This case study is part of the Diaspora Emergency Action and Coordination Platform’s (DEMAC) “Research study on diaspora humanitarian response and engagement”.
Recurring floods, droughts, earthquakes and epidemics all make the humanitarian operating environment challenging in Pakistan. Ongoing unrest and conflict have an exacerbating effect. With over 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021, the humanitarian response in Pakistan is led by the government in collaboration with the key humanitarian actors. With over nine million individuals, the Pakistani diaspora is the seventh largest immigrant population in the world. Remittances form the first and immediate diaspora response in times of crisis, moving beyond families to vulnerable community members. The most common type of diaspora organizations are formal charities, well established in their countries of residence, active mainly in development in addition to scaling up for humanitarian response as needed. Another type of diaspora organization often active in humanitarian response are those organized by the same profession, such as those from the health or education fields. This case study identified 24 Pakistani diaspora organizations that were active regularly in humanitarian response, with one half based in North America and the other half in Europe, the Middle East and Australia. At least half had offices or representatives in Pakistan and formal structures and set-ups. A sense of belonging, socio-cultural and religious obligations, a desire to alleviate suffering and provide longer-term support for Pakistan were drivers for diaspora humanitarian response. Diaspora are alerted to crises both through friends and extended families and via the formal requests the Pakistani government extends to the international community – including the diaspora – during times of major emergencies. Diaspora organizations are mainly active in education, health and livelihoods, primarily building on their existing development programmes and projects to scale up in times of humanitarian crisis. This has been well illustrated by their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where many diaspora organizations were active. Apart from the COVID-19 response, the large majority of their humanitarian interventions were for sudden onset crises such as floods and earthquakes. Diaspora humanitarian response was perceived as rapid and flexible and diaspora organizations were seen to have the ability to quickly mobilize resources. While often short-term in nature, diaspora organizations were nevertheless concerned with the long-term sustainability of their actions.
Diaspora organizations implement humanitarian interventions both directly as well as with partners. Almost all diaspora organizations identified were providing longer-term support to communities, working along the humanitarian-development nexus even if they did not necessarily identify it as such. Their humanitarian response is not static or limited by geographic region; rather it is dynamic and evolving, such as scaling-up in times of crises and scaling-down to revert to ongoing development-focused projects. Although most diaspora organizations participated in humanitarian coordination mechanisms, the level of coordination varied depending on their activities and nature of the organization. Those organizations involved in a specific area of intervention limited coordination efforts to within this area. Less formal groups did not participate in coordination mechanisms. A commonality of all 24 diaspora organizations assessed was that they were primarily supported through direct fundraising by the diaspora in their countries of residence. Other funding sources were from private companies, foundations and institutional donors to a lesser extent. Although diaspora organizations did coordinate with the humanitarian sector and authorities, their planning and selection of beneficiaries were largely carried out independently. Most diaspora organizations relied on their staff, volunteers or partners on the ground to identify needs and beneficiaries. Diaspora organizations have adopted different transparency and accountability approaches, often depending upon demands of their supporters, such as conducting field visits at different intervals and providing regular progress reports. Gaps and challenges identified in the humanitarian response of diaspora organizations included adhering to humanitarian principles and standards, capacity limitations, administrative issues and recognition as diaspora organizations.