In the past decade the humanitarian system has had to respond to natural disasters and complex emergencies of increasing severity. In 2005, as an attempt to increase coordination amongst humanitarian actors and improve coherence in humanitarian response, the United Nations implemented a coordination mechanism called the Cluster Approach. The aim of this paper is to present common challenges of the Cluster Approach raised since its implementation and to provide lessons learned, based on the findings of a meta-analysis of 18 existing case studies, evaluations, and literature. The paper assesses progress the Cluster Approach has made toward meeting its intended goals, exposing different stakeholder perspectives and aggregating findings from various clusters and country contexts.
The last two decades have witnessed an increasing blurring of mandates and agendas between humanitarian actors, foreign troops and donor states. Many observers point out that this trend is spiking violence against aid workers and provoking loss of access to humanitarian agencies in several complex emergencies. This study is an effort to quantify its actual impact in humanitarian operations.
Although strongly agency-specific, available data suggests that the blurring of lines is indeed a key driver of both violent incidents and lack of access in Afghanistan. However, in other contexts such as Somalia and Sudan, its impact may not be so evident; in these two countries, the blur also seems determinant in hindering access, whereas it has less explanatory power interpreting trends on security incidents faced by aid workers. Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan account for half of the total number of violent cases hitting humanitarians worldwide.
The Sphere standards have been devised to ensure that people affected by disasters will receive an adequate level of assistance; these standards are used across the world and apply both to natural and complex emergencies. The latter tend to be lasting events that often create a displacement of the population and it is argued that in such situations, where prolonged assistance is required, the Sphere standards may be counterproductive. By using examples of water supply interventions, it is highlighted that in some circumstances the Sphere standards for water quality may only be achieved with systems too complex for the displaced population to operate and maintain on their own. The case of two war-affected areas of Eastern Chad are presented to illustrate the importance of the temporal aspects of the Sphere standards in complex emergencies, and raises important questions regarding the long-term sustainability of adopting such standards for displaced populations.
The magnitude of many recent complex emergencies has compelled UNHCR to consider the issue of conflict prevention. Such emergencies pose important questions about how to protect human life and human rights in crisis situations. Human rights abuses and violent conflict are the main reasons why people flee. Grappling with these problems can draw outsiders into areas traditionally seen as internal affairs. Countries in crisis want to preserve their sovereignty. Yet sovereignty should not be a shield, hiding abuses that might lead to major movements of people. Increasingly, international organizations, national governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and local leaders are working together creatively to address the abuses that can lead to refugee outflows and internal displacements.
Complex emergencies require the international community to respond quickly and efficiently with a variety of services. Experience has demonstrated that effective emergency response depends on coordination between nongovernmental organizations, governments, and international organizations. The increasing burden in recent years has prompted international organizations and states to reconsider how best to use the considerable capacity of the NGO community.
NGOs play an increasingly important role in humanitarian assistance and protection activities. In complex emergencies, national governments find it more and more difficult to provide, by themselves, the range of relief needed. Many situations present not only logistical difficulties, but political barriers to action. Nongovernmental organizations can, and do, help to fill the gap, playing a wide range of roles from early warning of human rights abuses to education and training for long-term self-sufficiency.
Norway provides an instructive example of one way to manage highly effective cooperation between government and the national NGO community. When I assumed my functions as High Commissioner, I identified emergency preparedness and response as one of the principal pillars of my office. Within this context, UNHCR and Norway entered into a new and closer relationship, through an emergency staff standby arrangement managed by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Through this arrangement, my office has been able to witness very directly the important and cooperative relationship between governments, international organizations, and NGOs.
Such creative arrangements are one of the tools that UNHCR can use to accomplish its key task of protecting people in peril. This report highlights the challenges posed by complex emergencies and suggests some ways in which the rights and well-being of vulnerable populations can be better safeguarded.
The critique of conventional relief strategies in complex political emergencies well developed (Duffield, 1994; Macrae & Zwi, 1994). This critique, however, has not been accompanied by an analysis of the effectiveness of development aid on conflict management and reduction. Having participated over the past 18 months in a number of reviews, evaluations and studies for UN agencies and NGOs in Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda and Uganda, for me, the need for this is clear. What I want to do in this paper is to dissect what Joanna Macrae (1988) has called the ‘developmentalist attack’ on humanitarian principles by looking at developmental approaches to humanitarian relief which have gained currency in aid policy and in aid practice. The paper seeks to highlight two things:
- the shortcomings in applying developmental relief models and strategies in complex political emergencies;
- and the negative impact that such developmental approaches to relief can have on the rights, welfare and livelihoods of populations in distress.
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