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HPG Integrated Programme 2015-17: a new global humanitarianism

​The humanitarian system as currently constituted is failing to meet the needs of people in conflict and disasters, and it is increasingly apparent that slow, piecemeal change is not sufficient; what is required is much more far-reaching, fundamental transformation of the international humanitarian system. This research proposal sets out to map areas of potential change in how the system works, how it reaches people and delivers aid and how it responds to the needs and wishes of individual recipients in crises and disasters.

Many of the problems facing the international humanitarian system are inherent in the way it is organised, funded and run. Our project on ‘Constructive deconstruction: rethinking the humanitarian architecture’ seeks to challenge the underlying – and often unspoken – assumptions on which the system currently operates, and map out how it might adapt or change by identifying the components of a more effective and efficient system and generating radical thinking on a new humanitarian architecture that reflects the wider landscape of humanitarian action beyond the ‘traditional’ system.

Other challenges to effective assistance are external to the system, and dictated by the security and political environment in which humanitarian action typically takes place. Our project ‘Holding the keys: who gets access in times of conflict?’ looks at one of the primary determinants of effective  umanitarian response on the ground – the ability to reach people in need – but does so from the perspective of ‘non-traditional’ actors, including diaspora groups, businesses, grassroots groups and philanthropists.

The third research project proposed, ‘Beyond donorship: state-owned humanitarian action’, complements this work on ‘nontraditional’ aid providers by exploring the growing role of ‘nontraditional’ states in humanitarian response, both on their own soil and, increasingly, overseas. The project will seek to develop a deeper understanding of states’ engagement in crisis contexts, enabling the mainstream humanitarian system to adapt, not just to a broader range of aid actors, but to essentially new forms of state intervention in crises.

Finally, more effective humanitarian assistance will require a greater appreciation of the views, needs and capacities of affected people themselves. To that end, the fourth project – ‘Livelihoods in protracted displacement: harnessing refugees’ aspirations, skills and networks’ – moves beyond systemic and contextual questions to focus on the endpoint of the aid endeavour: the actual recipients of assistance. This project will explore the different priorities of refugees in the course of protracted displacement, and offer recommendations for supporting the strategies they use to meet them.


Veronique Barbelet, Christina Bennett, Wendy Fenton, Hanna Krebs, Simon Levine, Irina Mosel, Eva Svoboda and Caitlin Wake

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