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The instinct to help is as old as humanity (OCHA, 2014:8). Christian ideas of charity have been particularly important in Europe and North America, and scholarship has emphasized the importance of charitable gestures in other religions, including notably the tradition of zakat in Islam, one of several ways in which Islamic duty involves assisting others (Ghandour, 2002; Benthall and Bellion-Jourdan, 2003; Krafess, 2005).
Humanitarian Emergency Response can be simply defined as “the immediate and appropriate action to save lives, ensure protection, and restore the wellbeing of refugees.”(UNHCR, 1999) . It is, however, important to note that there have been significant shifts in the understanding of humanitarian need and of the context in which humanitarian assistance is provided over the past few decades, as well as the international expectations of the role of humanitarian action as a result of which many see humanitarian action as part of a wider agenda of conflict management and development (Joana Macrae , 2002:3). The outcome of this development is that currently “Such action occupies a crucial but increasingly precarious position at the intersection of (a) international political/security agendas and (b) the coping strategies of people affected by crisis and conflict”. ( Antonio Donini et. al, 2015:3)
That notwithstanding, even though, disasters and conflict have been understood as the main drivers of humanitarian need, a number of global trends are changing the humanitarian risk landscape. Climate change, population growth, rapid and unplanned urbanization, food and water insecurity, poverty, inequality and mass migration all contribute to an increased risk of humanitarian crises. Also the convergence of these new global trends is further increasing the scope and complexity of humanitarian crises (OCHA, 2014:11).
Humanitarian response in conflict situation is comprised of a range of activities and legal principles seeking to restrain and limit violence in conflict situation. In such situations, humanitarian emergency response is characterized by a specific legal basis that embody norms of international humanitarian law, human rights law and refugee law to be applied in the context of armed conflicts (Lord (Paddy) Ashdown et al, 2011:P.3). This legal basis gives humanitarian action a special concern for protecting the lives and dignity of all those not taking part in the conflict— civilians, refugees, etc, and ensuring its respect by all the combatants (Hugo Slim, 2001). These are grounded in Article 1(3) of the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter:”to achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character” (Charter of the United Nations, 1945) .The UN first did this in the aftermath of the Second World War on the devastated continent of Europe, which it helped to rebuild (Edward Clay, 2003:707). The Organization is now relied upon by the international community to coordinate humanitarian relief operations due to natural and man-made disasters in areas beyond the relief capacity of national authorities alone.
It is note-worthy that, the priority in any humanitarian response, regardless of the kind of disaster, is to save lives and reduce suffering through meeting humanitarian needs. How such needs are met depends on the specific emergency. For example, in armed conflicts more effort is made to protect the lives of humanitarian workers. In floods and tsunamis, access to affected populations might sometimes be challenging. Thus each humanitarian disaster has its own set of challenges, and must be responded to accordingly .
While versatility and adaptability has been the hallmark of humanitarian organizations to complex and perplexing risk circumstances, it has been identified that crises have been treated as discrete events, with insufficient analysis or treatment of their underlying causes and little in the way of comprehensive responses. But the risks people face are multidimensional and cannot be addressed in isolation (OCHA, 2014:14).
As a result voices calling for a shift towards a more anticipatory and preventative approach to humanitarian crises, though not new, has taken on increased urgency. Most crises can be predicted and, while they cannot always be prevented, the suffering they cause can often be greatly reduced. But humanitarian aid today is overwhelmingly focused on responding after crises occur, worse it is only a meager percentage of humanitarian aid that is dedicated to prevention and preparedness . Governments and their partners have failed substantially to reduce risks to the world’s most vulnerable people (OCHA, 2014; Lord (Paddy) Ashdown et al, 2011).
Beyond all these, people and communities can manage small risks themselves, but the primary responsibility for managing the risk of humanitarian crises lies with Governments . It is their duty to protect the life and security of their citizens, in addition to other human rights . Governments also have legal obligations to prevent, reduce and respond to crises. Under the Hyogo Framework for Action , for example, they commit to “reduce underlying risk factors.” The International Law Commission specifies obligations to “prevent harm to one’s own population, property and the environment generally” . But national authorities tragically often lack the will or the capacity to provide for their population in peril, and in failed states there may be no government at all. It is therefore a defining feature of human rights and humanitarian emergencies that governments turn to the international community for help.
While the awareness of Governments/NGO’S about the risk factors of humanitarian crises have grown over the years due to the deployment of more cutting urge field and desk research called the mixed-methods approach, including literature review, interviews with people from Governments, aid agencies and civil-society groups, coupled with online surveys , the risk of crises/humanitarian emergencies is growing in leaps and bounds far outstripping levels of global preparedness to deal with them (OCHA, 2014).
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the UN Secretariat is responsible for coordinating responses to emergencies. It does this through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, whose members include the UN system entities most responsible for providing emergency relief , namely the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP). A coordinated, system-wide approach to humanitarian relief is essential in providing assistance quickly and efficiently to those in need .
The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), managed by OCHA, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to support rapid humanitarian response for people affected by natural disasters and armed conflict.
In fact, besides the traditional humanitarian agencies (such as the ICRC and MSF) which are by principle concerned with humanitarian work, an increasing number of other organizations, agencies and NGOs have also included humanitarian concerns in their mandates, although not being solely devoted to it (Ramalingam, 2011).
Again, there has been a proliferation of meetings to promote dialogue and ways have been devised to coordinate the work of those organizations among themselves. Everyone agrees on the need for greater professional competence and operational coordination (K. PEREZ, 2002).
