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Research on the Humanitarian Aid System

The purpose of this article is to investigate the nature of humanitarian aid in the receiving countries of the MPV project. EVS volunteer conducted this research in order to deepen their knowledge on this matter but also to get  toknow  better the country they were living in.

Design/methodology/approach: the research identifies good practices in humanitarian aid system that had a strong impact at local level.

Findings: the volunteers carried out the research through online research with the help of the receiving organisations

What is humanitarian aid?

Humanitarian aid is a self-explaining combination of word: . humanitarian means it involves people in need, aid means help.

Humanitarian action aims at helping vulnerable people whose  lives are threatened, vital needs are not satisfied, and whose basic human rights are violated [1]. In general, humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance provided for humanitarian purposes, typically in response to humanitarian crises including natural disasters and man-made disaster, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for when such situations occur. The primary objective is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. Humanitarian aid includes a combination and diversity of actors, including non-governmental organizations, international organizations, private institutions, economic operators and states.

Humanitarian action should be governed by the key humanitarian principles: humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Humanitarian aid is generally considered a fundamental expression of the universal value of solidarity between people and a moral imperative. Humanitarian Action is characterized not only  by its goal and scope but it is also informed by a set of principles that distinguish it from other forms of aid.

Humanitarian aid has a long tradition in history, even if only from recent times people started to consider it as a good practice in the international cooperation field. Some of the most important examples of humanitarian aid took place in Europe after the end of the two world conflicts, but also in India, while Gandhi was leading his movement, we can find different examples of international intervention of people bringing their help to  reconstruct a stable situation and ensure that locals are safe again. .

The rise  of the modern humanitarianism can be dated back to1859, when Jean Henry Dunant witnessed the consequences of the battle of Solferino. Horrified by the terrible conditions suffered by the wounded fighters on the battlefield, he decided to arrange an improvised relief services for them with the help of local villagers. Back to Geneva, he wrote a book (Memory of Solferino, published in 1862) pointing at the importance of humanitarian system [2].

Since then, a lot of organizations, humanitarian agencies, governments, States, and single citizens, have expressed an interest in this kind of issues , which led to an exponential growth in the number of humanitarian agencies in the past 15 years. The wide variation of donors leads to a range of different strategies, actors, activities and values in order to achieve the goals. Humanitarian assistance must also be understood as a political activity. It has always influenced the political economy of donor countries and governments.

Clearly, the main goal that everyone has to achieve is to prevent people from suffering in order to guarantee  the welfare and health of the population. However, in the Italian research it was pointed out that Many activists think that humanitarian aid has been unsuccessful in pursuing its goals, because the humanitarian system is too chaotic and confused. This causes a lack of coordination and duplication of services [3].

Source: https://thehumalifeenglish.wordpress.com/2014/07/12/the-humanitarian-actors

According to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “France considers humanitarian action to be primarily the expression of vital solidarity with victims of disasters and armed conflicts. However, humanitarian action as state intervention can also be justified from an operational point of view in situation of extreme urgency when non-State actors rarely have the capacity to act immediately with the necessary resources. Lastly, humanitarian action is part of France’s diplomatic action, supporting democracy, advocating the application of International Humanitarian Law (IHM), campaigning in international forums in support of economic and social development of the least developed countries (LDCs) and calling for greater equity and solidarity in relations between the North and the South” [4].

The humanitarian system in all countries involved in the project & the main actors

Depending on the location of the particular countries, countries might be on the giving side of humanitarian aid, or onthe receiving side. In this sense, humanitarian aid in the European countries is often seen as a foreign policy matter as it includes funds to be sent abroad. However, in the participating countries, they also have national organizations working on humanitarian aid within the country on issues such as refugee housing in Italy or refugee settlement in Hungary. Furthermore, for European countries, there are special documents and agreements that demand active involvement in humanitarian aid at European level. in Kenya, Nepal or in Vietnam, Instead,, humanitarian aid focuses on the country itself and its internal dynamics and problems. The money comes both from the national governments as well as from foreign donors. First we will discuss about and compare Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam, and then we will analyse other European countries.

