Category Archives: Editorial

Humanitarian aid and the challenge of gender-based and sexual violence

B. Martin

J. Verlin

Boris Martin • Editor-in-Chief

Jan Verlin • Postdoctoral researcher at the Research Chair in the Geopolitics of Risk at the École normale supérieure, joint editor of this issue’s Focus

In early 2018, several employees of a British non-governmental organisation (NGO) were accused of sexual abuse in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. What would become known as the “Oxfam scandal” shows that humanitarian aid is not immune to the scourge of gender-based and sexual violence. Other NGOs, as well as international organisations, took this opportunity to disclose instances of sexual misconduct that may have been committed in their midst against direct beneficiaries, vulnerable populations or other humanitarian personnel. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the AidToo and ReformAid hashtags have emerged, becoming the banners rallying those determined to expose, combat, and punish the sexual abuse committed by international aid workers. In response, several humanitarian organisations have explained the measures already in place, or proposed reforming their recruitment procedures, expanding their training on gender-based and sexual violence, or reviewing the sanctions available to them. Continue reading

The never-ending story

B. Martin

F. Grünewald

Boris Martin • Editor-in-Chief

François Grünewald Strategic foresight Director of the URD Group, Coordinator of the Covid-19 Observatory and member of the Board of the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA)

Joint editors of this issue under a partnership between Humanitarian Alternatives and the International Humanitarian Studies Association

We have not seen the end of the Covid-19 pandemic. After attempting to manage – with extremely variable results from one continent to another – the first episode of the pandemic during the first semester of 2020, the world now faces countless unknowns, with as yet unwritten scenarios. Continue reading

Humanitarian aid hit by Covid-19

B. Martin

Boris MartinRédacteur en chef

The entire world has, to say the least, been “gripped” by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the “little” humanitarian world has not escaped. It was undoubtedly less surprised by this explosion, even though it is still trying to measure all the related direct and collateral damage. This is what this entire issue is about, since the resulting emergency led us to review our publication programme.

Should irony be mentioned in such a serious crisis? In February  2016, we dedicated our very first issue to the Ebola epidemic that raged in West Africa in 2014 and 2015(1)Humanitarian Alternatives, “Ebola: the end of the nightmare?”, Inaugural issue, February 2016, Learning the lessons from this crisis (which was to continue into early 2016, before gaining new ground in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018), all the authors converged to warn of the emerging expectations. The epidemiologists Michael Edelstein and David L. Heymann declared that “these questions need urgent answers before the emergence of the next global health crisis”. Jean-François Delfraissy (the current President of France’s Scientific Council on Covid-19) and Benoît Miribel (Co-founder of the Humanitarian Alternatives review) warned that: “The issue of the responsibility of governments and ministries that are confronted with public health challenges must be closely examined so that political leaders have incentive and are encouraged to take measures to protect the populations under their responsibility. The health risk of countries lacking health systems is also of concern for developed countries since they can at any time be exposed to emerging or re-emerging pathogens”. In 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) broke new ground by including “disease X” in its list of pathologies likely to represent an international threat – alongside Ebola, Zika and two coronaviruses, MERS and SARS. The WHO stated that this pathology was “included on the list not to terrify us, but to ensure that the global health community builds the resilience and capacity needed to tackle all threats – not just the predictable ones”. Since 31 December, when the first cases of an infectious disease were detected in China, 188 countries worldwide have been affected by Covid-19, with more than 13,000,000 confirmed cases and more than 570 000 deaths (at 14  July(2)Johns Hopkins University tracker, Almost half the global population were in varying degrees of lockdown before the disease started to ease.

While incorporating the global time and evolution constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, this special issue of our review aims to understand both the existing and still-emerging challenges of Covid-19 in the humanitarian field, especially those which may arise between now and the publication of a second special issue in November. Firstly, it is important to understand the origins and causes of this pandemic and the lessons to be learned from past pandemics (including those which had no lasting effects), where humanitarian workers have often been on the frontline. Then, what needs to be encouraged must be highlighted, which is a necessary international solidarity, beyond the closed national doors that this crisis has all too often created.

We needed to understand how Covid-19 fits into the long list of past and current epidemics and what the epidemiological knowledge, accumulated over the course of such epidemics, can be used to develop and the lessons from humanitarian interventions in epidemic situations. The texts by Jean Freney, Stéphanie Maltais and François Grünewald look at this and the interview with Robert Sebbag continues the discussion on our website* by reflecting on the parallel with the HIV/AIDS pandemic(3)Robert Sebbag, « Il y a eu une véritable solidarité de la peur » (only available in French) :

We will also see what role non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been able to play in their respective countries and abroad despite their own constraints such as personnel in lockdown, reduced transport, etc. and what lessons they have already learned from this crisis. The article by Chloé Cébron, Shelley-Rose Hyppolite and Nadja Pollaert from Doctors of the World Canada addresses this by highlighting the necessary community work. Meanwhile, the article by Miriam Kasztura and Françoise Duroch from Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland reflects on the moral challenges faced by the MSF teams. Michiel Hofman’s article addresses a largely under-determined issue (the impact of Covid-19 in war zones), just as Dominique Kerouedan does for asylum seekers in France (also on our website(4)Dominique Kerouedan, « La demande d’asile dans le contexte de l’état d’urgence sanitaire en période d’épidémie de la Covid-19 en France » (only available in French),

Essential to understanding and managing this crisis, the analysis by researchers obviously had a place in this dossier. Whether related to gaining a better understanding of the “reception” and the representations of the pandemic in Africa, as presented by anthropologists Yannick Jaffré, Fatoumata Hane and Hélène Kane, or evaluating the humanitarian issues and the available tools as in the article by Karl Blanchet and Alex Odlum from the Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action (CERAH).

