Category Archives: Issue 2 – May 2016

Summary – Second Issue

  B. Miribel 
    The World Humanitarian Summit: What lies ahead?
  J-C. Rufin 
    Humanitarian action in times of « war on terror »
Focus : World Humanitarian Summit : questions remaining to be answered  
   W-D. Eberwein
    World Humanitarian Summit: on the road to Istanbul
  P. Chetchuti, K. Penrose-Theis
    A humanitarian consensus à la française
  G. Price-Jones 
    The Summit of greater uncertainty
  D. Tan, M. Ndiaye
    Crossing glances from Asia and Africa towards Istanbul
  A. Héry, A. Peigney
    Standards and finances: analysis of the report of Ban Ki-moon
  A. Azize Diallo
    Between hopes and fears: what Africa expects from the World Humanitarian Summit
  P. Le Coz 
    Ethical deliberation at the service of humanitarian action
  R. Khan 
    New models of working and partnership in development: the example of Friendship, a Bangladeshi organisation
  S. Maltais, Y. Conoir
    The Canadian Humanitarian Coalition: is three-tiered humanitarianism in the making?
  P. Rochot 
    “Providing proof and showing things through pictures”
   Totally Brax: War against terror
   Film: The White Knights, by Joachim Lafosse
   Book: Hunger, by Martín Caparrós

To download the summary in a PDF version please click here.

The World Humanitarian Summit: What lies ahead?

Benoît Miribel •
Fondation Mérieux (Mérieux Foundation)
Fondation Action Contre la Faim (Action against Hunger Foundation)
Forum Espace Humanitaire

B. Miribel

B. Miribel

After February’s inaugural release of Humanitarian Alternatives, it was obvious that this second issue could only be devoted to the first major event of its kind: the World Humanitarian Summit. Many of you will be present in Istanbul on May 23 and 24 to attend this great international gathering organized by the United Nations in partnership with NGOs and Governments. But what exactly will it all be about?

First of all, if we take a look at the two opening roundtables, the ambitious topics to be addressed will have us duly put in perspective the questions of “Political leadership to prevent and end conflict” and “Changing people’s lives: from delivering aid to ending need”. The idea of ending needs is indeed thought-provoking, but is it realistic? But in taking an overall view of such an issue, isn’t there the risk of being carried away from today’s realities? Five other “high-level” roundtables are scheduled to run over two days, punctuated by fifteen special sessions. These sessions will cover a wide range of topics as varied as humanitarian principles, media coverage in times of crisis, religious engagement, education in emergencies, migration, upholding of the norms that protect humanity or the creation of regional humanitarian networks like ROHAN (Regional Organisation Humanitarian Action Network). This is to say that everyone should be able to find at least one topic of interest in this broad agenda! Especially considering that the long drawn-out preparation process was designed to allow all governmental and non-governmental stakeholders across all five continents to get fully involved, so that each and every one would have the opportunity to contribute to the foundations for the future of humanitarian engagement in this 21st century!

There is no doubt that the Summit portends to be the fruit of consensus, since its approach was meant to reconcile most major divergences so that as many participants as possible could work together on key themes of common interest. Thus, the matter concerning the deleterious aftereffects of UN missions has not been put on the agenda, probably so as not to openly broach a subject of discord that would end up having us fall back, as it has been so often the case, on the thorny issue of the UN’s role on the international scene. As the UN, without dispute, represents the most fitting organization for the management of international security, we can argue over the assumption that the same holds true for the management of humanitarian relief. But when the UN simultaneously handles both security matters and humanitarian assistance, it more than often relegates the latter to the back burner. This, de facto, generates problems for NGOs, which, once assimilated to this political organization, become fettered in their work with vulnerable populations.

Let’s frankly ask ourselves a question: the standardization of international humanitarian practices that has been creeping up upon us for years may gain momentum once again in Istanbul. But is this a guarantee that humanitarian principles will be consistently applied? Is standardization compatible with the diversity of humanitarian approaches required to closely adapt to each context, thus allowing people in crisis to be targeted as efficiently as possible and in an impartial way?

