Oxfam kicks off campaign to turn humanitarian system on its head

By Oxfam

Advertising buy compliments push for investment in local disaster preparedness

International relief and development organization Oxfam America kicked off a new public effort today urging Congress to invest in the capacity of local communities around the world to respond to emergencies. The effort includes a substantial ad buy in the Washington metropolitan area and lobby visits timed with International Women’s Day.

“Today, the international humanitarian system is overstretched, relying on outsiders parachuting in, often sidelining local actors” said Shannon Scribner, humanitarian policy manager at Oxfam America. “Today, we’re highlighting to Congress that if we give local actors the tools and resources they need to act when a disaster strikes, we can save more lives today and improve lives in the long term.”

The hard-hitting ads featuring the strap line “No Parachute Needed” are featured today in Roll Call, RollCall.com, and The Washington Post supplemented by an aggressive series of billboard ads in National and Dulles airports this month. According to Oxfam research, less than 2% of humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors between 2007-2013.

The ads showcase local first responders, including Karen Ramírez, a water sanitation expert from El Salvador, Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, a disaster management expert from Haiti, Sidi Jaquite a community health worker in Guinea-Bissau, and disaster response expert Rafiqul Alam from Bangladesh.

“Humanitarians like Karen, Marie Alta, Sidi and Rafiqul don’t need to parachute in, they are already there, overseeing disaster management and relief,” said Scribner. “They are their community’s first responders in a disaster, and we should do everything possible to build their capacity to respond before disaster strikes.” This means investing development dollars to strengthen community resilience before crisis strikes and adopting longer-term approaches that put communities in the lead to withstand shocks.”

“Traditional humanitarian response does not do enough to strengthen communities or local organizations. In some cases, it weakens us and makes us dependent,” said Ramirez, who traveled to Washington for the launch. What we need to see more of is the international community helping countries like El Salvador handle emergencies ourselves. Instead of bringing in people to do things for us, we would rather learn to do the things ourselves.” She was joined by a number of other women leaders, including Clara Doe Mvogo, the Mayor of Monrovia, Liberia.

“We should not wait for the international community to do everything. We should be prepared to help ourselves,” said Mvogo. “Be it Ebola or any epidemic that breaks out, we must retool the humanitarian response system to help people help themselves in the face of disaster.”

The Washington advertising push will be complimented by a lobby day with more 60 women leaders from the US and around the world to build support for an upcoming bill that would give USAID the flexibility to invest development funding in tools and training for locally led disaster prevention, preparedness, and community resilience.

“It’s absurd that the very people with the most expertise in their own context are the most sidelined when disasters strike. No person should have to stand by and asked to watch while their community suffers,” continued Scribner. “As an international organization that works to uphold rights and promote human dignity, we don’t see strengthening local capacity as a nice thing to do: we see it as an essential way to defend the rights of people in crisis.”

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