Humanitarian aid represents a commitment to support vulnerable host populations that have experienced a sudden emergency and/or require ongoing assistance to improve quality of life. Over the past fifteen years humanitarian agencies, private organisations, governments, corporations, individuals and other stakeholders have proliferated, along with differing values, goals, strategies, actors and activities. Despite good intentions and successes this complex field with diverse mandates, people, time lines, funding and absence of clear definitions to describe specific identities, presents a chaotic and confusing image to the public, host governments, recipients and ongoing challenges for agencies and aid workers. Weak coordination, erratic funding and differing roles often lead to expensive duplication of services, wasted resources and present serious credibility and survival issues to agencies that depend on donor funding to save and improve the lives of the vulnerable. Hence this paper deconstructs the roles of and linkages between emergency, relief, rehabilitation and development aid, identifies problems that impact on effectiveness and sustainability and points to progress and achievements over the past fifty years.
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.
In chronically food-insecure areas, long-term provision of food aid is often attributed to a dependency syndrome: peoples’ unwillingness to initiate activities on their own to improve wellbeing. This discourse is strong in Ethiopia; the country has been dependent on food aid for over three decades. This study explores this discussion by analyzing local peoples’ behaviors in a chronically food-insecure district where food aid has been central for more than two decades. Based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken for approximately 18 months, the paper analyzes a group of 112 food aid beneficiary households. Results show that food aid constitutes a small proportion of overall household food needs, and that food aid is only one of several components of the livelihood portfolio poor people use to cover household food gaps. The paper thus argues that the dependency syndrome is largely a construct of outsiders, rather than an existing risk among food aid beneficiary households that receive a limited amount of aid that cannot cover entire household food gaps.
A simple economic model was used to compare the aid costs of two approaches to supporting pastoralist households during drought in Ethiopia. One approach was the use of timely commercial destocking, enabling households to acquire cash through modest livestock sales to private traders, and use of this cash to buy food, and inputs to protect key livestock assets. The other approach was the provision of food aid, meeting household-level food security requirements but with loss of key livestock assets. Post drought, the food aid provision was continued along with restocking. The results showed that the aid cost of commercial destocking was 125 times less expensive than the food aid-restocking option when local food aid was used, and 137 less expensive than imported food aid. Further use and adaptation of the model is proposed to allow analysis of the aid cost of safety net provision.
The rapid urbanization of the developing world is giving rise to a host of concerns about the implications of “fragile” cities in relation to security, development and humanitarian action. Presently, more than half of the world resides in cities, and the latest projections reveal that this will rise to almost three quarters by 2050 or 7 billion people. The majority of global urban population growth will be concentrated in large and intermediate cities and their sprawling informal settlements in low-income settings. The refocusing of policy makers on the city is also taking place against an apparent decline in inter- and intra-state conflict over the past two decades and an apparent surge in more acute forms of organized violence associated with networked armed groups and criminal gangs. A debate is brewing on the scope and scale of urban violence in the twenty first century, the challenge this presents to the humanitarian sector, whether and in what ways the humanitarian community should respond. This article offers some preliminary observations on trends in urbanization and urban violence with insights from the security studies and urban geography literatures. Drawing on the experiences of practitioners, it also introduces some reflections on how humanitarian actors are coming to terms with chronic and acute forms of urban violence. It makes the case for humanitarian agencies to more robustly and comprehensively engage with the causes and consequences of urban violence and argues that practitioners must expand the lens of analysis to consider the specific humanitarian needs of populations affected by endemic urban violence.
The unprecedented acquisition of land by transnational companies in areas of chronic food insecurity requires a paradigm shift from food security to food sovereignty. Export-based commercial farming operations in these regions are negatively impacting both the well-being of people and the environment. An Ethiopian case study demonstrates how food insecurity has increased as smallholder farmers are displaced and uncompensated, not only affecting household food security but also livelihoods. Adopting food sovereignty as a thematic construct to reevaluate the system facilitates some unique approaches to food insecurity, such as a focus on land reform, local sustainability and local ownership, and highlights continued calls for reformation in governance, regulation of land grabbing and environmental protection.
Could a doctor working for a humanitarian organisation be sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States for having offered his “expert advice” to people linked to a “terrorist organisation”? That is what is feared by a number of civil rights’ organisations in the US since the Supreme Court declared on 21 June 2010 that the legislation known as the Material Support Statute was constitutional. The Supreme Court ruling recalls the Cold War era when the criminalisation of humanitarian assistance in rebel controlled areas was the norm rather than the exception. Following in the footsteps of the (primarily religious) pro-Biafran organisations in Nigeria, MSF and the “without borders” movement then decided to sidestep government prohibitions by clandestinely crossing the borders. Gaining clandestine access to populations living under the authority of “terrorist” organisations is now much more complicated than it was during the Cold War. Countering the rhetoric that criminalizs humanitarian assistance to the victims located on the “wrong side” of the front line requires new humanitarian policies.
The Colombian internal armed conflict has caused the abandonment of an estimated 5.5 million hectares, roughly 5% of Colombian territory. The Colombian legislature is currently debating a bill that aims at establishing a new land restoration policy vis-à-vis Internally Displaced People (IDP). In a context of ongoing violence, where irreconcilable interests still exist around the use of land, the implementation of the bill will necessarily face an array of hurdles. This paper analyzes how President Juan Manuel Santos’ proposal diverges from international legislation on this issue, in particular with regard to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the United Nations Principles on Housing and Property Restitution. It proposes ways in which the proposed bill could better comply with these norms and seize the occasion to create a legal framework in which the return of IDPs to their land strengthens the peace process and increases the state’s presence in areas traditionally under the control of the armed groups.
Modern humanitarian action is conducted in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment. This brief theoretical piece is an analysis of how humanitarian action can be perceived from a neo-realist point of view. It suggests that apart from being a leading theory of international relations, neo-realism can throw a light on patterns and strategies of international humanitarian action from the Cold War to modern days. Behavior of states on international arena and international aid organizations can be explained from a neo-realist perspective. Regardless of its theoretical slant, the article suggests that neo-realism can be traced in modern politics of humanitarian assistance.
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.