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Engaging Violent Cities: Operational Challenges for Humanitarian Action in Urban Areas (HAW 17)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the year 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population was living in urban areas. Cities have become more numerous, more populous, and denser. The complexity and density of urban environments significantly alter the viability of certain humanitarian protection strategies that might work well in rural, more sparsely populated areas. In addition, it has become difficult to draw the line between acute and chronic vulnerability and therefore, the identification of beneficiaries. This blur in distinction between chronic and acute vulnerability has raised a number of important questions for humanitarian organizations regarding if and how they should intervene. While many such organizations are equipped with the appropriate skills to mitigate overwhelming public health challenges is such contexts, the absence of a crisis point - such as armed conflict or natural disaster - brings the mandate of humanitarian agencies into question. Despite challenges, more...

Lessons Learned? The Role of Humanitarians in Protection Response (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 16)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The performance of the international humanitarian system has been under the scrutiny of a number of evaluative reports in recent months – particularly in relation to its actions and inactions in Sri Lanka, 2009. Notably, the reports present a steadfast recognition that lessons must be learned within and across organizations. However, how such conclusions will be integrated in practice still remains unclear. Faced with a state apparatus determined to dictate the parameters of access while simultaneously unable or unwilling to protect the population, the international humanitarian community has often been unable to act in a strategic, coordinated manner. Fingers have been pointed at staff that “had insufficient political expertise and experience in armed conflicts and in human rights,” and were “not given sufficient policy and political support.” Ensuring that field-based staff has the necessary skills and support to make tough choices is, of course, of great importance. However, more...

The Challenges of Engagement: DRR and Civil Society (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 15)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Humanitarian actors have increasingly recognized that successful disaster risk reduction (DRR) projects must be conceived as long-term, holistic initiatives geared toward enhancing the ways that states and societies approach resilience. Additionally, the humanitarian sector has learned that the success of long-term projects hinges on the participation of an actively engaged local community. In fact, this notion — that humanitarian action should be centered on the active participation of beneficiaries— underpins the professional standards of the humanitarian sector.

However, in actuality, international actors often treat civil society as an obstacle, and local actors tend to serve merely as minor players in DRR projects. Additionally, governments are not always keen to see the growth of a strong civil society, particularly if this development might generate organized criticism of those who hold governmental power. Such attitudes might not only hinder the implementation of a more...

On the Basis of Humanitarian Need? The Confounding of Operational Decision Making. (Hum. Assistance Webcast 14)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A central tenet of international humanitarian assistance is to fulfill the needs of a population unmet by the state in time of crisis. As such, a great deal of importance is placed upon how this need is calculated, how the collection of information might be standardized, and how the gathered information might be better shared. Despite this emphasis, it is unclear to what extent this information is used by operational decision makers.

Indeed, action on the basis of need is seen as the hallmark of professionalism in the humanitarian community. According to the Humanitarian Charter, “… assistance must be provided according to the principle of impartiality, which requires that it be provided solely on the basis of need and in proportion to need.” Similarly the General Principles of the Good Humanitarian Donorship state that the allocation of funding should be in proportion to needs and on the basis of needs assessment. The ultimate aim of such efforts is most efficient and more...

Follow the Money: How Has Aid Measured Up in 2012? (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 13)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

As the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) 2012 Report notes, humanitarian needs in 2011 decreased from those of the previous year. Financing requests dropped by 21% and the overall funding response decreased by 9% from 2010 to 2011. However, despite this shift, the gap in unmet financing widened. According to the GHA report, "the proportion of humanitarian financing needs within the UN CAP [United Nations Consolidated Appeals Process] appeal that remained unmet in 2011 was greater, at 38%, than in any year since 2001, despite overall reduced requirements." This trend is not exclusive to the past two years. In the past half decade, the gap between met and unmet needs in UN CAP appeals widened by 10%, despite large increases to financing. Further complicating the ability of international agencies to meet humanitarian needs, the year 2012 has seen crises emerge in environments that have been highly politicized increasingly dangerous for international workers. According to the Aid more...