In any case, this standardization is undoubtedly an extension of the approach undertaken in 2006 by the Global Humanitarian Platform. This conference, incorporated as part of the UN’s 2005 humanitarian reform, brought together for the first time, in Geneva, those who were considered to be the three operational pillars of international humanitarian action: NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and UN agencies(1)It is interesting to note that in 2005, in response to the UN’s call, MSF International stated that it was not its role to collaborate in the humanitarian reform of the United Nations..

Having been organized three consecutive years in Geneva to specifically discuss the implementation of clusters, the Central Emergency Revolving Fund (CERF), and the formalization of a partnership framework(2)Definition of the “Principles of Partnership” at the 2007 meeting of the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP) in Geneva. These “PoP” – Equality, Transparency, Results-Oriented Approach, Responsibility and Complementarity – are meant to form a policy framework that humanitarian agencies must account for in running their activities., this first large gathering was the occasion to review the stakes at hand for the UN. There was the perception that, to counter the overwhelming dominance of big transnational humanitarian NGOs, the UN was ready to reinforce its commitment with national country NGOs, more flexible and less restrictive than the “Top 30” of the major Western NGOs that are more powerful financially-speaking, active in all countries in crisis, and all too often extremely judgmental. All this with questions remaining around the jostling for position of the various UN agencies, their mission, their growing access to resources, as well as their bureaucracy(3)The High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, had openly criticized the internal procedures that were not adapted to today’s realities, using as an example, the complications he had to overcome to merely fly on a low cost airline!. In the last ten years, it is undeniable that the professionalization of humanitarian practices has made progress. This was endorsed, after the Cold War, with the establishment of ECHO in 1992 that comforted the financial development of a large number of NGOs. Admittedly, the cluster approach, even though this was initially contested by many NGOs, has also borne some fruit. The solution finally arrived at was not to impose anything and to give NGOs free rein in finding their place within the cluster framework. So what can we expect from this World Humanitarian Summit?

Some think that the Summit will celebrate the consecration of a partnership between UN agencies and the many national organizations in developing countries.

There is no doubt anyway that the building of local capacities and the claiming of ownership of humanitarian concerns must inevitably pass through more structured independent national organizations, disposing of increased resources. How could NGOs ever possibly be opposed to such a logical approach that aims to enable civil societies in crisis and developing countries to develop a greater capacity to fulfill the needs of those who are the most vulnerable? Even if the term “capacity building” has enjoyed special favor for decades, it has been overtaken in the last few years by the notion of “resilience” that calls for the populations concerned to set themselves at the heart of humanitarian action. How can we not want to give to those who are experiencing crisis situations the capacity to act and to manage their destiny, instead letting them depend on outside relief? So from what angle are we planning to address the issue of partnership-building in Istanbul in May? Will it be one where links are established in terms of subordination, provision of services, and outsourcing? Or rather one that puts all partners on an equal footing, where each one is recognized on the basis of skills and added value, and where, in a spirit of complementarity, they work in association from initial diagnosis to final implementation, each one partaking in successes as well as failures? The components of good practices, required to be recalled so as to go in the right direction, are well known. But it is in their effective implementation and in the operational modes applied on the field that their relevance can be appreciated. From the Istanbul Summit to the humanitarian fields of operation, one can expect on line losses concerning the application of forthcoming resolutions, if these are not focused on the interests of vulnerable populations.

Does emphatically advocating a strong connection between national NGOs and UN agencies represent a “risk” for major international humanitarian NGOs? Not in regard to a position to defend but taking into account the resources, skills, combativeness, and the resolve to act as a counterweight, all of which are of value. It seems that there is no real risk to speak of, as long as international NGOs continue to move forward in this domain, and give way in priority to national NGOs in situations where they have insufficient comparative added value. Yet the role of transnational NGOs is vital in most countries in crisis, given their overall capacity to intervene, unlike that of many national NGOs that lack the financial and human resources to operate in several countries at the same time. Therefore, given the world’s countless humanitarian needs, transnational and national NGOs need to work in a complementary fashion with each other, rather than get engaged in a meaningless competition. We should expect governments and the United Nations to facilitate the work of humanitarian organizations by adopting appropriate regulations and allocating the necessary funding for humanitarian concerns, rather than to try to implement programs themselves. Indeed, national and international NGOs are the ones that are the closest to people on the field, while it is not within their competence to manage crises under the administrative angle or conduct security missions. Should we therefore endorse the complementarities between the various governmental and non-governmental agencies that are involved in humanitarian operations in the field? A complementarities totally focused on the most vulnerable populations, simply because they are the ones who must receive the most attention and resources? But actually, can we objectively determine humanitarian needs country by country, region by region, in cities and villages, as a way to identify those who are the most vulnerable? Beyond the concepts of emergency, rehabilitation, and development, which are insufficiently indicative of true vulnerability, it is essential that we should be able to first help, as a priority, those who are the most in danger, whatever the context may be, such as in a conflict like Syria or a health crisis such as witnessed with the Ebola virus.

Tension between governmental and non-governmental agencies is one basic feature of the development of international humanitarian action. Limiting the need for humanitarian aid – whenever possible – thanks to efficient advocacy is also at the heart of the mission of humanitarian organisations. In the same vein, questioning the organisation of the international humanitarian system is becoming a major stake that does not escape the logic behind our review, Humanitarian Alternatives.

Many of you have applauded our initiative and have encouraged us to pursue it. For us to carry on, we need you, because this review will survive only if it is embraced by humanitarian practitioners themselves. We fully appreciate the support of the Fondation de France who has recently joined us. Various universities, likewise, have expressed the desire to become involved in our forthcoming issues. They are attracted by one of our priorities, which is to give the opportunity for humanitarian practitioners and researchers from all disciplines to co-author articles. Humanitarian action is not an exact science. It is made of multiple components. We must encourage a systemic approach in answer to the question of what is being undertaken globally in relation to what should be undertaken. A requirement that brings us back to Istanbul because there is only one horizon to target for this Summit: increased efficiency in the face of the stakes that the millions of vulnerable people whose life is menaced represent. Humanitarian Alternatives is in line with this approach, complementary with field action and advocacy.

To read the article in PDF click here.

1 It is interesting to note that in 2005, in response to the UN’s call, MSF International stated that it was not its role to collaborate in the humanitarian reform of the United Nations.
2 Definition of the “Principles of Partnership” at the 2007 meeting of the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP) in Geneva. These “PoP” – Equality, Transparency, Results-Oriented Approach, Responsibility and Complementarity – are meant to form a policy framework that humanitarian agencies must account for in running their activities.
3 The High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, had openly criticized the internal procedures that were not adapted to today’s realities, using as an example, the complications he had to overcome to merely fly on a low cost airline!

Humanitarian action in times of “war on terror”

Jean-Christophe Rufin • Médecin et écrivain, membre de l’Académie française

J.-C. Rufin

In 1991, Jean-Christophe Rufin published L’Empire et les nouveaux barbares (The Empire and the new barbarians). Two years after the fall of the Berlin wall, he who was then vice-president of Médecins Sans Frontières sent back to back the thesis of The End of History developed by Francis Fukuyama and that of the Clash of Civilisations by Samuel Huntington. He announced that a North-South divide would risk succeeding East-West rivalry, one between the Empire –this now pacified world where wealth was concentrated– and the South, inhabited by those who would soon be considered as the avatars of the “barbarians” of the Roman Empire, and menaced by poverty and wars. Long maintained on the outskirts of the free and rich world, they would not be long before expressing their anger, their desperation, and their need for solidarity. After the alert of 9/11, the Empire did not understand, starting a “war on terror” that would only stir up the fire. Twenty-five years later, in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, but also Bamako, Peshawar or Kabul, the analysis of Jean-Christophe Rufin has lost nothing of its acuteness.

