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HPG at Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Weeks

The Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) is an annual humanitarian conference, one of the largest events of its kind, that provides a collaborative space for practitioners and experts from a large variety of humanitarian stakeholders including UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, academia, the military, private sector initiatives, and Member States.

This year HPG will be taking part in and hosting a number of events at HNPW. Find out more about HPG's activities via the links below:

Aerial view of Lake Geneva

Protracted, non-international armed conflicts, and the range of actors participating in them, have significantly increased in the last 20 years. This has presented challenges for protection actors in preventing and responding to protection risks.

Community engagement with armed actors is often less visible and can take place before any recognised mediation or negotiation processes. There is a need for a shift in approaches to humanitarian protection, and consideration of how civilian engagement strategies can be supported. These strategies can be made more effective when the complex, dynamic relationships between communities and armed actors are understood, and when approaches are tailored to those communities.

The recent Humanitarian Exchange has a focus on ‘community engagement: prevention, protection and response’, with contributions from a range of humanitarian, protection, peace and research experts as a first contribution in developing a community of practice. This plenary session features many of those experts. As such, the discussion feeds and shapes the growing interest in how the ‘nexus’ can be applied in conflict settings, especially opportunities for greater complementarity. It provides an opportunity for humanitarian networks and partnerships to convene and further advance related activities, collaborating with other networks and partnerships in areas of common concern.

Many of today's displacement crises are driven by a complex mix of climate and environmental change, disasters, conflict and fragility. These compounding risks and the interactions between them have garnered increasing attention over the past decade. While nuanced debates exist in academia around whether, and how, these may trigger and drive each other, media and policy attention has often taken a more alarmist tone. This has contributed to the popular narrative that climate change will lead to mass-scale displacement, which in turn will lead to increased conflict. In reality, however, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle conflict and climate as drivers of displacement. While the causal linkages between conflict, climate and displacement are real, they are not inevitable, and are often bound up in wider pressures and politics.

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People strive not just to exist, but to live, in ways that they believe have meaning and value. This is no less true for people experiencing crises. Yet the focus of humanitarian aid tends to be restricted to meeting the biological and economic requirements of keeping people alive efficiently.

Humanitarian responses can span years, or even decades. Over these timescales, humanitarian aid inevitably ends up drifting beyond its original life-saving function. Aid actors’ decisions can end up impacting the kinds of lives people are able to live. Yet in many cases, humanitarian actors remain unable or unwilling to think beyond basic survival and neglect the importance of agency and aspirations. This can exclude important parts of the human experience – such as sex and intimacy, death and mourning, leisure and social connections, or building a sense of home or of belonging.

These blind spots can have serious consequences. They can render the experience of aid dehumanising and disempowering for people on the receiving end. They can actively block people’s efforts to re-establish a sense of normality. And they can limit the effectiveness of assistance when it is designed or delivered at odds with how people actually understand and experience the world.

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Somalia is experiencing one of the worst crises in recent generations, one that has been developing since 2020.

Taking action before a crisis develops – ‘anticipatory action’ – has been used with some success, including in anticipation of floods in Bangladesh and harsh winters in Mongolia. Some money was put into anticipatory action in Somalia, but arguably much more could have been done to prevent things reaching such a serious situation.

The Supporting Pastoralism and Agriculture in Recurrent and Protracted Crises (SPARC) programme followed the lives of farmers and pastoralists over the two years during which the drought intensified. Its findings argue that helping people in advance of a crisis is not so straightforward in Somalia, despite the long lead time for preparation. SPARC finds that there is a need to think differently about anticipatory action in what it calls a ‘wicked crisis’, i.e. one of unknown duration, with multiple causes (including conflict) and unclear solutions.

What, then, are the implications for taking forward the anticipatory action agenda? How can both humanitarian and development aid actors establish ways of working that do not attempt to create a one-size-fits-all approach? How can they instead take on board the enormous differences that exist across situations that are alike only in being called ‘crises’?

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