The role of affected states in disaster response
by Humanitarian Practice Network July 2009

This edition of Humanitarian Exchangefeatures articles on the role of the affected state in humanitarian action. Focusing on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, articles on Indonesia and China explore the extent to which the willingness and capacity of these states to manage disaster response has developed in line with economic growth, political stability and experience. The surprisingly positive role the military has played in supporting state-led disaster response, particularly in China, is highlighted, and the perception that only international relief agencies can save lives and alleviate suffering challenged. Other articles explore the recent history of humanitarian governance in Ethiopia from the perspective of the Ethiopian government, academics and civil society, and a government-led cash-for-return programme in Timor-Leste. In different ways, both articles highlight the tensions that can emerge between sovereign states and the international community in the management and implementation of humanitarian response.

Articles looking at the role of the state in Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe illustrate how state action can impact negatively on people’s circumstances and precipitate crisis. In Sri Lanka, fighting has constrained humanitarian aid and access, while in Zimbabwe government policies and political and economic turmoil have seen the collapse of basic services. Humanitarian agencies have tried to respond, but face hostility and obstruction from the central government.

Articles in the policy and practice section question British policy and expectations in Afghanistan and the effectiveness of current funding mechanisms in the Central African Republic. A trio of articles on Darfur examine how to make advocacy approaches more effective, ask whether humanitarians are fuelling conflict in Chad and Darfur and question whether agencies are doing enough to build local capacities for protection. Other writers focus on the failure of humanitarian organisations adequately to support displaced people living with host families and not in camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo and how urban cash programming has supported people recovering from post-election violence in a Kenyan town.