. Helping a country to equip itself before disaster strikes is not only sensible but sustainable, particularly when money is tight and natural resources are shrinking.
It is, therefore, no surprise that resilience and sustainability go hand in hand with localism. Regional suppliers such as South Africa’s Hippo Water Roller or Kenya’s Reltex (which, respectively, make and distribute water rollers and tents) are examples of how local knowledge can make the critical difference when disaster strikes. Not only do regional players have the necessary equipment on the ground but they can also use their understanding of local infrastructure and supply chains to save on transport and environmental costs. A further benefit of this kind of sourcing is that it’s a virtuous circle. By injecting money into local economies, aid agencies and donors can help strengthen entrepreneurialism, supply chains and self-sufficiency, which in turn help develop resilience further.
We see this kind of approach mirrored in European Commission thinking. Through initiatives such as the new Emergency Response Centre -which will help to predict disasters before they strike - the European Commission is already placing forward planning and resilience at the heart of humanitarian response. As the world’s largest aid donor, the EU as a whole must use its influence to insert this kind of thinking into all levels of the post-2015 landscape.
The Commission also envisages a much greater role for the private sector – a necessary goal but one which, as previously stated, must take into account their role and efficiencies in the developing as well as developed worlds.
All these approaches and ideas have a vital role to play in the post-2015 world. But the new framework must be genuinely durable while providing sufficient vision to guide and inspire. The world has changed significantlysince 2000 and we don’t have another 15 years to get this right: whatever follows the MDGs must not become the victim of knee-jerk budget cuts or short term political pressure.