Addressing the changing landscape of humanitarian action: encouraging complementarity rather than competition
8 November, 2013
The contours of global power and influence are changing. Rising global powers are playing an increasingly active humanitarian role, and international development architecture is changing. How do those engaged in humanitarian assistance envision the trajectory of their future work together?
Advancing humanitarian action: engaging with rising global actors to develop new strategic dialogue and partnerships
Sunday 20 – Wednesday 23 October 2013 (WP1269)
This off the record roundtable conference brought together representatives of non Western countries increasingly engaged in humanitarian assistance, selected other donors, humanitarian organisations and international experts to discuss their future engagement on humanitarian issues, and the characteristics of future aid architecture.
It was held in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UK Department for International Development (DFID), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Through a series of plenary sessions and break out groups, participants gained new understanding of the commonalities and differences between the principles and practice of humanitarian activity in rising global actors and humanitarian organisations, and what sustains partnership in the humanitarian community.
Its objectives included:
- Strengthening mutual understanding among humanitarian actors on matters of policy and practice;
- Broadening common understanding of an effective and complementary humanitarian system based on shared humanitarian principles, and building support for a multilateral approach from all humanitarian actors, creating new partnerships to enhance global effectiveness whilst respecting the diversity of different approaches;
- Encouraging more active collaboration in international humanitarian response;
- Encouraging increased financial and other contributions to ensure the humanitarian community is able to respond promptly and effectively to humanitarian needs.
Among those taking part were Peter Maurer, Dr Abdullah al-Matouq, Atta Al-Manan Bakhit, Milton Rondó Filho, Bruno Figueroa, Ahmed Al Meraikhi and Jusuf Kalla.
Some highlights from the discussions
It was been widely acknowledged that embracing non-traditional humanitarian actors, including the private sector, will change the dynamic of humanitarian action in the future, and the question which remains is, how will a new humanitarian architecture make better use of this diversity?
Humanitarian action needs a rethink in order to reflect the complexity of humanitarian engagement on the ground, and to expand the traditional mechanisms of coordination, cooperation and funding. Transferring knowledge and experience, establishing equal partnerships and sustaining dialogue were just some potential solutions to current and future challenges to humanitarian action.
The way ahead – challenges to action
The landscape and operating environment are becoming increasingly complex and there is much greater demand for effective coordination between the growing number of actors, both recipient and donor. Focusing on similarities could be a potent beginning for long term strategic partnerships, and especially in the case of new global actors, there have been calls for a change in mutual perceptions of ‘traditional’ and ‘rising’ global actors.
Armed non-state actors (ANSAs) are growing in numbers, power and diversity. Constructive engagement with ANSAs is vital to operations in crisis situations, and a lack of contextual situational knowledge will seriously adversely affect the effectiveness of assistance.
New challenges to the international legal framework, such as military technological advances and proliferation of ANSAs also give credence to lack of respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and hence the ability to provide assistance to and protect affected populations.
Though overall humanitarian assistance contributions have increased, the economic crisis has affected the sustainability of funding, and the gap that has resulted is a direct threat to current and future projects. Climate change has also had a serious impact, as the frequency of natural disasters has been growing continuously over the last forty years and recent experience shows us that even developed economies and technology do not protect entirely from disaster.
Also noted was the fact that although the concept of partnership is widely embraced, more effort needs to be invested in giving substance to what this means, especially where strategic, sustainable and long-term partnerships are envisioned. This will require more commitment, openness and willingness to engage reciprocally.
Other recommendations include:
- To better meet the needs of people, engage more with the private sector and explore potential partnerships with private sector involvement.
- Pay attention to the terminology applied and understanding how (re)emerging actors are defining themselves, which are beneficial to enhance mutual understanding and contribute to the development of a common language facilitating the ability to work together.
- ‘To act global but think local’, strengthening international organisations engagement with local actors, and recognise the interconnectivity of topics in a particular context and address them in a concerted effort. The notion ‘contextualise instead of generalise’ should guide the any humanitarian strategy.
- Aiming to achieve comprehensive consensus might not be the most promising path to design an effective course of action.
- Increasing ‘smart programming’, using innovative tools and methods to identify not only needs but also capacities.
- Focusing on the goal of building self-sufficient societies, with decreased vulnerabilities and increasing local institutional capacity to respond to crises, by making a concerted effort to span prevention, crisis intervention and post-conflict reconstruction.
- Designing humanitarian action closer to the needs of beneficiaries with practical mechanisms to address protection threats.