Financial tools can help. In Feeding the World's Hungry: Fostering an Efficient and Responsive Food Access Pipeline, we examined the issues that humanitarian agencies confront again and again -- how to get assistance to those who need it the most in the fastest and most efficient way possible. The unpredictability associated with when donations will arrive and how much will be available prevents agencies from using their funds most efficiently.
Making funds more predictable could go a long way toward improving the current system. We suggested increasing predictability by modeling funding for humanitarian assistance after the International Funding Facility for Immunisation (IFFIm), which issues bonds backed by donor commitments so funds are available immediately when need arises. Other solutions, including the institution of a multi-year funding structure (like that used by the World Bank's International Development Association) or getting donors to guarantee a certain level of funding, could go a long way toward increasing the flexibility of these agencies' operations and improving their ability to act quickly.
The need for humanitarian assistance is unlikely to wane in the years ahead. Climate change is expected to exacerbate weather patterns, causing more people to be affected by droughts and natural disasters than ever before. Given all of the other obstacles to delivering assistance (including political issues and logical challenges), it is critical that we do what we can to relieve suffering as quickly as possible.