Roundtable Discussion on “Current and Future Challenges of Globalised Humanitarian and Security Crises”
Roundtable Discussion on Current and Future Challenges of Globalised Humanitarian and Security Crises
Mr Yves Daccord
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)
The needs for humanitarian assistance worldwide are soaring as a result of complex humanitarian emergencies arising from conflicts, climate change, migration, and economic crises. However, the international humanitarian system is constrained by an array of factors to respond effectively to these crises. The lack of an international consensus is the biggest challenge to international humanitarian actors, which is illustrated through the ineffective response to the Syrian crisis. As a result, humanitarian actors, such as the ICRC even with its reputation as one of the most trusted, neutral and independent humanitarian actors and a global presence in countries facing humanitarian needs, has to engage in difficult negotiations to access populations of concern with the national governments concerned.
Likewise, the conditions for delivering humanitarian assistance are changing with the advancement of communication technologies making the world more connected yet more fragmented at the same time. The developments in new media allow people to have instant access to events across the globe, allowing more individuals to influence the work of humanitarian actors. Some people have personally raised issues over the behaviours of humanitarian actors in complex humanitarian emergencies.. Moreover, globalisation has expanded the implications of security crises beyond the political and humanitarian sectors. The recent fluctuations of the global financial and energy markets are related to the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East. People in the financial sector who used to be not sensitive to humanitarian issues are growing more concerned about issues like extreme poverty, fragile state and poor governance. Given the spill-over effects of humanitarian crises, countries across the globe share the same agenda on eliminating the root causes of these crises.
International humanitarian efforts are facing an increasing number of difficulties including the shrinking space in which the ICRC can operate as the world is seeing the emergence of black spots where international humanitarian actors are unable or unwilling to access populations of concern in places like Libya, the ISIS-controlled territory in Iraq, northern Mali and the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result of the increased insecurities for humanitarians including challenges to the fundamental principles of humanitarian action and physical violence and abuse targeted at humanitarian workers from an increasing diversity of state and non-state actors, a new concept is needed to more accurately capture the dynamics of the humanitarian sector. The international response to humanitarian crises across the world over the past 18 months has demonstrated that there is no system in place to push for collective humanitarian action and safeguard populations of concern as well as those delivering humanitarian assistance. The international community was only able to carry out the relief operation in the Philippines in response to Typhoon Haiyan while in other cases like Mali, Central African Republic and South Sudan the international humanitarian actors could only operate along the borders of the affected countries. Hence, viewing the current state of the global humanitarian system it is more appropriate to view it as a landscape to better reflect the diversity of humanitarian actors.
One of the critical challenges the global humanitarian system faces is the need for an integrated approach to ensure an effective humanitarian response. In northern Somalia, central Iraq and Kyrgyzstan, it is critical to ensure direct access for some humanitarian actors. There is a need for a humanitarian presence to assess local needs and customise operations according to the local situation. In the Central African Republic, for instance, the UN should focus on the provision of security rather than be expected to assume all responsibilities related to humanitarian relief.
A second challenge we face is the emergence of communication playing a critical role in contemporary conflicts. Both state and non-state actors have used new communication tools to favour their own agenda, such as in the Ukrainian crisis. Moreover, there are cases where non-state armed groups are better than governments at using social media to achieve the desired propaganda effect. The terrorist group, ISIS, has been able to appeal to young people through its extremely violent videos. While social media has revolutionised the way in which we communicate, it also raises key concerns around the issue of data protection. In some circumstances humanitarian actors’ communications with non-state actors determine the effectiveness of relief and assistance, and if related information is leaked or forcibly divulged it will be detrimental to the relationship between humanitarians and affected populations and hamper future humanitarian operations.
As sovereignty is the core organizing principle of the international community, states assume the responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance to people in time of humanitarian crisis caused by conflict and other disasters. Yet in many cases, states are not sufficiently prepared due to the scale and complexity of the crisis. Hence, capacity building and coordination between different actors is essential for effective humanitarian relief and assistance. As the ASEAN Community is launched in 2015, countries in this region have begun developing a regional approach to respond to disasters in a rapid and effective manner. The Changi Regional HADR Coordination Centre that will be in full operation in 2015 is the latest sign of this trend and complements the existing response system. In addition to state actors, it is also important to mobilise the private sector as their logistic capacity is an important contribution to disaster relief.
The new features of security crises have given rise to the demand for a more integrated approach to humanitarian work, which includes the emergence of extreme violent terrorist groups. While states tend not to communicate with these groups, these groups control territories and within these territories there are huge demands for humanitarian assistance. As a result, humanitarian actors like the ICRC have to engage to provide assistance and protection to people within the affected territories. In places where international humanitarian actors are absent, local sources of help are critical, such as community-based groups. It is therefore necessary for international and local actors to complement each other’s work to ensure effective help.
The ICRC is neither an inter-governmental organisation nor non-governmental organisation and this unique status has given it more flexibility to negotiate access with non-state actors. However, although neutrality underlines humanitarian operations, people have seen increasing attacks on humanitarian camps and personnel. People in Syria avoid going to hospitals as ambulances and medical facilities are primary targets of violence. This is against the international humanitarian laws and efforts should be made to raise awareness that humanitarian operations are neutral and parties to a conflict should respect this principle.
Security crises cause not only humanitarian consequences but also other non-traditional security threats to people. The communal violence between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya people to flee to other countries and many of them eventually become victims of human trafficking. Another noted challenge is the motive of some states to impose sanctions, which are intended to penalise illegal and illegitimate actions by national governments and political groups. However, these sanctions often end up affecting the well-being of ordinary people and not those they set out to target. The ICRC branch in Iraq for example has found that ordinary people suffered the most from lack of food and medicines due to the sanctions rather than those in positions of power. The greater realisation that sanctions do not serve the purpose of punishing and preventing wrongdoings will pose some significant questions to the international community on how to address emerging security challenges.