Is it normal to find yourself getting weepie over data? That’s the question that stalked me as I leafed through this brutal PDF from the World Food Programme innocuously titled RESOURCE SITUATION UPDATE, 27 JUL 2014.
In unadorned table format, the PDF lays bare the alarming underfunding facing 20 out of the 22 Emergency Operations WFP runs (red in the map above) and 54 out of its 55 Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations (orange above.)
These ops range widely in size: from punctual incursions like the $2.9 million operation in Cuba (just over half funded) to the mammoth $1.5 billion EMOP for Syria, which is $776 million short of its target. Only the Super-Typhoon Haiyan-hit Philippines and the geostrategically important operation in Iraq’s Al-Anbar province have reached full funding.
Altogether, WFP needs $5.55 billion to run the EMOPs currently underway. They’ve raised just $3.16 billion of that.
But the EMOPs aren’t actually the worst of it. The emergencies are largely “Brand Name Crises” that receive substantial media coverage, mobilize smaller (but also nimbler) International NGOs and have a potential to generate substantial private donations. They’re awful but, by and large, they are not forgotten.
No, the real Valley of Tears is further down in the PDF, when you get to WFP’s list of 55 – fifty-five! – “Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations,” the chilling bureaucratic euphemism for a forgotten crisis.
Here we’re dealing with places where hunger is chronic, WFP engagement long-running, and news coverage basically non-existent. These are places we long ago forgot faced chronic food insecurity, if we ever knew it in the first place: Kyrgyzstan. Senegal. Ecuador. Western Algeria. Myanmar. Mauritania. Yemen. When was the last time you read a story about the humanitarian crises there?
It’s hardly surprising that WFP’s PRROs suffer funding shortages that are much worse than its EMOPs. Together, WFP figures it needs $10.56 billion to attend to its PRROs. It’s raised less than half of that: just $4.5 billion.
In some cases, the funding gaps are just abysmal:
- For CAR refugees in Cameroon they need $17.4 million, they’ve raised $6.4 million.
- The 2014-2016 PRRO for Mauritania will cost $86.6 million; they’ve raised $2.3 million.
- For an especially food insecure country like Niger the current, largescale PRRO is slated to cost over a billion dollars. They’ve raised 10% of that.
The standard advice in advocacy circles is to “put a human face” on the crisis you’re dealing with, to humanize it, to turn it narrative and personal so it’s compelling and “connects”. I understand why professional fundraisers come to that conclusion, yet you really have to wonder at the ethics of it. Any one crisis you focus on means shunting 76 other Emergencies or Forgotten Crises out of the spotlight. Seeking to raise money crisis by crisis quickly turns into a battle royale for clicks, sympathies and dollars. And it’s not hard to see what it takes to “win” that competition: light skin, telegenic hunger and media coverage.
It is not humanly possible to “engage” with 77 stories at the same time. It just isn’t. The engagement model of donor mobilization isn’t tenable. It really has to go.