Think Tank (March to April 2019)
Dr Catherine Bragg
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Re-orienting the International Humanitarian System
19 Feb 2019

In February 2019, the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Programme of the RSIS’ Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies welcomed Dr Catherine Bragg as its first Visiting Senior Fellow of the year. During her visit to RSIS, Dr Bragg conducted two seminars on the state of the international humanitarian system and her reflections from the field as United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator (2008-2013).

The first seminar on 19 February examined the direction and maturity of the international humanitarian system since its formalisation in 1991. It explored how the system has evolved in the past 27 years and how its performance measures up to current expectations. Dr Bragg highlighted three key challenges limiting the system. First, the system is supply driven rather than demand driven. Affected communities are asked what they need but they are given what the system has. Second, there is still a dominant belief in the superiority of the “Western way.” Third, too much focus is placed on humanitarianism instead of human needs. She noted that it is necessary to rethink humanitarian financing, scale up localisation efforts, and adopt a people-centred action approach to address such challenges.

The second seminar on the 21 February drew on Dr Bragg’s experience responding to about 30 humanitarian crises across five continents. It explored fundamental structural issues resulting from an international humanitarian system developed around parties providing the aid rather than one focused on the crisis-affected people at the centre. Re-orienting the system means living up to its humanitarian mission by focusing on those in need, enabling integrated access, and increasing community participation. Her reflections led to the conclusion that the humanitarian community must never lose sight of the people it seeks to serve.

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