As stated in “Strengthening Protection in War” , the ICRC workshop document on the 1996-2000 conference on protection at its Headquarters in Geneva ;in 1996, the ICRC initiated a discussion on how best to protect civilian victims of conflict given the many different aspects of and approaches to modern-day humanitarian endeavor; the so-called “Sphere Project”. For four years in a row, representatives of a large number of humanitarian and human rights organizations met at a workshop organized by the ICRC to discuss the meaning of the term “protection”, the principles on which their work is based, the consequences of their operational choices and how best to optimize coexistence between the different organizations. The ultimate objective has been better protection of human life and dignity when conflict breaks out. It resulted in the publication of a “Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards for Disaster Response” in 2000.
Such forums work to shape and direct the perspective of Non-Governmental Humanitarian Organizations and define their role in humanitarian emergencies and the approach of their response.
In similar vein , over the years there has been a concerted effort on the part of the United nations through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other Non-Governmental Humanitarian Agencies (NGHAs) to shape and direct the role and perspective of the UN and other NGO’s in their response to humanitarian emergencies.
Underlining all humanitarian action are the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. The central role of these principles in the United Nations humanitarian work is formally enshrined in two resolutions by the General Assembly. The first three principles are endorsed in General Assembly Resolution 46/182, which was passed in 1991. This is also the resolution that established the role of the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC). The fourth principle was added in 2004 under Resolution 58/114 at the fifty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly .
The global recognition and relevance of these principles is furthermore underscored by the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non-Governmental Organizations in Disaster Relief and the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability .
481 organizations globally are signatory to the Red Cross/NGO Code of Conduct for operations in disasters, which includes a commitment to adhere to these humanitarian principles .
The code envisages that, humanitarian assistance is not only about providing care and relief but above all do it in an impartial, independent and nondiscriminatory way. In short, to provide relief and prevent human suffering without distinctions of any kind. This humanitarian outlook was traditionally based upon three key assumptions: separation between relief and development, recognition and acceptance of the limitations of operations imposed by sovereignty and conception of humanitarian aid as neutral, impartial and independent from political and military objectives . All said and done, adherence to the principles is what allows humanitarian action to be distinguished from the activities and objectives of other actors, and thus not considered improper interference in States’ domestic affairs.
As defended by Jorge Castilla, “the goal of humanitarian assistance is to preserve human life and dignity. Its area of operation is specifically in war settings but do also operate in other situations where human life and dignity are at risk. Aid is provided taking into account only the needs and disregarding political, ethnic, religious or any other type of interests and considerations”
The increase of conflicts in the 1990’s, mainly of an internal nature , further led to increasing need and number of humanitarian assistance missions undertaken by the NGOs, states and international organizations , and called for a more active and rapid answer by the international community (Daniela Santos Nascimento,2004).
In this context, principles of international relations, such as state sovereignty, intangibility of frontiers, non-interference in internal affairs of other states, were significantly challenged by these values and principles that are perceived as increasingly important by the international community.
Refreshingly, there was the emergence then of a neutral, impartial and progressive humanitarianism with widespread public support, as exemplified by the Operation Lifeline Sudan in 1989. Signaling a new phase of this neutral, negotiated access relief programmes and working across the lines in ongoing conflicts, it opened the way to new ways of working between UN agencies and NGOs, based on security arrangements agreed by many parties to allow impartial aid agencies to provide humanitarian assistance to populations (M. DUFFIELD, 2001).
The role and perspective of the UN and other NGHA in humanitarian emergency response have evolved over the years . This is predominantly due to the fact that during the course of the 90’s, intense criticism of humanitarian assistance in conflict situations arose. This accusations (which had already been experienced regarding the crisis of Sudan and Ethiopia in the end of the 80’s), were related especially to the failed humanitarian actions in Somalia, Bosnia, Sierra Leone or Rwanda in the 90’s and, more specifically, to its palliative and unsustainable impact, lack of effectiveness and professionalism and the fact that it often ended fuelling conflicts through misappropriation and allocation of aid resources (K. PEREZ , 2002:6). In Bosnia, for example, aid agencies were often accused of facilitating the very ethnic cleansing they condemned by providing transport and shelter.
The main argument, as put by Anderson and Woodrow, was that too often, far from contributing to longer term development objectives, emergency aid was merely serving efforts to bring things back to normal and not having a positive contribute to the future. It was, therefore, necessary and possible to conceive and undertake emergency assistance interventions which could contribute, in the longer term, to development and peace( M. ANDERSON, 1989:2) .
Placed in its broader chronological context, the Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, drafted in Europe, and the Providence principles, drafted in the U.S.A were part of an attempts to provide some codification of the basic principles that should guide agencies in a humanitarian emergency, as it was increasingly becoming clear that the days of unquestioning acceptance of the “good work” of humanitarian agencies were over. This was against the backdrop of the fact that as agencies entered more difficult conflict environments, they were subject to much more rigorous scrutiny and more sophisticated political analysis (Margie Buchanan-Smith, 2003:iv).
With the objectives of humanitarian assistance shifting from providing a palliative assistance to the most vulnerable to embracing developmental and conflict resolution goals, humanitarian assistance and principles became, again and even more, under question, with humanitarian decisions being, from then on, based less on need and more on political and developmental criteria. The resulting effect of that process was the “hostile perception of humanitarian action” that grew out of “integrated political, military and humanitarian operations and the politicization of humanitarian assistance as an instrument of foreign policy” (Hugo Slim, 2004:1)
Moreover, by pursuing such longer term political objectives, humanitarian assistance became managed on the basis of a strategy of “sticks and carrots”, with which donor governments reward or punish recipient countries according to their human rights practices and response to donors’ policies (K. PEREZ, 2002:25).
This politicization, militarization and privatization of humanitarian action crested in the post 9/11 era , posing a major challenge as it effectively minimized the space for fidelity to the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence in favor of pragmatism ; with severe consequences for the entire humanitarian apparatus (Antonio Donini et al, 2008:4)

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