International Relations

Open Access (free)
Fernando Espada
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
A Response to the Journal of Humanitarian Affairs Special Issue on Innovation in Humanitarian Action (JHA, 1:3)
Anna Skeels
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Nazanin Zadeh-Cummings and Lauren Harris

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.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Brad Evans

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.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Lessons Learned for Engagement in Fragile and Conflict-Affected States
Logan Cochrane

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.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Paul Currion

Humanitarian innovation has rapidly emerged to become central to discussions about the future of humanitarianism. Innovation practices are framed as a means by which the humanitarian community can identify the paradigm shift that it needs to survive in a rapidly changing world. However, this framing is based on a misunderstanding of economic theories of innovation and particularly of the nature of humanitarian economics. The lack of both a true market and a profit mechanism in the humanitarian industry means that innovations can be generated but will never be sustained. Unless this obstacle is addressed – perhaps through emerging networked approaches to economic activity – humanitarian innovation will continue to be a dead end.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Matthew Hunt, Sharon O’Brien, Patrick Cadwell, and Dónal P. O’Mathúna

Language and its translation are important operational concerns in humanitarian crisis response. Information sharing, coordination, collaboration and relationship-building all revolve around the ability to communicate effectively. However, doing so is hampered in many humanitarian crises by linguistic differences and a lack of access to adequate translation. Various innovative practices and products are being developed and deployed with the goal of addressing these concerns. In this theoretical paper, we critically appraise the ethical terrain of crisis translation and humanitarian innovation. We identify ethical issues related to three broad themes. First, we foreground questions of justice in access to translation and its prioritisation in contexts of widespread and pressing needs. Second, we consider the relationship between humanitarian ethics and the ethics of crisis translation. We argue for the importance of attending to epistemic justice in humanitarian crisis response, and consider how Ricoeur’s conception of linguistic hospitality provides insights into how relationships in humanitarian settings can be understood through the lens of an ethics of exchange while also acknowledging the steep asymmetries that often exist in these contexts. Finally, we identify issues related to how translation innovations intersect with humanitarian values and humanitarians’ ethical commitments.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editors’ Introduction
Tanja R. Müller and Gemma Sou
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Digital Bodies, Data and Gifts
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

This is an initial exploration of an emergent type of humanitarian goods – wearables for tracking and protecting the health, safety and nutrition of aid recipients. Examining the constitutive process of ‘humanitarian wearables’, the article reflects on the ambiguous position of digital humanitarian goods developed at the interface of emergency response contexts, the digitisation of beneficiary bodies and the rise of data and private-sector involvement in humanitarian aid. The article offers a set of contextual framings: first, it describes the proliferation and capabilities of various tracking devices across societal domains; second, it gives a brief account of the history of wristbands in refugee management and child nutrition; third, an inventory is given of prototype products and their proposed uses in aid. It is argued that what needs to be understood is that, in ‘the making’ of humanitarian wearables, the product is the data produced by digitised beneficiary bodies, not the wearables themselves.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Building High-tech Castles in the Air?
Anisa Jabeen Nasir Jafar

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