Home Commentary Integrating humanitarian and development nexus in Caritas emergency response

Integrating humanitarian and development nexus in Caritas emergency response

Confronting the “new normal,” we need to make humanitarian response an integral strategy in serving the poor, who happen to be also the most vulnerable.

We need to provide the crucial nexus between humanitarian work and more long-term developmental programming.

In the face of the new normal – with the recurring disasters and extreme weather events that are now regularly entering the country, with more frequency and intensity, we cannot afford to be complacent and indifferent.

We are all affected, and we all suffer from the impacts of disasters and calamities, no matter where we are, whether in the urban centers or in the rural far-flung communities.

But in our effort to respond, we are challenged to see the larger picture and to see how all the problems are interconnected. Poverty is not a stand-alone issue that can be addressed independently.

Disasters and all the ensuing emergency responses are to be contextualized vis-à-vis the pervasive vulnerability of the poor. Poverty is a pre-existing vulnerability. And we need to harness the resiliency of the people both in development and humanitarian response, as a continuum.

One of the significant organizational learnings we have in Caritas Philippines is that humanitarian emergency response cannot stand dissociated, but it has to find its link to a more long-term development framework.

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However, the framework of humanitarian response is somehow limited primarily to addressing the survival needs and vulnerabilities of disaster survivors. The long-term development programming that should proceed even beyond the recovery period is found wanting.

Providing the crucial nexus between humanitarian work and more long-term developmental programming is necessary to expand the prevailing paradigm and to provide the needed transition. It is a continuing task.

Caritas Philippines, in many of its programs, did try to explore a programmatic platform for integrating its humanitarian interventions, with the advocacy and development work that it had been traditionally doing for the Philippine Church.

Caritas Philippines has attained a milestone in upscaling its humanitarian competence and global engagements locally and even globally, even beyond the frontiers of Caritas Confederation.

On the other hand, the regular and long-established development programs have been sustained with the needed funding support, while taking a step forward in integrating the resiliency framework in the strategies and interventions.

The integration of humanitarian and development nexus is a work in progress. And this must be part of the continuing agenda and the present organizational turnover.


Caritas Philippines, in its strategy of working for the poor, is always reflecting on the most effective way of bringing about the needed development for the poor and the marginalized.

We are aware that the present “development” trend accelerates the creation of wealth among the capitalist elites who control the world economy, while ironically it results in ever-widening disparity and ever-deplorable massive poverty among the basic sectors of society.

Moreover, the mainstream development model inevitably brings negative impacts on the environment, and more often than not, the destruction that it causes is not only widespread but also irreversible.

The prevailing development paradigm does not factor in the price of ecological destruction that is being wrought continually by pursuing unlimited economic growth.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical, Laudato Si (no. 194) deplores the notion of development that is both destructive and exploitative: “A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth.”

Therefore, we affirm that the ethical imperative to address the issues of justice, common good, and inequality in the economic and political sphere must be included in any framework for integral development.

We need to emphasize the underlying moral and ethical context of our ecological problems and the call for meaningful commitment, not just for the Church, but for all people because what is at stake is our common home!

The alternative development paradigm demands that a more integrative model take into account the inseparable link of both human and ecosystem well-being as a key consideration for a sustainable development framework.

The cry of Mother Earth is as equally urgent as the cry of the poor for social justice: “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach, it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (LS, no. 49)

The justice issue which was myopically understood in terms of human rights in its economic-socio-political parameters has now attained a wider scope.

The justice agenda goes beyond the anthropocentric lens to also include the whole issue of ecology. This is the impetus for one of Caritas Philippines’ flagship campaigns – the Right of Nature.


Caritas Philippines is the secretariat of a network of 85 social action centers all over the country. For more than 50 years now, it has been serving the poorest and most vulnerable together with our network dioceses.

It coordinates development and humanitarian programs, by engaging in positive collaboration, empowerment of communities, leadership formation, and capacity building.

As a Church working for and with the poor, we are challenged to continually discern the sign of the times – how can we respond concretely to the mission of promoting resiliency, social development, ecological conversion, justice, and peace from the perspective of our faith?

Capacity strengthening as a strategy for organizational development is inherently necessary not only in terms of advancing our technical competence but more importantly, as part of our mission to effectively carry out our mission to serve the poor and the most vulnerable.

