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Inclusion and exclusion in humanitarian action: the state of play

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Written by Veronique Barbelet, Caitlin Wake

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Inclusive humanitarian action means the ability to reach people most affected by a crisis with the services, assistance and protection they need, while ensuring their effective participation in the planning and execution of the response. Failing to reach individuals who are marginalised and excluded means that humanitarian actors cannot claim to uphold the principle of impartiality, which is at the heart of the humanitarian mission. 

Inclusive humanitarian action has been at the centre of a number of policy discussions, commitments and initiatives in recent years, yet in practice responses continue to struggle to deliver it. Continued evidence that humanitarian responses fail to be inclusive therefore puts into question both the ethical essence of humanitarian action and its effectiveness.

This literature review seeks to make sense of the concept of inclusion in humanitarian action, explore how it relates to humanitarian principles and other core concepts, and outlines some of the key issues and challenges preventing more inclusive humanitarian action. 

We argue that the categorical approach to vulnerability has encouraged a fragmentation of inclusion by diversity factors such as disability, gender or age. While technical approaches to inclusion are necessary, they are not sufficient. In order to address these challenges, a better understanding of the multi-dimensional drivers of inclusion and exclusion – how they relate to each other and intersect – is needed if humanitarian action is to become more systematically inclusive.