On 17th January, the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing released its report Too important to fail – addressing the humanitarian financing gap in the lead up to the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) on 23-24 May in Istanbul.

The panel makes the strongest call yet for a commitment from aid organisations and donors to increase the transparency of their humanitarian aid by publishing to the IATI open data standard:

The panel believes that a specific time-bound commitment by the international community to provide open and transparent data, including on transaction costs, published on a single global platform, with IATI compatible data at its core—could help reduce transaction costs and increase effectiveness.

We know this makes sense. When it is spent well, humanitarian relief saves lives, feeds people and provides them with essential supplies and services. It should also set the stage for a return to development following conflict or disaster. We’ve been calling for increased transparency on humanitarian aid since 2008 when Publish What You Fund was set up and more recently in October 2015 at the WHS consultations in Geneva.

And it’s not just us.

The humanitarian response in Haiti in 2010 was widely criticized because of the lack of transparency and accountability. Working with local partners, Open Nepal is using a transparency portal to track national and international financial flows following the 2015 earthquake. They are also gathering citizen feedback in affected-areas. Out of the US$4.4 billion of pledges made by the international donor community only US$3.7 billion can be traced so far[1]

In times of crisis, transparent, timely and accessible data on humanitarian assistance is even more important. It supports effective planning, management and coordination of resources between actors on the ground and those at Headquarters. It can also prevent duplication as donors and implementing partners have a clearer picture of the work that others are doing.

But what does this mean in practice?

Transparency of humanitarian financing needs to be supported by political will, institutional commitments and technical solutions. It means that data on aid is published in a comparable open data format, at a sufficient level of detail, accuracy and frequency to be useful and usable by those who need the information most.

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is responding to this challenge by providing a common format and framework. Significant volumes of international financing from donors and implementing agencies such as the UN, World Food Programme (WFP) and many national, regional and international NGOs are already being published to the standard. This has been recently updated to better capture data on humanitarian crises. The information can automatically feed into multiple platforms including UN OCHA’s Financial Tracking System (FTS) and the EU’s EDRIS system, increasing comparability and reducing the reporting burden.

The technical solution exists, now the humanitarian community needs to commit to it and use it.

As emphasized by the High-Level Panel, there is an unprecedented opportunity for increased political momentum on this issue. An opportunity for donors and aid organisations to commit to publishing frequent high quality data on their humanitarian aid activities in accordance with the IATI standard by the WHS in May. A number of IATI publishers have already signaled their intention to lead the way by using the new version of the Standard to begin publishing timely and comprehensive data on their humanitarian assistance. An appetite for change is in the air.

Let’s make 2016 the year that transparent humanitarian aid becomes a reality.