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World Humanitarian Summit: on the road to Istanbul

Wolf-Dieter Eberwein • Expert en relations internationales, ONG et action humanitaire

Wolf-Dieter Eberwein

W.-D. Eberwein

To take the full measure of the innovation, challenges and uncertainties that surround the World Humanitarian Summit, it is necessary to retrace the process used in the different steps of its organisation. Outlining a critical history of this first genuinely global symposium dedicated to humanitarian action, Wolf-Dieter Eberwein acknowledges its inclusive nature but draws the boundaries of an enterprise that remains dependant on the political will of States. 

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A humanitarian consensus à la française

Pauline Chetcuti • Action Contre la Faim
Karine Penrose-Theis • Coordination SUD


K. Penrose-Theis


P. Chetcuti

French humanitarian NGOs could not stay aloof of the World Humanitarian Summit, where a major reorganization of the international humanitarian system will be sketched out. At Coordination SUD, the French 160-member platform for the coordination of international solidarity NGOs, certain members took the initiative of drafting a joint statement to the Secretariat of the Summit. Pauline Chetcuti and Karine Penrose-Theis review the process that led to this text that expresses a vision of humanitarian engagement à la française.

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The Summit of greater uncertainty

Gareth Price-Jones • Care


G. Price-Jones

Fear and apprehension, just as the expectations that the World Humanitarian Summit inspires are not limited to the French speaking world, let’s say to these “French doctor” NGOs, with a reputation for sharpness in international humanitarian debates, which does not necessarily afford them the position they would really deserve. Anglo-Saxon actors such as Care are not without criticism towards this event, on the verge of leading to an “enormous disappointment”. The expression is that of Gareth Price-Jones, in charge of advocacy for this historical NGO, who does not despair nonetheless that somehow the mountain will finally give birth to something else than a mouse. 

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Crossing glances from Asia and Africa towards Istanbul

Danielle Tan • Institut d’Asie Orientale (École normale supérieure Lyon, France) et Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine (Bangkok)
Mamadou Ndiaye • Office africain pour le développement et la coopération (Sénégal)


D. Tan


M. Ndiaye

If the World Humanitarian Summit generates many expectations, it also gives rise to many questions. In spite of the eight regional consultations that took place between the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2015, from Abidjan to Tokyo, tending to collect the greatest number of contributions, satisfaction is not really widespread. From the perspective of Laos and Cambodia for one and that of West Africa for the other, Danielle Tan and Mamadou Ndiaye tell us a bit what two continents, strongly concerned by humanitarian issues, retain from this process and are hoping for at the closing in Istanbul. Of course without pushing aside what may have been lost on the way. 

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Standards and finances: analysis of the report of Ban Ki-moon

Anne Héry • Handicap International
Antoine Peigney • Croix-Rouge française


A. Héry


A. Peigney

The financing for implementing humanitarian action, and the regulatory standards that govern it, no doubt represent the two stumbling blocks on which the participants in the Istanbul Summit will focus the most attention. In the following article, closely dissecting the report of Ban Ki-moon, Anne Héry and Antoine Peigney address respectively these two powerful themes, confronting the expectations of the actors with reality on the field. 

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Between hopes and fears: what Africa expects from the World Humanitarian Summit

Abdoul Azize Diallo • Croix-Rouge sénégalaise


A.A. Diallo

Africa will certainly be at the heart of the discussions in Istanbul not only because it is the region that has been the most affected by an accumulation of severe humanitarian crises, but also because local and national organizations operating across the continent have developed expertise, aroused concern, and proposed solutions. These must be addressed during the Summit. The experience of these organizations can bring substance to the reform of humanitarian aid being drafted. 

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