The special focus of this issue of Humanitarian Exchange is aid in protracted crises. How should we respond to people’s needs in long-term emergencies, such as those caused by the conflicts in Sudan or Afghanistan? Is a classic humanitarian response appropriate in conflicts that continue for decades? Is a more developmental approach suitable in politically-charged conflict situations? These questions are challenging aid workers, organisations and institutions across the globe.

The message our contributors convey is simple: in protracted crises, there is no neat dividing-line between the humanitarian and the developmental. François Grunewald observes that the ways agencies respond to protracted emergencies and the tools they use may not be appropriate, while the administrative structures within funding bodies are ill-equipped to deal with situations that are not crises, but for which rehabilitation and development aid is not available. In his article on Afghanistan, Nicholas Leader points out a political dimension to the debate: labelling aid ‘humanitarian’ salves Western consciences, while refusing ‘development’ assistance to countries whose rulers are deemed undesirable serves foreign-policy goals. Kate Longley describes how, in southern Sudan, developmental approaches can be used to improve the humanitarian response to food insecurity. The Capacity-Building Working Group for southern Sudan argues that agencies should accept political conditions, and work within them to build local capacity. The questions of principle posed by such an approach cannot be easily dismissed, and there are agencies which find them insurmountable.

The debate about humanitarian action in long-term crises is difficult in terms of both principle and practice. But the existence of so many protracted conflicts around the world, and the suffering and devastation they cause, demand that we take up the challenge to make our response more effective.

Other contributions examine other issues that continue to challenge humanitarian actors. The security of aid workers is addressed: Randolph Martin dissects the UN’s Memorandum of Understanding on security, and Austen Davis discusses the dilemma of how to respond in Chechnya following the abduction of MSF worker Kenny Gluck. Ted A. van Baarda takes us through the legal maze surrounding definitions of deportation and evacuation, and Robin Schofield and Paul Currion discuss why field-based information systems are failing aid workers, and what needs to be done to make them work. We also take a look at global aid flows, Spanish humanitarian aid, Sweden’s ‘mainstreaming’ approach to conflict management, the Brahimi report and what it means for humanitarians, and the UK government’s new policy paper on globalisation. Lastly, we have a personal view from Rae McGrath on why the campaign to ban landmines has not resulted in a realistic response in mine-affected countries.

If you would like to contribute an article to the next Humanitarian Exchange on these or other issues you are grappling with, please let us know – we look forward to hearing from you.

Issue 18 articles