The Horn of Africa region is among the most vulnerable and disaster-prone regions in the world. It suffers from frequent natural disasters and conflicts, and many communities in the region are not resilient enough to manage the risks related to disasters. In 2011, the devastating Horn of Africa drought, combined with local and regional conflicts, forced over 12 million persons across the Horn to rely on emergency assistance. For instance in Kenya, over 3.75 million persons needed humanitarian aid, while in Somalia, over 4 million persons – half of the country’s population – needed emergency assistance. Although the drought has now passed in most parts of the Horn, there are still over two million persons both in Kenya and Somalia needing humanitarian assistance. In addition, over one million Somali refugees reside in the region, most of whom require support on a regular basis.

Also Nepal, because of its geographical location in a relatively young and emerging mountain range and with a highly varied climate, is exposed to several recurrent hazards every year. Nepal is exposed to approximately 500 events of disaster every year on average and fire is one of the most recurrent hazards. The last and most infamous event is the Gorkha earthquake in 2015. This event led to the loss and injuries  of many people as well as destruction of land, buildings, infrastructure and cultural heritage. In order to deal with this kind of hazards, both big and smaller in scale, the government of Nepal approved the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management in 2009. Furthermore, currently the Nepalese government has given priority to formulating a National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy and Strategic Action Plan through a consultative and participatory process by engaging key government agencies, donors, UN agencies, non-government organizations, private sectors and humanitarian communities. [5]


Resource mix Nepal 2015. Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017. p 34

Humanitarian aid system in Kenya involves  a wide range of organizations, agencies and inter-agency networks which are engaged in international humanitarian assistance of people in need. In a humanitarian disaster, there is always a need for coordination in order to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of the humanitarian effort to meet the needs of affected communities. Actors include UN agencies, the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Humanitarian Coalition member agencies, military institutions, local government institutions and donor agencies. We see these actors as prominent players everywhere in the world and thus also in all the participating countries. International agencies, such as the UN, play a prominent  role in giving  aid to countries such as Kenya, Nepal and Vietnam, and also influences  national humanitarian strategies in donor countries such as Italy and France as these countries are part of its funding.

Also in Vietnam the humanitarian aid system is composed of  different network and agencies. There is a sort of institutional humanitarian aid, but in reality it is just the compulsory activity of the State to help the development of the rural areas of the country. There are also NGOs, associations and UN agencies who have been in Vietnam for a long time and which are trying to promote different actions aimed at reaching a real social and economic equality for all the people. One of the biggest network is the UN-habitat, which conducted the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment.

A similar situation can be found in Nepal, although there the situation is dominated by emergency crisis response after the earthquake in 2015. However, also here the UN agencies, International NGOs, the Red Cross movement, National NGOs and associations, and local government authorities can be counted as the main actors in the humanitarian aid system in Nepal.

Although humanitarian interventions in Kenya have been dominated by ‘classic’ relief operations (e.g. food aid by foreign donors, UN, etc), there is a shift towards more market-sensitive options that will broaden the base of private sector engagement. The most exciting developments, from a humanitarian perspective, are within the rapidly growing sectors of finance and telecommunications. Partnerships have been developed with Kenyan mobile phone companies and banks to facilitate cash transfers: their rapid growth is impacting on  crisis-affected populations in Kenya. Many Kenyan mobile operators and banks have business models committed to reaching the poorest, crisis-prone areas of the country.

There is thus a growing awareness of humanitarian issues amongst the Kenyan population and Kenyan firms, which increasingly match donations made by their staff.  This is part of an encouraging trend towards wider corporate social responsibility. Several of the larger firms, such as Safaricom and Equity Bank, have set up their own foundations, though mostly for small-scale, longer-term development work.

Another very important feature of the development of humanitarian aid, especially visible in Kenya, is the focus on resilience. Organizations are focusing on promoting a comprehensive and flexible approach to disaster reduction and development, which seeks to build a continuum between disaster prevention, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development activities. It is important  to improve resilience in the most vulnerable communities, so that they do not need to rely on emergency assistance. The basic idea is that while natural disasters cannot be prevented, their effects can be mitigated through strengthening of livelihoods, safety nets and other survival mechanisms. Furthermore, as the humanitarian crises start to ease off, it would be of a particular importance to start strengthening the communities’ resilience, so that they could handle the next external shock better.

