Humanitarian action by necessity takes place in situations which are unpredictable and unstable, and where people face profound risks from disasters, armed conflict, political violence and human rights abuse. As such, humanitarian action is defined by risk – the high levels of risks to civilian populations inherent in crisis contexts are the rationale for humanitarian intervention, and are also the predominant consideration for how, when and what interventions are made. Risk thresholds are consequently often high. But how do humanitarian actors define these risks? How do they assess and manage them?
This paper explores the range of contextual, programmatic and institutional risks involved in humanitarian action, and how these risks are viewed and managed by the humanitarian community. The underlying assumption of this paper is that adopting a common approach to risk may enable a more sophisticated under-standing of the risks inherent in a particular context, and more effective management of those risks.