Ukraine’s liberation can be global

As the world faces unprecedented humanitarian crises, the response to Ukraine’s needs has pushed reforms in the international aid community.

A resident in the village of Zarichne, Donetsk region, Ukraine, receives food at a mobile humanitarian aid point, Dec. 2.

Day by day, after nine months of war, Ukraine has been liberating its land from Russian invaders. Yet its people, along with generous foreign donors, have shown another kind of liberation, one the world will need in coming years. Its struggle has let loose creative ideas on how the world can best assist those suffering from conflict or disaster.

Some ideas are quite practical. Need emergency food in a war zone? Don’t wait for a truck caravan; deliver food aid by drone. Need to keep the internet running after a communication tower is bombed? Bring in satellite-linked devices for Wi-Fi. Need to fix destroyed power lines? Bring in donated firetrucks and use the ladders to lift utility workers for repairs.

Other ideas reflect a higher-quality approach to traditional foreign assistance. Instead of waiting for material aid, millions of Ukrainians in need have been given money, creating the largest humanitarian cash assistance program in history. Unlike in many conflict zones, foreign donors who have given billions in aid to Ukraine have been forced to listen to local volunteers for guidance. Much of the relief has been driven by hundreds of newly formed local charities or private industry. The Ukrainian grocery chain Silpo, for example, set up a depot in Poland to deliver food through its logistics network.

The war in Ukraine has created an unprecedented level of private sector engagement for a major world crisis, says Kareem Elbayar, head of the United Nations’ Connecting Business Initiative. He told The New Humanitarian news site that the international aid community – a large field of some 5,000 organizations – can use lessons learned in Ukraine and apply them to other crises, such as flood disasters and civil wars.

Those lessons are needed more than ever. Last week, the U.N. reported that 1 in 23 people worldwide will require humanitarian relief next year – more than double the percentage just four years ago. Much of the increase has been caused by the effects of climate shocks, COVID-19, inflation, and armed conflicts, as well as a grain shortage from the Ukraine war. The U.N. has launched a record $51.5 billion humanitarian appeal for 2023.  

Meeting that target will take a similar level of generosity – and liberating reform in the aid community – as the world has seen in Ukraine. That country’s liberation could be the world’s.

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