Building High-tech Castles in the Air?

Medical documentation poses many challenges in acute emergencies. Time and again, the reflection of those who manage healthcare during a ‘disaster’ involves some reference to poor, inadequate or even absent documentation. The reasons for this are manifold, some of which, it is often argued, would be negated by using technological solutions. Smartphones. Tablets. Laptops. Networks. Many models exist, and yet we have not reached a status quo whereby this single aspect of disaster response is fixed. Should we abandon technology in favour of a traditional paper solution? Perhaps not; however, it seems that the answer may lie somewhere in between. As simple as the problem might seem on the surface, its answer requires thought, investment and practice. And while it is being answered, it is essential to remain mindful of the hazards posed by gathering healthcare data: who owns it? Where will it be stored? How will it be shared? Academics and practitioners are equal guests at the table wherein this challenge is approached.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Four Decisive Challenges Confronting Humanitarian Innovation

When former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon encouraged the humanitarian sector to innovate and create a new paradigm to respond to people in crisis, the sector answered with an unbridled number of new enterprises and laboratories to create tools, products and new initiatives. As these emerged, so did the reality of the changing complexity of communities in need of humanitarian assistance. The deterioration of the natural physical environment, along with burgeoning population dynamics and threats to humanitarian workers themselves, has tipped the balance of complexity beyond the capability of the system to respond effectively. The humanitarian sector as a whole must urgently commit to reconciling four critical challenges to reinvent itself and its effectiveness: reconciling the meaning of innovation; developing an overarching strategy that addresses the radically changing global context in which communities require assistance; agreeing on an integrated structure to deliver innovation; and addressing how innovation is financed. Unless the sector addresses these four elements, the action and effect of innovation will fail to realise the transformational change necessary, to respond to communities in crisis now and in the future.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Architecture, Building and Humanitarian Innovation

Humanitarian innovation has come under considerable fire in recent years for its uncritical technophilia, its links with the private sector and its tendency to fetishise objects rather than focusing on politics and process. There are many examples of these issues in the shelter sector, yet this article argues that a clear distinction should be made between innovation and architecture. By comparing the Ikea-funded Better Shelter with the series of architectural interventions in Vienna, collectively known as Places for People, this paper argues that architecture can productively engage with humanitarianism not by constructing shelters but by designing at a smaller scale in a way that does not involve any building at all.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Rethinking Digital Divides by Linda Leung
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Planned Obsolescence of Medical Humanitarian Missions: An Interview with Tony Redmond, Professor and Practitioner of International Emergency Medicine and Co-founder of HCRI and UK-Med

In this interview with editors Tanja R. Müller and Gemma Sou, Tony Redmond reflects on his long career as a professor and practitioner of international emergency medicine and founder of UK-Med, an NGO that provides international emergency humanitarian medical assistance and which hosts the UK International Emergency Trauma Register (UKIETR) and UK International Emergency Medical Register (UKIEMR). He questions the usefulness of prioritising innovation in medical humanitarianism and advocates aiming for the same duty of care that one would offer in one’s everyday practice at home. In this, Tony is also critical of the term ‘humanitarian space’, as it by definition proclaims an imagined geographical entity where normal rules should not apply.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Staff Security and Civilian Protection in the Humanitarian Sector

In 2015, Action Contre la Faim launched a campaign calling on the UN to create a new post, that of a Special Rapporteur for the protection of humanitarian aid workers. Critics of the proposal claimed, inter alia, that creating such a post would imply that aid workers were a special category of civilians, worthy of protection over and above that accorded the wider population in the contexts in which they work.1 This raises an important issue which runs deeper than the campaign for a Special Rapporteur. The present article argues that, with or without such a post, the current situation is one in which humanitarian agencies treat aid workers as distinct and separate from the wider civilian population, and take significantly different measures for the safety of their staff from those they take for other civilians. For the most part, the distinction and associated differences are uncritically accepted, and this article sets out to challenge such acceptance by highlighting the nature of the differences, assessing possible explanations for the underlying distinction and considering its implications. Through this analysis, the article argues that this distinction not only reflects but also reinforces an unequal valuing of lives internationally.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

A security advisor for Médecins du Monde France between 2012 and 2016, Emmanuelle Strub recalls her experience and some of the major shifts in risk management in the NGO sector in recent years. In particular, at a time of global normalisation of the aid sector, she describes her own efforts to streamline security management in her organisation: empowering field teams and, in particular, heads of mission, emphasising the crucial role of obtaining consent from the various stakeholders in the countries of intervention, and developing security trainings, crisis-management tools and a risk-management methodology. Yet, she warns, the trend today, with the advent of the duty-of-care concept, is to shift the use of risk management from enabling operations and facilitating access to populations to protecting the organisation from legal or reputational risks.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs

This article discusses the policy of absolute secrecy on abductions adopted by aid organisations. It argues that the information blackout on past and current cases is to a large extent a function of the growing role of private security companies in the aid sector, which promote a ‘pay, don’t say’ policy as a default option, whatever the situation. The article contends that secrecy is as much an impediment to resolving current cases as it is to preventing and managing future ones. It suggests abandoning the policy of strict confidentiality in all circumstances – a policy that is as dangerous as it is easy to apply – in favour of a more nuanced and challenging approach determining how much to publicise ongoing and past cases for each audience, always keeping in mind the interests of current and potential hostages.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editor’s Introduction
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Uses and Misuses of International Humanitarian Law and Humanitarian Principles

The rehabilitation of international humanitarian law (IHL) has become a priority for those who think that the horrors of contemporary wars are largely due to the blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants and for those who think that campaigning for the respect of IHL could result in more civilised wars. Similarly, respect for humanitarian principles is still seen by many as the best tool available to protect the safety of aid workers. In this text, I argue that both assumptions are misled. The distinction between civilians and combatants, a cornerstone of IHL, has been blurred in practice since the late nineteenth century. In addition, humanitarian agencies claiming to be ‘principled’ have been victims of attacks as much as others. History and current practice tell us that neither IHL nor humanitarian principles provide safety or can guide our decisions. Accepting their symbolic value, rather than their unrealised potential to protect and solve operational dilemmas, would free humanitarian agencies from endless speculations.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs