International aid agencies prioritise funders over disaster survivors when trying to make themselves accountable to their stakeholders, research has suggested.
The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership, a partnership of NGOs working to improve accountability, polled 650 NGO staff and donors for its 2008 Humanitarian Accountability Report.
Just a quarter of respondents felt that beneficiaries received a high level of accountability from them. However, 74 per cent said official donors enjoyed high levels of accountability and 65 per cent said the same applied for private donors.
"The pecking order for accountability is always towards institutional donors first and disaster survivors last," the report concludes.
Results "clearly correlate with the relative economic, political and administrative powers of the respective stakeholder groups", it says.
Alex Jacobs, research director at Keystone Accountability, a charity that works to increase the effectiveness of organisations involved in social change, said more agencies were making commitments to improve their accountability. "But there's still a long way to go," he said. "We still seem lukewarm about treating disaster survivors the way we would expect to be treated ourselves by service-providers: with consistent respect, consultation and transparency."
The survey also found that only 38 per cent of respondents felt their organisation was doing enough to ensure humanitarian accountability, compared with 70 per cent in the same survey in 2007.
Many respondents felt that financial pressures induced by the economic downturn explained poor accountability performance.
The partnership, whose members include Oxfam, Save the Children and Christian Aid, believes aid agencies should "go more slowly" in responding to emergencies in order to understand the circumstances of countries they are trying to help. But aid agency staff say they often feel pressured to use funds quickly and spend less time in communities.
"This lack of understanding of the communities was frequently seen as the source of mistakes or the selection of interventions and activities that were unnecessarily costly that, with more local consultation, could have been avoided," the report says.