These differing insights had to be put into perspective. The article by Norah Niland exploring the “war metaphor” used broadly in this unprecedented crisis, and that by Anna Khakke questioning its political and humanitarian nature are signs of the more global considerations that we will have to draw from this pandemic.

While they close this dossier, these contributions do not exhaust the collateral, yet vital subjects, which fuel it. From the now obvious links between this pandemic and the environment discussed by Jean-François Mattei to the criticism of neoliberalism outlined by Alain Caillé and Bertrand Livinec and the possible reactivation of aid localisation foreseen by Martin Viélajus and Jean-Martial Bonis-Charancle, we measure the disaster that this “corona” virus has unleashed. As if it had decided to surround humanity in its own inconsistencies, from which it really needs to escape.

* Faced with the wealth of reactions caused by this crisis, we have opened our website –  even more broadly than usual  – to contributions that could not find their place in the limited space of this publication. On our website the reader will therefore find an abundance of texts, interviews and bibliographic resources relating to the impact of Covid-19 in the humanitarian field. Others will be added regularly until our second issue dedicated to the same topic, next November.

To read the article in PDF click here.

ISBN of the article (HTML) : 978-2-37704-658-4 

1 Humanitarian Alternatives, “Ebola: the end of the nightmare?”, Inaugural issue, February 2016,
2 Johns Hopkins University tracker,
3 Robert Sebbag, « Il y a eu une véritable solidarité de la peur » (only available in French) :
4 Dominique Kerouedan, « La demande d’asile dans le contexte de l’état d’urgence sanitaire en période d’épidémie de la Covid-19 en France » (only available in French),

Humanitarian aid workers and the challenge of climate change

C. Buffet

Christophe Buffet • Expert Climat/Adaptation à l’Agence française de développement et codirecteur du Focus de ce numéro

“Are humanitarian aid workers ready to tackle the challenge of climate change?”  We were already asking ourselves this question in 2009(1)Christophe  Buffet, « Les humanitaires sont-ils prêts à relever le défi du changement climatique ? », Humanitaire, n° 23, décembre  2009, on the eve of the COP15 in Copenhagen. Where do we stand now, ten years on?

Continue reading

1 Christophe  Buffet, « Les humanitaires sont-ils prêts à relever le défi du changement climatique ? », Humanitaire, n° 23, décembre  2009,

Cities: a new humanitarian field

Boris Martin • Rédacteur en chef

B. Martin

Fom the plains of Solferino to the mountains of Afghanistan, by way of Ethiopian villages and the South American bush, humanitarian aid has mainly been forged at a distance from urban settings. Certainly, cities have never been spared their share of wars, natural disasters or epidemics. Lisbon, Hiroshima, Saigon, Beirut, Sarajevo and Sanaa spring to mind. As far back as their respective creations, the Red Cross Movement, the United Nations system and NGOs have supplied aid to the populations of these martyr cities. In turn, these actors have not hesitated to engage with issues of increasing exclusion in their own cities, like the “Missions France” launched by Médecins du Monde and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) in the 1980s(1)Reference Michael Neuman’s article in the “Perspectives” column to take the measure of the debates still raging within MSF about its “Mission France”, especially with regard to aid to migrants across the national territory.. Continue reading

1 Reference Michael Neuman’s article in the “Perspectives” column to take the measure of the debates still raging within MSF about its “Mission France”, especially with regard to aid to migrants across the national territory.

About the critical junctures in humanitarian history

Clara Egger • Chercheuse, membre du comité de rédaction et directrice du Focus de ce numéro

C. Egger

If ever there was an expression seemingly devised for the study of humanitarian action, the one that fits the bill perfectly is “critical juncture” – a series of events which, when combined, mark a turning point in the history of a society. The history of humanitarian action is punctuated with such junctures, the most visible of which have fuelled the development of a mythical narrative of humanitarian practices. 1968 is one such moment. Continue reading

New technologies put to the test of humanitarian ethics

Danielle Tan • Consultante-chercheure indépendante
Pierre Gallien • Directeur Impact, Information et Innovation à Handicap International

Members of the editorial board and co-editors of this issue’s Focus

D. Tan

P. Gallien

Innovation is not a new phenomenon for leading actors of international solidarity. A number of historical examples has shown this, such as the creation of bamboo prostheses for Cambodian refugees by Handicap International in the 1980s, the development of Plumpy’Nut® – a nutritional product derived from peanuts – by Nutriset, in collaboration with Action Contre la Faim, or the solutions Oxfam developed for emergency water provision. What has changed over the last few years is the rise of innovation as a strategic concern for the humanitarian sector as a whole.

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