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Remaking aid: ethics, politics and narratives

The international humanitarian system is struggling to keep up with growing needs because of insufficient funding and a failure to reform its unpredictable and fragmented business model. The legitimacy of the system is increasingly challenged by populist voices that pit humanitarian aid against national interests, and progressive ones that decry its ways of working as neocolonial or that give prevalence to solidarity over the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

The evidence base that should underpin humanitarian action has grown increasingly robust, but powerful narratives emanating from these politically opposed constituencies often take precedence. These narratives also use history and tradition to portray crises, make the case for aid or advocate for or against reforms. Understanding the impact of these narratives on humanitarian policy is essential to make the case for international humanitarian aid, bridge the financing gap and accelerate reform.

This project will analyse how these narratives are constructed, how they change over time, the process through which they shape policy decisions and how that process can be influenced. Three case studies will focus on how public narratives have shaped the rise of Germany as a leading humanitarian donor; how evidence-based narratives have interplayed with public and institutional narratives in the significant rise of cash transfers; and how feminist narratives in the foreign policies of Canada, Sweden and Germany are influencing humanitarian policy and practice.

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