Based on the fact that it’s only been tweeted 13 times, ‘recommended’ on Facebook a mere 21 times, and received zero comments in the eight or so months since it was published, I’m going to assume that most of us either simply weren’t aware, or were too busy with life-saving meetings to really engage with this Reuters article when it came out – Humanitarian spending bucks financial crisis: report (July 20, 2011).
It’s the summary of a much longer report published by an aid industry monitoring organization that many of you probably haven’t heard of (but should pay attention to) called Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) . The full report is here, and it is worth reading.
For those too lazy to click the links and read either the Reuters article or the GHA 2011 report itself, the topline findings are that:
- In 2010 the global humanitarian industry moved more resources globally than it has any year since anyone has begun keeping track – a record $16.7 billion USD worth of emergency relief assistance in all of its various forms.
- This $16.7 billion figure roughly breaks down as $12.4 billion coming from governments, with the remaining $4.3 billion coming from ‘private donors’, including foundations, corporations and individuals.
- This $16.7 billion includes both cash and in-kind assistance
There’s a lot of discussion and analysis about what the $16.7 billion means in the context of the global economy, and in particular in the context of the economies of the countries where it all came from. And great – great that people and companies and governments have been more generous than in years past. At one point in my career I worked for an organization who counted annual budgets for entire country programs in the tens of thousands of dollars – and my default reaction is to read $16.7 billion as a big number. And I imagine that even to an NGO with a global annual budget of tens of millions of USD, $16.7 billion sounds like a lot.
But on the other hand it’s sobering to think about how small that $16.7 billion actually is, particularly in the context of what we’re expected or expect ourselves to accomplish with it. $1 billion buys you an old skyscraper, plus a bit. $16.7 billion is just under a quarter of the total net worth of Apple . $16.7 billion buys you about seven F-22 ‘Raptor’ fighter jets.
Compared to one of the most meagerly funded categories in the 2011 US Federal Budget – “Protection” (Police, Fire Fighters, prisons, etc.) which comes in at $60.7 billion - $16.7 billion for humanitarian aid, globally, all donors, sounds plain paltry. Or more to the point, when we remember that in 2011 natural disasters in the United States alone cost the country an estimated $14 billion, we start to get a sense for what we might more realistically expect from a mere $16.7 billion for responding to all disasters globally.
So what’s the point? For me it’s simply that we need to constantly pull ourselves back into realistic perspective about what we can actually accomplish. What we do matters, absolutely. But let’s scale our claims and importantly our attitudes to match reality. We need to know our places.