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Paradoxes of presence: Risk management and aid culture in challenging environments

Research reports

Written by Sarah Collinson

The international policy context and circumstances of development action and humanitarian relief have changed profoundly over the past two decades, with aid agencies now operating in an increasingly diverse array of conflict-affected contexts that are also considered by Western governments as major threats to international peace and security.

The rapid expansion of the aid industry at every level – geographical reach, funding, the number and variety of organisations involved has led to a blurring of the lines between the many different types of contractors and service providers involved. Aid agencies have inevitably experienced the friction and tensions this can engender, including their exposure to insecurity and other risks to a degree that is probably unprecedented, prompting substantial new investment in security management and a proliferation of security-related networks, inter-agency platforms, joint UN/NGO initiatives, good practice guides and security-related consultancy work.

The organisational, ethical, personal and financial difficulties involved in working in challenging environments, and the fundamental tension between ‘staying’ and ‘staying safe’, suggests that bunkerisation and remote management are an unstoppable trend.

The paper argues that recognising the liabilities associated with staying and delivering depends on agencies adopting a broadened risk agenda that is not confined to the immediate preoccupations of ostensibly manageable security risks, but which encompasses attention to the host of interconnected challenges and hazards involved.

Sarah Collinson and Mark Duffield with Carol Berger, Diana Felix da Costa and Karl Sandstrom