By Kieran Guilbert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Training 100,000 aid workers and volunteers in more than 50 countries as first responders to local disasters and conflicts could "revolutionize the aid sector", the head of the world's first academy for humanitarian relief said as it launched on Monday.
The Humanitarian Leadership Academy (HLA) plans to establish 10 centers worldwide by 2020, starting with Kenya and the Philippines, to train people as frontline relief workers to respond in the first 72 hours of crises in their own countries.
The initiative will provide training for local aid workers, healthcare professionals and volunteers who will be on hand to provide assistance in disaster and conflict prone areas.
Last year saw a record number of severe humanitarian crises and the largest number of displaced people worldwide since World War Two, with 50 million forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council and HLA chairman, said the initiative could "revolutionize the entire humanitarian sector".
"Too often in crises we parachute down from the West, take charge, give relief, and leave ... we have neglected to build the first line of defense," the former U.N. head of humanitarian affairs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone.
"We must empower local forces to respond and take charge in the first 48 hours after a disaster explodes, or in the first few weeks of a conflict."
The HLA is a global collaboration between the private sector, governments, academia and aid organizations including Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
Egeland said although international organizations would always respond to disasters with additional resources and expertise, the HLA would enable local groups to take responsibility and lead relief efforts.
"International organizations are expensive and foreign and should not stay longer than needed ... local aid workers should be the first and the last responders."
The academy aims to improve professionalism in the aid sector by ensuring that countries have local people with the training, expertise and knowledge to respond, Egeland said.
Amateur groups that tend to emerge in local churches and mosques should be discouraged from going to disaster or conflict zones and instead send money to trained local groups, or the international agencies supporting them, he added.
The HLA has received an initial 20 million pounds ($30m) in funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) out of a target of 50 million pounds ($75m) for the first five years.
"The high quality training and expertise delivered by this academy will mean humanitarian responses not only provide immediate, life-saving relief, but also help build a more secure and resilient world," International Development Secretary Justine Greening said in a statement.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Alex Whiting)