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The Politics of Information and Analysis in Food Security Crises
Daniel Maxwell and Peter Hailey

Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of protections. Because of both its human and political meanings, ‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis – and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject. This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be better managed.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Sean Healy and Victoria Russell

The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion. This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of ‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with ‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship, the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
A Belated but Welcome Theory of Change on Mental Health and Development
Laura Davidson

This article critiques the new Theory of Change (ToC) on mental health published by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in the last fortnight of its existence. The ToC offers development actors a framework for better support of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities – given disappointingly scant attention by the sector to date. Yet, 70 per cent of mental disorders occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with a 22 per cent prevalence in fragile and conflict-affected states. Globally, mental ill-health is estimated to affect almost one billion people. Its intersectionality with poverty and physical health has been brought into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic which has magnified the underlying social and environmental stressors of mental health. DfID’s ToC provides a conceptual framework for improving mental health globally, with an overarching vision of the full and equal exercise of all human rights by those affected by mental health conditions and psychosocial disability. The framework incorporates a rights-based approach with user-participation embedded in five critical change pathways to outcomes. The article analyses the ToC, provides an overview, highlights gaps and comments upon how DfID might have improved clarity for development actors seeking to realise its vision.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Humanity and Solidarity
Tanja R. Müller and Róisín Read
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Middle-Aged Syrian Women’s Contributions to Family Livelihoods during Protracted Displacement in Jordan
Dina Sidhva, Ann-Christin Zuntz, Ruba al Akash, Ayat Nashwan, and Areej Al-Majali

This article explores the intersections of generational and gender dynamics with humanitarian governance in Jordan that cause shifts in the division of labour within displaced families. Drawing on life history interviews and focus group discussions with seventeen Syrian women in Jordan in spring 2019, we explore the monetary and non-monetary contributions of middle-aged females to the livelihoods of refugee households. Older women’s paid and unpaid labour holds together dispersed families whose fathers have been killed or incapacitated, or remain in Syria or in the Gulf. In doing so, many women draw on their pre-war experience of living with – or rather apart from – migrant husbands. Increased economic and social responsibilities coincide with a phase in our interviewees’ lifecycle in which they traditionally acquire greater authority as elders, especially as mothers-in-law. While power inequalities between older and younger Syrian women are not new, they have been exacerbated by the loss of resources in displacement. Our insights offer a counterpoint to humanitarian attempts at increasing refugees’ ‘self-reliance’ through small-scale entrepreneurship. For now, culturally appropriate and practically feasible jobs for middle-aged women are found in their living rooms. Supportive humanitarian action should allow them to upscale their businesses and address power dynamics within families.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Brendan T. Lawson

Over the past 25 years, the humanitarian sector has become increasingly dominated by numbers. This has been reflected in the growth of academic work that explores this relationship between humanitarianism and quantification. The most recent contribution to this literature is Joël Glasman’s Humanitarianism and the Quantification of Humanitarian Needs. Through his empirical and theoretical contributions, Glasman draws our attention to the different ways that academics approach this topic. These four strands structure the literature review: knowledge – the technical difficulties in quantifying phenomena; governance – how numbers help humanitarian organisations manage the sector; effects – the impact that quantification has had on the sector as a whole; meaning – the importance of rhetoric, discourse, representation and communication when it comes to understanding the quantitative. As part of the review, the essay also identifies how academics can better engage with each of the four strands.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Arjun Claire

Evidence-based advocacy is all the rage in humanitarian action. It is premised on rational thinking, which posits that factual evidence can limit subjective bias in humanitarians’ call for change. Data has come to be a cornerstone of this turn towards reason, aggregating human stories in numbers and percentages, which when reaching an elusive threshold is expected to persuade decision-makers to act. This article claims that the prominence of data and facts comes at the cost of understanding people’s concerns and aspirations, and reveals an increasingly emotions-scarce and morally depleted humanitarian enterprise. Examining Médecins Sans Frontières concept of témoignage, the article argues that the pull between reason and emotion crystallises a more profound tension between the need for a professional and technical humanitarianism as opposed to a political and morally charged one. It concludes that the prism of solidarity can help reinvigorate humanitarian advocacy helping reconcile reason with emotion, combining practices of advocacy with those of activism, in turn creating the foundations of a more solidarist humanitarianism.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Róisín Read
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Gender Equality and Culture in Humanitarian Action
Ricardo Fal-Dutra Santos

Despite increasing attention to gender issues in the humanitarian sector, the notion of gender equality as a humanitarian goal remains largely rejected, as some argue it would require interfering with cultural values and practices, and thus lie beyond the remit of humanitarianism. This paper questions this by examining the close relationship between certain humanitarian goals, and cultural values and practices. It ultimately calls for a gender-transformative humanitarian action that recognises and supports local feminist actors, in an effort to transform gender relations both in local communities and within humanitarianism itself.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Catherine Akurut

This review examines the appropriateness of including men within the existing sexual and gender-based violence programming in armed conflict settings rather than providing services explicitly designed to address their needs. A central premise of the paper is that men experience sexual violence differently to women and that the way they seek help also varies. This gender-specific difference calls into question why humanitarian organisations pursue a ‘gender-inclusion’ approach, which simply extends services designed for women to men. There is a need to reconsider this approach, and specifically its implementation. The paper reviews relevant secondary sources and argues that current practices of sexual and gender-based violence programming fail to translate into actionable responses suited for and sensitive to men.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs