Humanitarian statistics

Humanitarianism and the Quantification of Human Needs: Minimal Humanity
Joël Glasman
Routledge, Humanitarian Studies
Series 2020, London/New York

Joël Glasman is a historian and professor at the University of Bayreuth (Germany). Here, the author discusses his book with Vincent Hiribarren, Senior Lecturer in Modern African History, World History and Environmental History at King’s College London.

What prompted you to write a book on humanitarian statistics?

Statistics have become central to humanitarian decision-making. The omnipresence of numbers and graphics in the ongoing response to Covid-19 makes this very clear. Yet, numbers – such as mortality rates, malnutrition prevalence and refugee numbers – are ubiquitous in all major humanitarian crises. Today, all critical humanitarian battles are fought wielding numerical data and mathematical models. However, historical re- search has shown little interest in such numbers, until now. There has been significant research into the imagery of humanitarian action, its narratives, legal codification, and the ways in which it galvanises moral sentiment, inspired by the writings of authors such as Didier Fassin and Luc Boltanski. But strangely enough, there has been minimal research into the history of numbers. It is curious indeed that numerical data contin- ues to be perceived as rational, objective and dispassionate. In reality, a heavy moral responsibility is conferred upon numerical data, as it is used to answer questions such as: when should the United Nations intervene? Which organisation has legitimacy on the ground? Which populations should be the first to receive aid? Humanitarian data triggers emotions and informs decision-making, and has impacts that reach far beyond the humanitarian sector.

As an example, let’s look at the “crude death rate”, a widely used emergency threshold. For the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), a humanitarian crisis is considered to be occurring in a given region if the crude death rate exceeds 1 death per 10,000 inhabitants per day. However, this threshold is arbi- trary. Indeed, the significance of any given indicator varies greatly from one context to another. In some poor countries, crude death rates are particularly high, even under “normal” circumstances. While in rich countries, such as France, the 1 death per 10,000 inhabitants per day threshold is not exceeded, even in times of crisis. This variability has prompted a number of organisations to propose the use of thresholds adapted to the different regions of the world. Thus, in order to qualify as a crisis, a disaster would need to cause at least 1.07 deaths per 10,000 inhabitants per day in sub-Saharan Africa, while 0.46 deaths would suffice in South Asia and 0.03 deaths in rich countries. How- ever, this new definition would require that, before it could be recognised as such, ahumanitarian crisis would have to claim 35 times more lives in Africa than in Europe. It is clearly impossible to define a humanitarian crisis in neutral terms. Defining a crisis statistically does not resolve the tension between abstract universalism and unaccept- able relativism.

All organisations rely on numbers. How are humanitarian organisations specific in this regard?

There are two main points of view regarding humanitarian statistics today. For some, statistics guarantee integrity, transparency and effectiveness. The United Nations itself is calling for a “data revolution” and “statistical evidence-based” humanitarian aid. Many authors ardently argue this point of view: they see the growing use of statistics, technological tools and mobile technologies as a natural corollary to increasing spe- cialisation and professionalisation in the humanitarian sector.

Other more critical authors see the use of numerical data as a consequence of neoliberal governmentality. For French political scientist Béatrice Hibou, for example, translating circumstances into numbers is a means of exporting market logic. As NGOs adopt busi- ness practices under the pressure of donors, practices such as accounting, management and benchmarking are gaining ground throughout the world.

There is, of course, a measure of truth in both these points of view on humanitarianism. On the one hand, a process of specialisation is undeniably underway. And on the oth- er, neoliberal principles are in effect being applied, causing widespread competition between individuals, in ways that sometimes tend towards the absurd. Competition is increasing between affected populations competing for aid, between NGOs competing for funding, and between donors.

However, though the critique of neoliberalism is necessary, it must not blind us to the fact that humanitarian organisations have a measure of independence, and therefore a responsibility in the development of humanitarian statistics. In my book, I consid- er a third perspective. I believe that contemporary humanitarianism’s “quantification fervour” is not solely attributable to external pressure. It is also a natural by-product of humanitarianism’s own self-determined trajectory, as can be seen by examining the concept of “basic human need”. Humanitarian organisations have themselves re- peatedly made decisions that lend altogether excessive – and sometimes irrational – weight to statistics. Yet, humanitarian statistics are often quite poor in quality. This is not because those who produce statistics are inept, but because disasters are by their very nature difficult to comprehend statistically. Models are useful, but crises do not fit neatly into models. When a crisis first occurs, nobody knows what parameters to measure, how to measure those parameters, what to compare them with, etc. We are inevitably in the dark. What is more, humanitarian organisations often operate in regions where the institutions that are responsible for producing numerical data and documents have been destroyed or considerably weakened. Caution would therefore require that humanitarian organisations rely upon a diversity of expertise. However, the data generation imperative tends to end dialogue, attributing disproportionate im- portance to “statistical evidence” that curtails debate. The faith placed in humanitarian indicators today is excessive.

What is the significance of the concept of “basic human need”? How are humanitarian organisations quantifying these needs in Central Africa?

The concept of “needs” is central to the humanitarian narrative. Despite competing in other arenas, all major humanitarian aid actors agree when it comes to the crucial importance of “basic needs”. This consensus is expressed in the Core Principles signed by humanitarian organisations. At the beginning of the 20th century, helping people “impartially” meant helping everyone without discrimination (based on nationality, religion, etc.). Today (since the 1960s), the concept of impartiality has evolved con- siderably. Indeed, impartiality has come to signify the allocation of resources “based

on humanitarian needs” (as specified by the Humanitarian NGO Code of Conduct: “aid priorities are calculated on the basis of needs alone”). In order to be considered fair, aid must be proportional to need. However, this new definition has, in essence, replaced a moral principle with a mathematical rule. Nowadays, humanitarian doctrine requires, almost by definition, that humanitarian organisations are able to define, measure and compare the needs of populations. Humanitarian organisations define minimum thresh- olds, standards and lists of conditions required for survival (e.g. 2,100 kilocalories and 15 litres of water per person per day, 250 grams of soap for bathing per person per month, etc.). The problem lies in the inevitable arbitrariness of these universal stand- ards. In reality, different societies have very different outlooks on what people need. Yet, humanitarian organisations define the needs of populations based on their own concerns – their own limited resources, their own power struggles on the ground, their own need for good relations with their partners, etc.

Let’s take the example of Cameroon. In recent years, Cameroon has been qualified as a country “undergoing a humanitarian crisis”. With the influx of Nigerian and Central African refugees between 2014 and 2015, a host of international emergency aid or- ganisations intervened on the ground: NGOs such as Médecins sans Frontières, Première Urgence, etc. along with United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund, (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). All these organisations produce numerical data: UNHCR on the number of refugees, UNICEF on child malnutrition, WFP on food security, etc., but ultimately, the question of how to allocate resources remains. Should priority be given to the refugees defended by the UNHCR, the displaced persons docu- mented by the International Organization for Migration, or the malnourished children identified by UNICEF? How should the needs of different groups be compared? And how should these needs be prioritised? As the central office of the United Nations, it is OCHA’s duty to carry out this coordination work. Yet, in order to avoid the wrath of com- peting humanitarian organisations, OCHA employs algorithms to produce health-sec- tor-specific arithmetic averages. In other words, OCHA produces somewhat arbitrary “vulnerability” ratings, the ambition of which is simply to achieve consensus among aid operators. Thus, the calculation of “needs” is determined as much by the power struggles between humanitarian organisations as it is by the requests of populations.

We would like to thank Vincent Hiribarren for allowing us to reproduce his interview with Joël Glasman, originally published on the Africa4 Blog (http://libeafrica4.blogs.liberation.fr) that he hosts alongside Jean-Pierre Bat.

