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Falling through the cracks: inclusion and exclusion in humanitarian action

Hero image description: The Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI.

The humanitarian sector continues to struggle to be inclusive of all groups and needs in crises. Agencies operating in emergencies find it difficult to address the needs of ‘new’ categories of ‘vulnerability’ – or for that matter to think outside the restrictive categories of ‘vulnerability’ and embrace a more holistic and flexible approach to people’s needs in crises.

To tackle this pressing issue, this project revisits key – and still unresolved – questions of assessment, impartiality and inclusion raised by HPG 15 years ago in According to need? Needs assessment and decision-making in the humanitarian sector. Through a focus on needs in internal displacement settings, we will explore how vulnerability is conceived and operationalised, and therefore how needs are perceived and understood. The research aims to understand the concept of vulnerability in humanitarian action, and explore why material assistance, service delivery and protection programmes often fail to consider certain groups or individuals that end up being excluded from humanitarian action.

The research is therefore both about who is excluded and included and why, and why particular needs are addressed and others are not. As such, the research will examine concepts of vulnerability and need, assessments (needs assessments and context analysis) and targeting decisions and practices, as well as the practical business of aid delivery. Issues of power, interests and incentives will feature throughout, including the interests of governments and armed groups in humanitarian action, the implications of using intermediaries, donor policies, the policies and interests of aid agencies and the role of the media. The project will aim to inform humanitarian action that is more systemically inclusive.