If you want to glimpse the future, first understand the past. Wise advice, yet the business of disaster response is, I’m afraid, rather obsessed with the present. The urgency of response fueled by short-term, mission-specific funding leaves little room for reflection, yet history can tell us a great deal about why humanitarianism is the way it is today, about how it may change and about how it informs longer term development.
Our mind set, at least on the humanitarian side, has tended to see humanitarian action as something separate from long-term development, both conceptually and practically, yet most predictions for the future envisage rapid change, more extreme events, and greater challenges of adaptation to these trends: a future where development and humanitarian response are closely entwined.
So if I may, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the past, to examine our present, and then to go on to look at our future and propose one insight from each of these time-snaps of the humanitarian world, which may help international NGOs concerned with development.