Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

The role of the affected states in humanitarian action

Hero image description: Woman in front of demolished house Myanmar Image credit:© Contributor/IRIN Image license:ODI given rights

Most international statements of principle regarding humanitarian action start with a reaffirmation of the primary responsibility of states for the victims of humanitarian emergencies within their own borders. Yet there is very little comprehensive analysis on the actual role states play in domestic response. In addition, rarely do donor and agency decision-makers have a thorough mapping of the state's existing capacities and resources in advance of a crisis, which they might seek to complement with external assistance. What tends to happen is that most of the analysis regarding the responsible authorities and their capacities is done in the midst of the response, where poor coordination and weak communication often lead to duplication of effort or significant gaps in service delivery.

The project approach

There is a growing body of research examining how public spending in developing countries contributes to poverty reduction goals. In addition, a small cluster of work has examined the economic consequences of natural disasters on the state, including looking at the allocation of public finance and the capacities of states in preparedness and response.

This project, led by the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI, aims to build on these findings, and to widen the inquiry to encompass complex emergencies as well as natural disasters. It will look at both aspects of humanitarian action – assistance and protection – as well as preparedness and risk management. It will examine not just the role of the state, but also its relationship with domestic non-governmental actors and the international community. It aims to fill a significant gap in our understanding of the role of the state in disaster management.

The study would draw on and complement a diverse range of HPG work, including the ongoing work on the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative, the diversity in donorship (non-DAC donors) findings, as well as recent work on the ‘localisation' of response capacities.

HPG will post working papers and briefs throughout the life of the project.


Paul Harvey