This issue of Humanitarian Exchange focuses on the emergency response to the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean on 26 December 2004. As a natural disaster, the tsunami was unparalleled, hitting 13 countries in Asia and east Africa. The unprecedented scale of the destruction and the immediacy of the images beamed around the world led to an outpouring of funding by governments and individuals, with aid pledges to affected countries topping $11 billion.

Within the humanitarian community, there are diverse views about whether all that money has been wisely spent. This issue of Humanitarian Exchange includes articles on the response from international and local NGOs, donors and the Red Cross movement, highlighting the challenges, opportunities and risks the emergency response encountered. The volume of funds donated to humanitarian agencies enabled them to deploy resources and staff quickly, but it also placed pressure on aid actors – agencies, donors and governments – to be seen to be doing something, at times leading to projects not based on assessments, to poor coordination and to unhealthy levels of competition. The articles in this issue also focus attention on the nature of accountability, and the need for the humanitarian sector to invest more time and energy in ensuring that affected populations are at the centre of our accountability practices.

The tsunami response demonstrates the rapidity with which local governments and organisations and the international community can galvanise human and financial resources. This casts in stark relief the failures of preparedness and response that attended the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the United States in August. In their article, Ben Wisner and Peter Walker explore the social, racial, political, administrative and economic factors which magnified the impact of the hurricane. If nothing else, Katrina reminds us that the developed world has much to learn from the standards and practices of the humanitarian community.

Other subjects tackled in this issue include the relationship between international law and ‘humanitarian space’, an analysis of some of the practical implications of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for humanitarian organisations, and an exploration of perceptions of security in crisis states. In addition, there are articles focusing on the development of SMART indicators, sexual violence in emergencies, real-time evaluation methodologies, the restitution of land and property and the application of satellite technology in emergencies. We hope you find this an interesting and useful issue of Humanitarian Exchange, and as always we welcome your feedback.

Issue 32 articles