Translated from the French by Naomi Walker

183 thoughts on “Humanitarian statistics

  1. Pingback: Testing62

  2. Pingback: therapy dose for celebrex

  3. Pingback: celebrex and psoriasis

  4. Pingback: azithromycin 600 mg

  5. Pingback: siamese kittens for sale near me

  6. Pingback: buy guns online without ffl

  7. Pingback: psilocybe semilanceata

  8. Pingback: sig sauer p365

  9. Pingback: amoxicillin augmentin

  10. Pingback: fish antibiotics amoxicillin

  11. Pingback: Vidalista 20mg

  12. Pingback: market trends

  13. Pingback: free cialis samples south africa

  14. Pingback: buy generic viagra in us

  15. Pingback: cialis online with paypal

  16. Pingback: sophia viagra nude

  17. Pingback: cheap cialis for sale

  18. Pingback: sildenafil for sale uk

  19. Pingback: where to buy cocaine online

  20. Pingback: cialis sample pack

  21. Pingback: buying ammo online

  22. Pingback: Workshop marketplace

  23. Pingback: PREDNIKEL 2.5 – 100 ML

  24. Pingback: cheap canadian drugs

  25. Pingback: where to buy delta 8

  26. Pingback: pharmacy canada online

  27. Pingback: buy delta 8 THC

  28. Pingback: buy telegram bot script

  29. Pingback: canada pharmaceutical online ordering

  30. Pingback: premium cannabis prerolls for sale

  31. Pingback: Craft wire

  32. Pingback: Homes For Sale In Irvine Ky

  33. Pingback: portable toilets for sale

  34. Pingback: best pinball machines

  35. Pingback: Buy Medical marijuana in Ireland

  36. Pingback: virtual visa and MasterCard buy

  37. Pingback: virtual card buy

  38. Pingback: canada pharmacy

  39. Pingback: Boldenone Acetate Powder

  40. Pingback: online pharmacy cialis cheap

  41. Pingback: canadapharmacy.com

  42. Pingback: defi

  43. Pingback: pinball machines for sale kansas city

  44. Pingback: shipping containers for sale washington

  45. Pingback: guns for sale roanoke va

  46. Pingback: Electronics

  47. Pingback: their usa website

  48. Pingback: Herbal incense

  49. Pingback: thc vape juice

  50. Pingback: liquid herbal incense

  51. Pingback: Webdesign agentur

  52. Pingback: laptop reparatur hurden

  53. Pingback: click here

  54. Pingback: https://trippydelics.ca

  55. Pingback: order cocaine online

  56. Pingback: curso ozielzinho

  57. Pingback: MAGIC MUSHROOM GROW KIT

  58. Pingback: psychedelic mushroom growing kit usa

  59. Pingback: top rated essay writing services

  60. Pingback: pure amphetamine

  61. Pingback: writing a graduate thesis

  62. Pingback: abstract art ideas

  63. Pingback: buy pre written essays

  64. Pingback: Oregon Fake driver's license

  65. Pingback: singapore divorce lawyer

  66. Pingback: safestore auto

  67. Pingback: free download for windows 8

  68. Pingback: pc games for windows 7

  69. Pingback: download free apps apk for windows

  70. Pingback: laptop app

  71. Pingback: full apps download

  72. Pingback: safestore auto

  73. Pingback: safestore auto

  74. Pingback: Real Estate/Construction Recruitment Firm

  75. Pingback: Pornhome

  76. Pingback: pit bull puppies for sale

  77. Pingback: car detailing

  78. Pingback: buy cialis online viagra

  79. Pingback: no deposit free spins casino

  80. Pingback: Dank Cartridges

  81. Pingback: BUY BIG CHIEF EXTRACTS ONLINE

  82. Pingback: clit vibrators

  83. Pingback: buy cialis online viagra

  84. Pingback: kratom for depression

  85. Pingback: kratom for sale

  86. Pingback: kratom back pain

  87. Pingback: Buy vicodin online

  88. Pingback: Louisiana Fake driver's license

  89. Pingback: 4-AcO DMT For Sale

  90. Pingback: best classic vibrator

  91. Pingback: best masturbation for male

  92. Pingback: much does cialis cost without insurance

