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AID POLICY: Money in a hurry
LONDON, 30 August 2012 (IRIN) - A new quick-disbursing humanitarian
funding facility is being used for the first time to help tackle a
serious cholera outbreak in Sierra Leone, where more than 220 people
have died and the authorities have declared a national emergency.
The UK's Rapid Response Facility (RRF) was established by the
Department of International Development (DFID) after a critical
operations by Lord Ashdown. The report highlighted the way in which
agencies had to produce hasty and often highly speculative proposals in
order to get funding for emergencies, saying they could then find
themselves locked into a course of action which might not be the most
RRF was set up in March with a total of 33 organizations declared to
have a proven record of response and pre-qualified to benefit from its
funding. All that was needed was a suitable emergency.
That trigger came last week when the Sierra Leone government declared a
national emergency as the death toll rose in the cholera outbreak,
which has also hit neighbouring Guinea.
After a discussion with Sierra Leone President Ernest Karoma to discuss
what was needed, the UK's secretary of state for international
development, Andrew Mitchell, decided to release the RRF. "Basically
because this is a good situation for it," a DFID spokesman told IRIN.
"There are a lot of NGOs working in Sierra Leone who needed a quick
source of supplies and funds, and we could also use our private sector
contacts to get things to them." Just over US$3 million is being made
Once the initial decision had been made, things moved fast. Agencies on
the RRF "approved list" which had a presence in Sierra Leone and
expertise in water and sanitation were invited to apply for funds.
"Because they are pre-qualified, it makes it a much quicker turnaround,"
said the DFID spokesman. "We know them and we are confident that they
know what they are doing."
Save the Children (SC) got the invitation to apply on the evening of 22
August, calling for submissions by the afternoon of 23 August, and they
were informed within just a few hours that their application had been
"It was fast," said Benedict Dempsey, SC's senior humanitarian affairs
adviser, "And yes, it was hard work. But it was all in the interest of
speed. We have constantly been asking for things to happen more
quickly, so our people were quite happy with that."
'' An emergency
like this is slightly different from what we expected the RRF to be for
- we had been thinking of an earthquake, something like that
The DFID money does not normally appear in the NGOs' bank accounts
straight away, but Dempsey told IRIN that was not an issue. "Getting
confirmation is what enables us to act. If you don't have that
confirmation you have to take a huge financial risk in order to act,
and if it goes wrong you can end up with a huge black hole in your
The six successful agencies moved quickly in their turn. The
International Rescue Committee (IRC) started their programme on 25
August in Kono and Kenema districts where they were already active.
These are areas not yet seriously affected by cholera so most IRC
efforts are going into prevention.
Antonio Cabral, the IRC's regional programme manager, says the nature
of this emergency meant that they could start work more or less
straight away. "An emergency like this is slightly different from what
we expected the RRF to be for - we had been thinking of an earthquake,
something like that. But this is something which has been on the cards
for a while; we were aware of the outbreak, and had resources in the
Private sector role
Cabral, like Dempsey, is interested in DFID's declared intention to
involve the private sector and to play a coordinating role itself. DFID
cites logistic companies like DHL and suppliers of various kinds of
sanitation equipment as the principal partners. "As we understand it,
it is about trying to coordinate supplies," said Cabral, "and getting
better prices for procurement, especially of those things which have to
be bought internationally. It will probably mean that the cost to
agencies will be lower. Also because of the good relations DFID has
traditionally had with the Sierra Leone government, the supplies should
get into the country quicker."
Both SC and IRC see the move to fleeter, more flexible funding
mechanisms for emergencies as a general trend among donors, not
confined to the UK.
Cabral pointed out that the Swedish development agency (SIDA), for
instance, is even faster than DFID, and disburses money in advance for
emergencies which may arise over the coming year.
"So we have got a pot of money for rapid response, which is sitting
there and it is up to us to tell them: 'There is an emergency, and we
want do this and this, and are you OK with that or not?' And they will
tell us yes or no within a matter of hours."
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