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The humanitarian system has undergone three series of reforms over the past couple of
decades, with mixed results. Multilateral agencies play a central role in the system. Faced
with the prospect of growing humanitarian needs as a result of conflict, climate change and
pandemics, the elusive quest to improve their performance continues. Yet while donors agree
on the benefits of a strong multilateral system to respond to humanitarian crises, they diverge
when it comes to measuring performance and providing financial incentives. A political
economy defined by co-dependence and information asymmetry complicates the picture.
Donors should unbundle their funding of different multilateral functions and measure
their performance accordingly. Commonly agreed core functions and capacities should be
supported by a greater proportion of core rather than earmarked funding. Performance
of these core functions should be measured using multi-donor assessments and functional
reviews. Independent measurement of outcomes should be linked to pooled mechanisms
that would channel a significantly greater proportion of funding earmarked to specific crises.