  93. Pingback: BUY ATIVAN 1MG

  94. Pingback: Mzadaty Irak

  95. Pingback: 레플리카

  96. Pingback: Purchase Marijuana Online

  97. Pingback: buy cialis online viagra

  98. Pingback: software buy

  99. Pingback: virtual visa and MasterCard buy with cryptocurrency

  100. Pingback: buy cialis united kingdom

  101. Pingback: cbd for sale

  102. Pingback: buy instagram followers

  103. Pingback: dependent visa hong kong

  104. Pingback: white maeng da kratom

  105. Pingback: green maeng da kratom

  106. Pingback: buy cialis now

  107. Pingback: red maeng da kratom

  108. Pingback: how much does buying a condo cost?

  109. Pingback: p spot massagers

  110. Pingback: best cbd gummies

  111. Pingback: Sphynx Kittens for sale

  112. Pingback: workouts that help your sex life

  113. Pingback: cbd oil for dogs

  114. Pingback: best cbd for dogs

  115. Pingback: best cbd gummies

  116. Pingback: cbd oil for dogs

  117. Pingback: buy cialis online viagra

  118. Pingback: cbd for depression

  119. Pingback: cbd near me

  120. Pingback: voyage en cargo

  121. Pingback: best cbd oil

  122. Pingback: check out canada immigration news

  123. Pingback: AnaGlobal

  124. Pingback: venta de cialis generico en españa

  125. Pingback: 퍼스트카지노

  126. Pingback: 코인카지노

  127. Pingback: 메리트카지노

  128. Pingback: 우리카지노

  129. Pingback: 샌즈카지노

  130. Pingback: WHITE WIDOW DANK VAPES

  131. Pingback: top broker

  132. Pingback: Mabor

  133. Pingback: kratom for sale

  134. Pingback: buy cialis 36 hour

  135. Pingback: Mountain bike clothing

  136. Pingback: Gay Porn

  137. Pingback: cialis online daily

  138. Pingback: Mining

  139. Pingback: medical marijuana

  140. Pingback: beagle puppies for sale

  141. Pingback: buy cheap cialis overnight

  142. Pingback: plumber langley

  143. Pingback: generic cialis with dapoxetine

  144. Pingback: buy cialis now

  145. Pingback: buy cheap viagra on line

  146. Pingback: Japanese Porn

  147. Pingback: اغانى افراح

  148. Pingback: Google

  149. Pingback: mature porn

  150. Pingback: canadianpharmacy

  151. Pingback: canada toronto cheap fase cialis

  152. Pingback: buy cialis tadalafil tablets

  153. Pingback: canadian pharmacy cialis 20mg

  154. Pingback: how to buy generic cialis online

  155. Pingback: buy cialis 36 hour

  156. Pingback: order original cialis online

  157. Pingback: generis cialis

  158. Pingback: Google

  159. Pingback: viagra

  160. Pingback: canada pharmaceuticals online generic

  161. Pingback: canadian drugs pharmacies online

  162. Pingback: online pharmacy reviews

  163. Pingback: best online pharmacy

  164. Pingback: best online pharmacies no prescription

  165. Pingback: viagra generic

  166. Pingback: viagra price comparison

  167. Pingback: how much is viagra

  168. Pingback: how long does it take for viagra to work

  169. Pingback: cialis and alcohol

  170. Pingback: how long for cialis to peak

  171. Pingback: cheap cialis

  172. Pingback: cialis coupon

  173. Pingback: write my paper one day

  174. Pingback: doctoral thesis defense

  175. Pingback: websites to buy research papers

  176. Pingback: thesis proposal help

  177. Pingback: custom college essay writing service

  178. Pingback: Summary - Issue N°14 – Alternatives Humanitaires

  179. Pingback: narrative essay writing help

  180. Pingback: best dissertation writing

  181. Pingback: customessaywriterbyz.com

  182. Pingback: where can i buy essays online

  183. Pingback: The invention of impartiality: the history of a humanitarian principle, from a legal, strategic and algorithmic perspective – Alternatives Humanitaires

Comments are closed.