This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.
The European responses to irregularised migrants in the second decade of the twenty-first century have been qualitatively new not so much because of the often-celebrated cultures of hospitality in countries such as Germany and Sweden, but because of acts of solidarity that have challenged the prerogative of nation-states to control access to their territory. I discuss elements of the public response in Germany to the criminalisation of one such act, the search and rescue (SAR) operation of the Sea-Watch 3 in the Central Mediterranean in June 2019, which led to the arrest of the ship’s captain, Carola Rackete, by Italian authorities. I argue that while the response to Rackete’s arrest was unprecedented, it built upon a year-long campaign in support of private SAR missions in the Mediterranean, which drew on the discourse of rights and was therefore not reliant on a short-term outpouring of compassion. Rackete’s supporters have also been energised by alternative visions of Europe, and by the vitriol reserved for her by followers of the populist far right.
In most of today’s crises, humanitarian organisations operate in the same environment as a range of military and non-state armed actors. The effective engagement between militaries and humanitarian aid agencies can be beneficial for the timely delivery of aid and is also often unavoidable when trying to gain access to areas controlled by military or non-state armed actors. However, such engagement also comes with risks. Previous literature on the subject has described some of the benefits and potential risks of different types of engagement between military and humanitarian actors. To date, however, quantifiable data on how civil–military engagement unfolds and which factors influence the effectiveness of coordination is lacking. This paper proposes an indicator framework for measuring the effectiveness of civil–military coordination in humanitarian response. It provides nineteen descriptive level and twenty perception and effectiveness indicators that may be used at any stage of a response to a humanitarian emergency, from mission planning and assessment through the various stages of a response and post-response assessment. The full set of questions, or a more targeted subset of these questions, may also be used as periodic polls to actively monitor developments in theatre.
Violence against aid workers seeking to bring assistance and protection to vulnerable people amid ongoing armed conflicts, disasters or other crises has fuelled growing concern over how to protect the humanitarian mission. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted with 118 practitioners involved in humanitarian operations and security management, this article considers three under-analysed prongs of grappling with humanitarian insecurity. The first three sections, in turn, examine the pursuit of accountability at both the domestic and international levels, public advocacy efforts and confidential negotiation. The fourth section links the article’s assessment of these three modes of responding to humanitarian insecurity to the broader discourse on security management in the humanitarian sector. Specifically, this section revisits and reimagines the security triangle, a framework that has played an influential role in shaping discourse on security management in humanitarian operations. The final section offers concluding remarks.
This paper explores the importance of house and home for survivors of natural disaster: it protects from hazards and contributes to health, well-being and economic security. It examines the reconstruction of homes after a disaster as an opportunity to Build Back Better, re-defining ‘better’ as an holistic and people-centred improvement in housing. It questions the humanitarian shelter sector’s emphasis on structural safety while poor sanitation, inadequate vector control and smoke inhalation are responsible for many more deaths worldwide than earthquakes and storms. The paper extends this discussion by arguing that promoting ‘safer’ for a substantial number of families is better than insisting on ‘safe’ for fewer. The overall benefit in terms of lives saved, injuries avoided and reduced economic loss is greater when safer is prioritised over safe, and it frees resources for wider consideration of a ‘good home’ and the pursuance of ‘self-recovery’. The paper is informed by field research conducted in 2017 and 2018. Finally, implications for humanitarian shelter practice are outlined, with particular reference to self-recovery. It highlights a need for adaptive programming, knowledge exchange and close accompaniment so that families and communities can make informed choices with respect to their own recovery pathways.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) has been a recipient of international humanitarian aid from international organisations (IOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) since 1995. In recent years, multilateral and unilateral sanctions in response to the DPRK’s nuclear programme have created a new layer of difficulty for humanitarians looking to engage with the authoritarian state. This paper explores how sanctions are affecting humanitarian work in practice, utilising interviews with practitioners. The research first surveys documentation, particularly from IOs, to establish how humanitarians understand contemporary need inside the country. Next, this paper examines the impacts of sanctions on aid efforts, with a particular focus on multilateral United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions and unilateral American measures. Unpacking humanitarian challenges and potential ways to navigate the sanctions regime provides a foundation for academics and humanitarian practitioners to better understand both the DPRK and possible avenues for principled, effective aid.
This essay critically addresses ten prevailing assumptions about violence: (1) violence is natural; (2) violence comes easily to humans; (3) violence attacks a juridical life; (4) violence is the result of underdevelopment; (5) violence is the result of difference; (6) violence is a sign of absolute power; (7) violence is associated with some death drive; (8) violence can be intelligent through a mastery of technology; (9) the opposite of violence is a just peace; and (10) violence is an assault on the sacred meaning of life. In doing so, it opens up a conversation on the meaning of political violence and makes an impassioned call to free ourselves from sacred myths that bind us to a problem that still appears insurmountable.
South Sudan is one the largest recipients of official development assistance. Given the complexity of the operational environment, there is a need to learn from the lessons gained to-date. This article seeks to enable better-informed decision making based on a synthesis from humanitarian and development evaluation reports, which offer insight for engagement in other fragile and conflict-affected states. Experimental methods were utilised to identify evaluation reports. The synthesis finds that projects would be better designed if they allocated time and resources to obtain additional information, integrated systems thinking to account for the broader context, and engaged with the gendered nature of activities and impacts. Implementation can be strengthened if seasonality is taken into account, if modalities are more flexible, and if a greater degree of communication and collaboration between partners develops. Sustainability and long-term impact require that there is a higher degree of alignment with the government, longer-term commitments in programming, a recognition of trade-offs, and a clear vision and strategy for transitioning capacities and responsibilities to national actors. While actors in South Sudan have been slow to act on lessons learned to-date, the lessons drawn from evaluation reports in South Sudan offer direction for new ways forward, many of which have been concurrently learned by a diverse set of donors and organisations.