Nathalie Abramo presented a program on "Humanitarian Aid, Changing Times and Changing Operations."
Nathalie Abramo presented a program on "Humanitarian Aid, Changing Times and Changing Operations."
Natalie has been involved with working with refugees and displaced persons for most of her life. Today she presented a picture of the impact of refugees on the world economy, as well as new approaches to helping with their lives.
It is estimated that there are 64 million refugees in the world, of which 16 million are living in their non-native land. Internally displaced people, also refugees who have been driven from their home,  but residing in their native country, number about 47.5 million. 12 million of these people currently are in Syria with large numbers also in Columbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.
A basic tenant of humanitarian aid is to:
1.         Save lives
2.         Alleviate suffering
3.         Maintain basic human dignity.
It is estimated that the financial requirement to satisfy these refugees with their basic humanitarian needs is approximately $19.7 billion per year, of which less than 50% is funded. The expense is rising yearly, although financial aid is also rising.
The traditional means of providing this aid, particularly in non-urban areas is to bring in supplies and have a central distribution area where large quantities of several different food items are distributed periodically to each recipient, usually a family. There is little choice, there is potential for misappropriation, and some of the items for consumption degrade before they can be used. Other more durable goods, such as bedding, and shelter work well in this model for "camps".
Most of her talk focused on programs for for refugees residing in non-native countries and living in urban areas. She described the working of the World Food Program which is a cash-based distribution system that allows the refugees to purchase goods from local businesses that are more appropriate for their tastes and needs. These programs involve cash donations which are then transferred to credit or debit cards with a fixed dollar value (renewable). The refugees are then able to purchase foods that are appropriate to their tastes and their cultural beliefs. It allows greater diversity in their diet, and provides more safety and security by allowing food to be purchased when needed and consumed before it deteriorates. One outcome from transacting business this way is that it allows the refugees to be integrated more thoroughly into their local community.
The cash infusion from these programs helps build markets in the community where the refugees reside. There is an economic multiplier of each dollar spent, as in most other economies, and it also builds local capacity for service within the existing businesses and may even allow new businesses to arise.
Cash donations are now the most sought after form of refugee aid for humanitarian organizations. The movement of money through these organizations needs to have strict accountability and the outcome of its disbursement needs to be analyzed closely to see that it is having its intended effect. For the most part, programs associated with the World Food Program are doing very well.