Humanitarian reform: fulfilling its promise?

FMR 29

As with any reform, says UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes in his article on page 4 of this issue, “you have the believers, the sceptics and the opponents.” The perspectives of all three camps are reflected in the 25 articles that make up this issue’s feature section on humanitarian reform – which we hope will contribute to a constructive and fruitful debate around the world.

We are very grateful to Concern Worldwide, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Islamic Relief, OCHA’s Humanitarian Reform Support Unit, Save the Children UK, UNDP BCPR, UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP for providing financial support for this issue.

John Holmes

‘Reform’ is a loaded word. No matter what the line of work or whether it’s in the public or private sector, it can mean different things to different people.

Firzan Hashim

Grappling with how to respond to both conflict and tsunami-induced displacement, Sri Lanka is an ideal testing ground for the principles of humanitarian partnership which are at the heart of the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP).

Tim Maurer

Rwanda is one of eight countries chosen to pilot the ‘One UN’ concept. In an impoverished nation shaped by displacement, there are currently 16 UN agencies. The challenges of ‘Delivering as One’ – and tackling inefficiency, fragmentation and inter-agency competition for resources – are daunting.

Jeff Crisp, Esther Kiragu and Vicky Tennant

UNHCR has undertaken a fundamental reformulation of its IDP policy, with the intention of bringing certainty, consistency and predictability to its involvement.

Anne Davies

Humanitarians are slowly developing better systems to profile IDPs and address their protection and assistance. It is still difficult, however, to say with certainty that humanitarian reforms are having any positive impact on the lives of IDPs.

Robert Mister

Significant effort and resources have been devoted to the humanitarian reform process to date but it remains unclear as to whether it will result in a significant impact on the lives of the vulnerable people with whom and for whom the Federation works.

Eric Stobbaerts, Sarah Martin and Katharine Derderian

There are serious unanswered questions about how recent humanitarian reforms impact on how humanitarians are perceived in the field and their ability to provide timely and appropriate assistance to those most in need.

Matthew Benson

While current reforms address a number of key issues affecting civilians in conflict, they do not address other, arguably more pressing, issues facing the humanitarian community. In Iraq and, to a lesser extent, in Afghanistan, Darfur and Somalia, the key challenges today are not those related to coordination, funding or leadership but to the provision of humanitarian assistance in insecure environments. 

Cedric Turlan

Neutrality, impartiality and independence of humanitarian action are threatened in Iraq by blurred distinctions between military, political, commercial and humanitarian roles.

Claire Messina

Humanitarian Coordinators are – or should be – the pivot around which field coordination of humanitarian action revolves. How can we ensure this is always the case?

Manisha Thomas

The UN-led humanitarian reform is described as having three pillars: clusters, financing and the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) system. Unfortunately the HC pillar has been given the least attention – despite the central role of the HC in humanitarian response – and only recently received dedicated support from OCHA for a longer-term strategy.

Toby Lanzer

As the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Central African Republic (CAR) it is my job to ensure that the UN and humanitarian organisations work together to meet needs as efficiently as we can.

Ross Mountain

The development of synergies between different peacekeeping, humanitarian and recovery actors can improve the impact and effectiveness of efforts to assist the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and other countries.

Nicki Bennett

As UN Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) in the DRC, Ross Mountain, author of the preceding article, has spearheaded introduction of UN reform initiatives. What impacts have they had on the lives of people at risk?

Peter Walker and Kevin Pepper

Is the pot of humanitarian finance able to meet present and projected global humanitarian needs? Does money follow need? Do existing financing mechanisms promote quality, context-specific, timely and evidence-based aid? Is funding going to the right people in the right places in the most efficient way?

Mohammed R Kroessin

The contribution of the Muslim World to relief and development is underestimated.

Allan Jury and Giammichele De Maio

Many of the problems encountered in cluster implementation in the field derive from a misunderstanding of the key operational nature of clusters.

Andrew MacLeod

In October 2005 Pakistan suffered a massive earthquake that left an unprecedented humanitarian need. Although a brutal Himalayan winter was only six weeks away there was no second wave of deaths. Civil-military cooperation and the cluster approach have had significant success.

Brenda Haiplik

The 2005 Pakistan earthquake had devastating effects across all sectors, including education. Recent floods have presented additional challenges for the education cluster which has coordinated the response and recovery activities of most education-focused agencies.