Currently the organizations aim to follow the continuum thinking by helping communities to become more resilient.. For example, many supported humanitarian projects have resilience building components. Furthermore, resilience building activities are also funded through certain development cooperation programmes, such as the Kenya’s food security programme, the cash transfer programme. Some humanitarian appeals and programmes also incorporate early-recovery and reconstruction features with the aim to support emergency aid-dependent communities to return to their normal lives. Kenya also promotes the continuum thinking as a member of various multinational organizations. 

Humanitarian aid in the EU

The humanitarian system in  Italy, France and Hungary differs from Kenyan, Nepalese and Vietnamese ones, as they all allocate  a part of their national income to promote humanitarian activities abroad . Furthermore, as part of the European Union, they follow the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid [6]  and they are all member of the Good Humanitarian Donorship [7] which means they take into account a similar (European) strategy for their own national strategy on humanitarian aid. The European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid provides a common vision that guides the action of the EU, both at its Member States and Community levels, in humanitarian aid in third countries and is supported by the main European humanitarian NGOs. Since 2010, the European Commission has established a more robust and effective European mechanism for disaster response. A single organization now deals with both humanitarian aid and civil protection, which is more efficient. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism operates together with EU funding for humanitarian aid to tackle the needs arising from a conflict or disaster. This mechanism has helped to provide emergency supplies from EU countries [8].

120 contributors of the largest amounts of humanitarian assistance, governments and EU institutions, 2016. Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017, p. 45.

Italy is particularly active in the Middle East and North Africa, in Sub-Saharan Africa but also in Latin America and Asia[9], while France mainly focuses on former colonies and the African continent. , However also Asia (because of its natural disasters) and the Middle East (because of political and security crisis) receive support from France. Hungary devotes  most of its funding to humanitarian actions in the nearest regions (Balkans) [10].

“Italy has a rich and internationally recognized history of humanitarian intervention and aid, characterized by a large number of small to medium size actors and high participation of decentralized cooperation, a peculiarity of the Italian system” [11]. It has 193 listed humanitarian actors, compared to France who has 102 and Hungary who has 8 actors listed. All countries’ humanitarian strategy is influenced and guided by several international treaties, agreements, protocols and conventions.

The Main actors for all countries include multilateral organizations, such as the UN or the Red Cross. The Red Cross society is an important actor in all three countries. In Hungary it was the first humanitarian actor and also in France it is one of the most important and strong humanitarian actors. Other actors involved are the state, universities, faith-based organizations, armed forces, and of course NGOs. Also the private sector is seen as an actor (not in the case of France though) but not further specified in reports.

, Italy endorsed a law in 1979 that defined cooperation (law 38/79) and created a department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: the Directorate General for Development Cooperation. The system was finalized in 1987 with the law 49/87 which set the legal foundations for Italian humanitarian action, general discipline, principles and actors [12]. In 2016, the Italian Foreign Ministry published the Evaluation of cooperation projects 2012–2015, a summary of independent technical evaluations of the initiatives financed by Italian cooperation from 2012 to date. The publication highlights Italy’s efforts to ensure uniform procedures and to optimize resources in order to be more efficient, effective, and sustainable. The publication is also a tool to guarantee the transparency of aid activities vis-a-vis all stakeholders and, more generally, to the Italian public opinion [13] .

Some of the Italian Non-Governmental organizations working in Italy and abroad are:

INTERSOS- Solidarity in the front-line: is an Italian humanitarian aid organization that works all over the world to bring assistance to people in danger, victims of natural disasters, armed conflicts or living in conditions of extreme exclusion. INTERSOS’ actions are based on the values of solidarity, justice, human dignity, equal rights and opportunities for all people and respect for diversity and coexistence, paying particular attention to the most vulnerable segments of the population [14].