Capacity building is categorically mandated in our Strategic Plan that mandates that Caritas Philippines should: “accompany the Diocesan Social Action Centers (DSACs) and vulnerable communities of Philippine Society towards empowerment through humanitarian response towards community resilience.”

Our work in Caritas – in humanitarian, development, and justice advocacy, demands a high level of competency, requiring highly specialized skills and an equally exceptional level of knowledge and mastery of the many different areas of engagements and interventions.

We need to harness the required qualifications to render the maximum possible service to the people we serve.

The diocese is the key program implementer at the local level, with the Caritas Philippines providing the overall coordination role.

Some DSACs need greater levels of support in strengthening their institutional capacity in order to be better positioned to serve the needs of their communities.

It is for this reason that capacity building becomes all the more necessary, not only in terms of providing funding access but also in terms of upgrading core competencies and the professionalism of personnel.

In our accompaniment work to the dioceses, we always consider capacity strengthening as an important strategy for organizational development.

It is inherently necessary not only in terms of advancing our technical competence but more importantly, in line with our mission to effectively carry out our mission to serve the poor and the most vulnerable.

It is to this end that Caritas Philippines is continually developing practical and programmatic strategies for capacity strengthening in response to the expressed needs of the diocesan social action network.


Partnership in humanitarian work should support and complement the agenda for localization and empowerment of the local national formations, including faith-based organizations, as in Caritas.

As an output of Haiyan learning experiences, Caritas Philippines, together with other national Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), namely CODE-NGO, Humanitarian Response Consortium (HRC), and National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), had come up with a position paper on how to build our local capacities of the in responding to emergencies or in engaging in humanitarian work.

The document is entitled: “Building on the Strengths of Civil Society Organizations in Responding to Emergencies: The Philippine Context.”

As articulated in the position paper, we observed and experienced in Haiyan response, that: in the current development/humanitarian collaboration environment the roles of National NGOs with INGOs/UN Agencies are mostly sub-contractual in nature, limiting opportunities for local involvement in designing responses, mobilizing and allocation of resources and leading implementation.

Though this relationship is changing on an individual basis, the humanitarian sector as a whole needs to recognize this imbalance and understand that the inherent strengths of local CSOs in knowing the local context, ability to work with local governments, and skills in facilitating proper dialogue would allow for much improved humanitarian response.

Therefore, we see the need to create a national platform that would be anchored in developing a new working relationship model between INGOs and national/local NGOs.

This model would evolve from a sub-contracting relationship to a partnership where both sides are involved in the decision-making and design aspects of response. Local/National NGOs and CSOs would be the primary implementers with the INGOs/UN Agencies complementing with resource mobilization and capacity enhancement.

This evolution in complementation leverages the relative strengths of all stakeholders and would improve the effectiveness of the humanitarian system in the Philippines. This new standing mechanism for coordination, collaboration, and partnership must be understood by each actor including donors.

The objective is ultimately to mobilize local response to local emergencies. The best way to do this is to build capacity within local organizations to respond. This is not just about individual staff capacity but about leveraging the capacities of these local organizations and building up their resilience so that the capacity remains in place despite the movements of individual staff.

The localization agenda, as articulated in the Philippine setting is also valid and extremely necessary in the global arena of humanitarian responders, and specifically in Caritas confederation.

The localization thrust is strongly articulated in The Grand Bargain, particularly the need to provide more funding support for local and national responders, including multi-year investment in institutional and coordination capacities.

The Caritas Confederation has seriously taken up the localization agenda by coming up with a position paper on the matter.

However, as noted in the survey, there is a need for internationally operating CIMOs to set aside the motive for self-interest and market share in favor of pursuing a commitment to localization.

The experience of the localization process and how this principle is applied in the implementation of the Haiyan response will remain a benchmark in the history of humanitarian response in the Philippine Church.

Fr. Edwin “Edu” Gariguez was the former executive secretary of Caritas Philippines. In 2012, he was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for leading a grassroots movement against an illegal nickel mine to protect Mindoro Island’s biodiversity and its indigenous people. He is currently the social action director of the Apostolic Vicariate of Calapan.

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