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Nicolas Rutherford
Published 24 August 2011

Transparency in the humanitarian aid sector is key to maintaining a constant flow of donations,

says Nicolas Rutherford

The last year has been a particularly testing time for humanitarian aid charities. Yet in the face of an onslaught of natural disasters and political crises, the sector has rallied through, delivering powerful fundraising campaigns and urging the public to donate.
Against the backdrop of strong criticism of UK spending on foreign aid, the sector is also working hard to address the fall in private donations seen in recent disasters, such as the present famine hitting the Horn of Africa. Although governments have pledged more than $1 billion for famine relief, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is reporting a shortfall in private donations, with more than $1.4 billion still needed.
A survey recently commissioned by AidEx found that more than one third of UK consumers (33%) do not donate anything to humanitarian aid causes on an annual basis and just one in seven UK adults give more than £50 per year. The lack of donations is disappointing, but not entirely surprising in the tough economic climate currently experienced by those living in Western countries.

However, the research also revealed that 59% of people are put off from donating because of concern over where and how their money is spent, which is a major concern for the sector. The problem certainly isn't unique to humanitarian aid charities - in fact many charitable organisations suffer from the same issues. Ensuring a high level of transparency about how and where money is spent so that donors have an understanding of how their hard-earned cash is making a difference to those who need it most is crucial throughout the third sector. But humanitarian aid charities probably bear the brunt of this.

There has always been a certain level of scepticism around the delivery of aid following humanitarian crises. It's not an easy issue to address as with every high-profile disaster comes speculation over how money is being spent. For instance, rumours about corruption or government instability, there is always a perception that money is not being used as effectively as possible. Last week, the UN World Food Program acknowledged that it is investigating theft of food aid in Somalia for two months. The food is stolen and then sold at markets in neighbourhoods where children in refugee camps do not have enough to eat. Officials expected some of the food aid pouring into Somalia to go missing, but the sheer scale of the theft taking place calls into question aid groups' ability to reach starving people. This announcement by the UN was certainly needed, but one that is likely to have a knock-on effect on donations.

Steps are being taken to achieve greater transparency in the sector and ensure that donations continue to come in. Charities are wise to the fact that they need to ensure constant donor communication to help them better understand the plight of those suffering and the tough conditions aid workers are up against. By sharing information and engaging in open honest conversations donors can be reassured their money will be well spent.
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Nicolas Rutherford is the event director for AidEx.

AidEx takes place in Brussels 19 and 20 October 2011

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