DRR, Inc.: Can the Private Sector Revive Resilience? (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 12)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

As the planet warms, the vulnerability of communities in less developed countries rises. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2008, 20 million people were displaced by climate-related sudden onset disasters. Additionally, as AlertNet reports, in 2011, floods, typhoons, and earthquakes caused over $274 billion of economic losses in Asia alone. Without appropriate mitigation strategies, extreme weather and rising tides are likely to lead to greater losses of life and development investments in the coming decades.

While professionals in the humanitarian and development sectors recognize the importance of countering the negative impact of climate change and weather-related disasters, pathways to implementation remain difficult to navigate. In particular, an incongruity exists between the recognized importance of disaster risk reduction (DRR) and the funding allocated to resilience building efforts. According to a recent study by the think tank, more...

The Politics of Recovery (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 11)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

During the humanitarian reform process launched in 2005, humanitarian actors introduced early recovery as a humanitarian cluster to facilitate policy linkages between humanitarian relief and development. However, the scope of the early recovery cluster has since broadened to encompass a host of additional transitional activities — including stabilization and peacebuilding — relevant to post-conflict contexts. As the early recovery cluster has evolved, various debates have arisen about how organizations and agencies within the cluster should allocate resources and when humanitarian actors should transition from emergency relief to structural assistance. Disagreements between governments of conflict-affected states and humanitarian actors have sometimes proved particularly contentious. On one hand, post-conflict states have an interest in introducing activities that represent a return to stability to demonstrate to donors that governmental legitimacy has been restored.

On the more...

Public Health and Humanitarian Crisis (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 10)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Despite improvements in the coordination and delivery of humanitarian assistance in recent decades, armed conflict remains a leading public health concern. Mortality rates have declined in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP), but overcrowding in camps, limited supplies of potable water, and poor sanitation have still contributed to some of the worst outbreaks of communicable diseases in history.

Furthermore, some humanitarian professionals have expressed concern that health-care provision in conflict is based on an outmoded model of humanitarian relief. Changes in geopolitics, global economic growth, and demographics have altered the profile of contexts in which armed conflict occurs. Conflict-affected countries increasingly have higher incomes, higher life expectancy, and a higher burden of non-communicable diseases. Violence occurs more frequently against a backdrop of urbanization and ageing more...

Peace Building and Humanitarian Engagement (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 9)

Monday, June 11, 2012

The scope and character of peace-building and stabilization missions significantly affect the work of humanitarian actors. Across a range of contexts, humanitarian actors must balance principled action alongside considerations of peace. An operational format that gained traction in Boutros-Ghali’s 1992 “Agenda for Peace,” peace-building encompasses dimensions of peace-making, peacekeeping, and development. Despite the emergence of “stabilisation” frameworks post-9/11, which were aimed at limiting peace-building’s expansive definition, peace-building continues to cover a multitude of possible activities designed for positive peace.

The United Nations Department of Peace Keeping Operations is currently conducting 15 missions on four continents with the service of more than 120,000 men and women. Whether the objective of a specific format is a “positive peace” (in which violence ceases and justice is secured, alongside more...

Human Rights and Humanitarian Action (Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 8)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Human rights norms are playing an increasingly important role in humanitarian action. Yet there seems to be a growing confusion on the distinct origins and nuances of these bodies of law among practitioners engaged in humanitarian protection. This conflation has sometimes weakened arguments for compliance especially in situations involving intermittent bouts of conflict interspersed with periods of relative peace.

At its core, international humanitarian law (IHL) — the laws and customs of war — was developed to apply only during armed conflict and to provide a minimum level of humanity during such tumult. For its part, human rights law (HRL) — which emerged after IHL — governs the relationship between the state and the people within its jurisdiction, providing a framework to ensure that the state promotes and protects fundamental and indivisible values. While both HRL and IHL aim to recognize human more...


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