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Responding to emerging crises

With the world still reeling from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2022 was marked by the return of large-scale armed conflict in Europe and famine in Africa. Worsening climate change caused devastating disasters, such as the large-scale floods in Pakistan.

Since the onset of the war in Ukraine, HPG has been monitoring its humanitarian impact and policy implications. Two weeks after Russia’s invasion, we outlined two ways the humanitarian system should harness global solidarity. The rapid and large-scale humanitarian response by governments and civil society in Ukraine and the region was coupled with a global outpouring of generosity and widespread condemnation of Russia’s actions. This presented an opportunity to reaffirm a global consensus to protect all civilians in conflict and all refugees, and to move the dial more firmly towards locally led responses.

With support from the British Red Cross, HPG analysed the dilemmas and tensions facing humanitarian actors in a fraught and rapidly changing environment: should the focus be on aid or solidarity? Neutrality or political activism? Independence or resource growth? Impartiality or coverage? Thereafter, we convened three events to explore how to resolve some of these tensions.

In May, a private online roundtable of key donors, international and national aid agencies and journalists discussed how to manage narratives in the Ukraine crisis response. It confirmed resilience and solidarity as dominant narratives. Strident commitments to neutrality had unhelpfully been interpreted as complicity with Russia, which needed to be rectified. Public narratives had failed to acknowledge the Ukrainian-led response, which led to huge levels of funding for international organisations effectively unable to spend them.

In July, a panel discussion including senior officials from a Polish NGO, the government of Romania and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) discussed the role of humanitarian aid in national responses to Ukrainian refugees, the extent to which international humanitarian aid is appropriate in high-income countries and how to best support national systems and local aid groups.

Six months after the start of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, a private roundtable reviewed how humanitarian action needed to evolve with the changing conflict. Senior representatives from donors and aid agencies agreed on the need for a response tailored to different types of conflict contexts, for collective advocacy for cross-line access, for long-term planning and once again for meaningful support to Ukrainian actors.

With all eyes on Ukraine, HPG warned that an appropriate response to famine in the Horn of Africa was missing in action. With four failed rains and a fifth one looming, the signs that mass starvation could occur had been ignored. In June, a public hybrid event with officials and experts from Somalia and former UN relief chief Mark Lowcock, followed by a podcast episode, aimed to break the silence. An HPG roundtable gathered senior Somali and UK humanitarian actors and independent experts, who acknowledged that there had been insufficient leadership, prioritisation and collective efforts from UK-based organisations, and agreed a way forward to catalyse action.

With one third of Pakistan under water and widespread loss and damage as a result of record-breaking monsoon rains between June and August, HPG and GLOW highlighted how women have been disproportionately affected in areas where strict social codes of honour have prevented them from evacuating to safer ground.