Interview with Evelyn Storz: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

15 May 2017



Liz Arnanz: Hello, we are here with Evelyn Storz. She works for Operation Mercy as an Administration Officer, sending teams to the field, but also working in the field herself. We would like to ask her what’s “localization” for you?

Evelyn Storz: “Localization” for me is a lot of things, from thinking about volunteers, thinking about getting supplies. It’s all about working together with local suppliers, and also inviting in the local volunteers into your teams, and adapting in that capacity. Also in terms of local knowledge, we just don’t want to go to a place, and bring whatever we think is needed; but it’s going right into the community, inviting the whole community, getting the information from them, assessments – find out what do they actually need. Because I cannot know that for sure coming from the outside.

Liz Arnanz: Would you see it more as a new trend or approach to humanitarian assistance that includes policies such as increasing cash transfers or financing to first responders, or do you see it more as a whole policy by itself?

Evelyn Storz: I think we don’t need to reinvent a lot of wheels, when there are already some policies that could just be tweaked, improved, or revised to include “localization.” We have seen that in the Philippines. I think what worked very effectively was cash for work. So locals, “victims,” were invited to do something, they got money for it, and they knew how to spend it for themselves and for their families. And at the same time, it was sort of therapeutic in a sense. It was lovely to watch it, how people had a task, they had a meaning. They had something were to put their energy into, into something positive.

Liz Arnanz: So you see “localization” more as an approach that can be applied to most of the humanitarian policies by just involving local actors and giving them a role in assisting actually their own affected people?

Evelyn Storz: Yes, and from the individuals to the businesses – because if you buy from the local businessman, that supports him, but also helps him to recover a lot faster.

Liz Arnanz: Do you see that “localization” can contribute to the humanitarian-development nexus?

Evelyn Storz: Yes, taking the business society. The tendency of bringing goods in is good if it’s not locally available. But taking a lot of those into the local community would break down all the business opportunities through the local businessmen.

Liz Arnanz: Just one last question, would you see “localization” as something that has been more prompted by governments, NGOs (international NGOs or local NGOs), or actually by affected people?

Evelyn Storz: Actually it has been coming from, I would see this coming from grassroots, and I think the governments and the other organizations are responding to that. They see a lot of activity coming from the grassroots, so they need to sort of adjust to their own planning and programming, and their own funding scheme. And from myself I see this – I respect the humanitarian community very much, and I am part of it, but I would love to see more information or real grassroots information, I would love to see dirty hands again, you know. I would like to see the relief worker with dirty hands. It’s turning into more of a white-collar job, with all the prestige and all the cuts involved in maintaining that kind of lifestyle. I don’t want to be very critical, but I would love to see humanitarian workers moving, contextualizing, and even localizing, going to the field. And it was for me reading the UN reports, security reports, I say – okay there was a thousand people from the UN, different agencies in the Philippines after Haiyan. But by reading the reports you see that there were two thirds of them in Manila, and one third on the frontline…