Humanitarian crises that have taken a back seat in the past three years are once again in the news. How did humanitarian policy adapt during the COVID-19 peak? What have decision-makers learnt from dealing with humanitarian crises converging with a global pandemic? How have affected communities developed strategies to navigate competing priorities at the global level? How have neighbours and diaspora mobilised support, under what conditions, and to what ends to those most affected in humanitarian crises? These are important considerations that warrant further investigation to understand the emerging humanitarian policy landscape in Asia, its challenges, and the new dynamics of reform.
The development of humanitarianism in the twentieth century was led by advanced western states and only marginally involved actors from other parts of the world. The ‘empire of humanity’ (Barnett 2011) that emerged by the end of the century and the associated international humanitarian order were strongly western-centric. In Asia, the ‘Asian values’ debate (Bauer and Bell 1999, Bell 2000) had direct implications for humanitarian policy and action, generating pushback in many parts of the region. A quarter-century later, tensions surrounding humanitarianism remain visible inside the region and continue to affect relations with external partners. Scholarship in Asia pushes back against the bifurcation of humanitarian and developmental approaches with a more comprehensive and mutually reinforcing understanding often captured as non-traditional security in regional policy discourse (Caballero-Anthony and Cook 2013). These conversations open humanitarianism to a wider global community drawing on local and regional experience in efforts to help those in need during times of crisis (Cook, Gong, and Gomez Forthcoming). In Asia there is a greater focus and progress on humanitarian assistance in disaster over conflict settings due to the region being the world’s most exposed to natural hazards. Conflict settings remain an important concern in Asia but face significant challenges in humanitarian access, assistance, and protection of affected communities as debates between human security and traditional security concerns remain. These ongoing debates provide an important backdrop for the workshop discussions and the special edition of an academic journal.