Interview with Yousaf Aftab and Aziz Hafiz: What does "localization" of humanitarian aid mean in practice?

1 May 2017



Liz Arnanz: We are here with Yousaf Aftab, who is a pharmacist, and Dr Aziz Hafiz, who both work for Humanity First, a disaster relief international NGO, which has existed for 22 years, based in London, and they’ve provided direct aid in Haiti…

Dr. Aziz Hafiz: yes, Haiti was our most recent mission, but we work in disasters across the world, which is what we’ve done for the last two decades, as well as development work throughout Africa.

Liz Arnanz: Very quickly, as a pharmacist and as a doctor specialized in disaster relief, how would you define or explain the use of the term “localization” in humanitarian contexts?

Yousaf Aftab: So for me “localization” is being able to adapt, to be flexible in terms of being able to work with local actors within an area, so you have your international expertise, you have your partnering with various organizations. And that is how you are able to deploy skills and knowledge, also facilitating those skills and knowledge in a local area, but working alongside with them, hand in hand, rather than just provide them to the nations, you provide them with equipment, but it’s actually working together, understanding the cultural, social, and other types of backgrounds to be able to do that, humanitarian assistance and work that is needed, whether that’s through your own organization or whether that’s being in a plateau of very different organizations and working with even faith groups and community groups. So that’s what it means to me.

Dr. Aziz Hafiz: And absolutely, and just following on from what Yousaf has said, you can summarize it with the adage of you give a man a fish to feed his family, you give him a fishing rod and is something that is long term, long-term sustainability. So “localization” for us essentially is when, as we have seen it in practice over the last 20 years, it’s when on we are on the ground, we work with other organizations for example in Haiti at the moment. So WFP had food, ready to distribute, they needed a distribution partner, Humanity First had the volunteers on the ground, both local, as well as from Canada and the United States; transport was required, we partnered with the Royal Dutch Navy, so between the three organizations using all their individual expertise we were able to deliver on the ground to families that needed it the most. So partnership is essentially one of the guiding principles of “localization.” One organization cannot do everything.

Liz Arnanz: I also see that for you “localization” has a strong link with the humanitarian-development nexus, so you were saying that it is essential for sustainable development afterwards.

Dr. Aziz Hafiz: Absolutely, and that also involves that it’s actually empowering people on the ground. Not that we’ve come from the outside, we’ve come from the West, to give you a solution, and it’s our solution imposed on you. No - we are here to work with you, to help you implement the solution.

Liz Arnanz:  And do you see “localization” more as a trend or approach towards humanitarian assistance, or is it rather a policy as a whole, or an approach that includes many different policies like cash transfers, etc.?

Dr. Aziz Hafiz: I think essentially “localization” is going back to the basics of how humanitarian aid should have been from day one.

Yousaf Aftab: It’s basically an integrated inclusive approach. It’s always top-down to bottom, or in terms of how the approach should work when you have partners at the local level and international level working in harmony, and that’s when you get the best results. Because you understand the needs and requirements in that part of the country, of that community. And then you have the expertise and knowledge from both sides to be able to come to solutions that’re going to be sustainable and be able to develop that environment and narrative, but also to go further so you create an infrastructure that is going to work for a long time.

Liz Arnanz: And one last question, where do you think this interest now in “localization” comes from? Do you think is led by governmental institutions, NGOs, or rather by the people affected by crises?

Dr. Aziz Hafiz: I actually think it boils down to how humanitarian aid workers have developed towards the years. People have realized that you can no longer have a top-down solution, it has to work from the ground upwards. If you are not going to partner with, and work with the people and the beneficiaries on the ground, your project is not necessarily going to succeed. That is, I think, where “localization” has come from now. We’re just giving it a name, now we call it “localization,” you can call it by a number of names.  

Yousaf Aftab: I just share the sentiments with Dr. Haziz. Label it whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it is fundamentally about working at that level and to make sure that people are ready to be able to do the things they are required, and you are feeding into that, and that’s what everybody should be working on, in harmony together. And I think a lot of it – regardless if it is from an international perspective or local perspective – actually it’s people, it’s what people care about, what they want to do, and the heart of it could be all sort of things; from faith to culture, to just helping human beings, and valuing them in terms of what’s required.