Henia Dakkak, Lisa Eklund and Siri Tellier

The international community has been mandated to mainstream gender into humanitarian response ever since the landmark Beijing conference in 1995. The current humanitarian reform process provides unique opportunities to accelerate this integration.

Jane Wanjiru Muigai

Camp coordination and camp management (CCCM) is one of the new clusters which have grown out of the humanitarian reform process. UNHCR is cluster lead in the case of conflict-induced displacement but are other agencies expecting too much of it? Can NGOs obtain the funding required to ensure CCCM improves the lives of IDPs in camps?

Andrew Morton and David Jensen

Over the last two years, UNEP, Care International and various other partners have been assessing the status of environmental concerns in humanitarian response and advocating the need for change. Given that present practices within the international humanitarian community are often both environmentally unsustainable and resistant to change, we face a formidable challenge. 

Antonio Donini

How can we make humanitarianism ‘of the world’ rather than ‘of the North’?

General Articles
Andrew Harper

Seven months after over 100 country representatives gathered in Geneva to address the Iraq displacement crisis, the humanitarian situation has markedly deteriorated. Expectations that highlighting the burdens of Iraq’s neighbours would result in financial and political support have been dashed. Support provided – relative to humanitarian needs – has been negligible.

Lynn Yoshikawa

Egypt is host to an estimated 150,000 Iraqi refugees. Initially arriving with high hopes of resettlement, their resources are now depleted, they are unable to work, their children are out of school and their community is fractured by divisions.

Roberta Cohen

Bruising debates within the human rights and humanitarian communities have centered on the numbers who have died in Darfur, the use of the term genocide, the efficacy of military vs. political solutions and the extent to which human rights advocacy can undermine humanitarian programmes on the ground.

Marco Alberto Romero

A Campaign for the Rights of Displaced People in Colombia, launched in 2007 by UNHCR, Colombian NGO CODHES and the Catholic Church, has tried to raise awareness in Colombia and the international community about the severity of the country’s displacement crisis and its failure to guarantee the rights of displaced people.

Christer Lænkholm

The US offer to resettle 60,000 of the 106,000 Bhutanese refugees in Nepal might offer a solution to this protracted refugee situation. Resettlement may not be a perfect solution but after 16 years of exile refugees may well choose it as the best option available.

Valeria Ilareva

Asylum seekers face appalling treatment at the immigration detention centre in Bulgaria. Treated as undocumented immigrants, they are penalised and deported – in blatant violation of Bulgarian law and Refugee Convention obligations.

Asmita Naik

Five years on from the scandal of sexual exploitation of West African refugee children by humanitarians, has enough been done to ensure that the system of international humanitarian assistance really does the good it is intended for?

Rosa da Costa

As concepts and practice change in the context of the new collaborative mandate for IDPs, protection is increasingly understood as a cross-cutting issue affecting other clusters and their lead agencies.

Jens-Hagen Eschenbächer and Tom Delrue

The lack of reliable IDP information has long hindered effective responses to internal displacement situations. The ‘Guidance on Profiling Internally Displaced Persons’ is a new tool designed to assist humanitarian actors in conducting IDP surveys.  

Soraya Narfeldt

All companies are in business to make a profit - but it’s how a company makes a profit that counts. They should be encouraged to see the many benefits of supporting humanitarian response and operating in an ethical fashion.

Jennifer Schlecht and Sara Casey

Although the humanitarian community acknowledges the need for good quality data in programme design and monitoring, the challenges and demands of field settings have too often led to the argument that “we just don’t have time” or “it is too difficult”. Yet without the allocation of time and resources to the collection of baseline and monitoring data, project activities cannot be grounded in strong evidence from programme evaluation.

Jesse Bernstein and Olivia Bueno

The International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (IC/GLR) has created a new regional mechanism to promote peace, security and development. Will it provide space to protect the rights of the displaced?

In Colombia, private companies cultivating African palm oil for use as biofuel are preventing displaced communities from recovering their land.


Opinions in FMR do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors, the Refugee Studies Centre or the University of Oxford.
FMR is an Open Access publication. Users are free to read, download, copy, distribute, print or link to the full texts of articles published in FMR and on the FMR website, as long as the use is for non-commercial purposes and the author and FMR are attributed. Unless otherwise indicated, all articles published in FMR in print and online, and FMR itself, are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs (CC BY-NC-ND) licence. Details at