According to the UNHCR, “a complex emergency can be defined as a humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society where there is a total or considerable breakdown of authority resulting from internal or external conflict, and which requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency and/or the ongoing UN country programme.”

More simply, complex humanitarian emergencies (CHEs) are layered situations where acute emergencies - like natural disasters - strike during periods of ongoing political instability - like war or famine. These large-scale, long-lasting humanitarian crises can seem like too much for an individual donor, or even a foundation, to take on. While these emergencies certainly call for government interventions, there are important roles for donors to fill.

On Feb. 13, The Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) hosted a webinar that brought together experts to discuss how donors can best tackle CHEs. Moderator Regine A. Webster, CDP vice president, asked Joel Charny, Executive Director of Norwegian Refugee Council USA, Jeremy Konyndyk, Senior Policy Fellow at Center for Global Development, and Carlos E. Mejia, Executive Director of Oxfam Colombia to share their insights. Below are a few pieces of advice from these experts. Watch the whole webinar at The Center for Disaster Philanthropy.

How Donors Can Address CHEs:

Pace: CHEs are, by definition, protracted situations. This is an opportunity for funders to commit to multi-year or multi-decade funding. Foreign aid from governments is usually committed in 12-month chunks, so donors can provide the stability that comes from guaranteeing a longer-term commitment.

Flexibility: While donors can commit to long-term funding, they also have the flexibility to shift strategies to appropriately respond to changing and developing situations as they unfold. Government funding is usually committed in advance to specific projects and initiatives. While CHEs are long term, they are not static. Donors can respond quickly to new developments, filling a crucial gap in funding that governments are not equipped to address.

Accountability: Funders can also use their dollars to raise up the voices of impacted people. Government intervention often addresses the big picture. Donors can support independent accountability by investing in collecting honest feedback from the people suffering from the impact of CHEs and who should be benefiting from humanitarian relief.

Watch the full webinar about complex humanitarian emergencies at The Center for Disaster Philanthropy.