Save the Children. Since its foundation, the NGO works with refugees and migrants, and is currently accompanying children during their migratory path. In fact, it is present in those countries where children come from, such as Syria, and in transit countries, such as Turkey, Egypt, and Italy, in order to protect and support them. It also operates in countries such as Greece and Germany to help children understand their rights and grant them the access to healthcare and shelter. It will be soon operational in Macedonia and Hungary. In Italy, it offers assistance and protection to minors in Lampedusa, Augusta, Catania Palermo, Trapani, Messina, and Porto Empedocle, and it strengthened its activities in cities like Milan, Turin, and Rome.

Caritas. A religious organization that raises funds in favor of refugees. In fact, over the 4 years of conflict, it funded projects for 1,878,500 euros in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Over 400,000 euros have been devoted to the activities of Caritas Syria. It works with a pilot project in Lebanon, organizing training sessions and practical activities aimed to teach conflict resolution techniques. In 2014, the Caritas network helped over 1.2 million people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. In October it will launch the initiative Rifugiato a casa mia, an initiative designed for families willing to host a refugee.

Other organizations working with refugees and migrants are Soserm (SosEmergenzaRifugiati Milano), Progetto ArcaOnlus. At Milano Centrale railway station the association has created a hub for first aid to transit refugees.. People can help by offering basic items. Amici del Baobab:  The association is operational in Rome. It posts real time a list of things needed at the centre.

Also France’s humanitarian action is part of a larger framework of assistance pursuant to the Paris Principles for Aid Effectiveness, the Fragile State Principles of the EOCD and supports the UN. Furthermore, since 2012 France has a unified humanitarian strategy that takes into account several laws and principles such as the International humanitarian Law, GHD, the EU consensus, and Human Rights Law, and provides the framework for dialogue between state humanitarianism and other humanitarian actors[15].

At a national  level, three distinct directorates of the French ministry of foreign affairs (MAE) participate to the preparation and implementation of humanitarian actions. These are the Crisis Centre (CDC), the Directorate-General for Global Affairs, Development and Partnerships (DGM), and the Directorate for the United Nations, International Organizations, Human Rights and Francophonie (NUOI). The crisis center is responsible for monitoring, anticipating, alerting and managing crisis which take place abroad and which require emergency humanitarian action. This is thus the most important institution when it comes to state humanitarianism, however the crisis center also manages non humanitarian actions. The DGM implements food aid programmes to address the most serious situations. NUOI is responsible for defining, implementing and following up France’s policy in the area of humanitarian affairs conducted by the UN and the institutions and organization attached to it, in addition to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. When it comes to a humanitarian intervention, the management of natural disaster response strategies is the responsibility of the Directorate-General for Global Affairs, Development and Partnerships. The operational implementation of strategies aimed at enhancing the resilience of both rural and urban societies is the responsibility of the French Development Agency[16].

Hungary, in comparison with France and Italy, has notably less humanitarian actors, of which the Red Cross is the biggest one. This can be related to the development of Hungary in the last years. However, the changes undergone by the country in the 1990s shows a change towards social and political environment for humanitarian activity. The Hungarian EU Presidency in 2011 marked another important step in the national humanitarian strategy. Their access to the EU and OECD is encouraging for the future of an effective international development co-operation policy.[17]

The Hungarian strategy complies with , principles and guidelines of the UN, OECD-DAC, GHD and the EU. State humanitarianism is managed by the National Directorate General for Disaster Management (part of the Ministry of Interior) who is responsible for civil emergency planning and protection administration inside of the country. For the planning, coordination and implementation of the Hungarian International Development Cooperation policy, an independent organization unit within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been appointed [18]. Civil society activity has been coordinated by the Hungarian Association of NGOs for Development and Humanitarian Aid (HAND), who aim to be a co-operative partner of the Hungarian governmental bodies. However, until present the coordination has been ineffective [19]

Identify 2 best practices in  humanitarian aid that had a strong impact at local level

In Kenya, the Kenyans for Kenya (K4K) initiative used mobile banking and social media platforms provided pro bono by telecoms and media companies – notably Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile provider, but its competitors as well – to attract individual donors and aggregate their contributions towards the KRCS emergency response. Companies also made cash contributions as part of their corporate social responsibility commitments. In-kind contributions were collected by participating companies. Other private sector partners, such as Kenya Commercial Bank and major auditing companies, offered pro bono financial and auditing services.

The K4K initiative far exceeded its initial fundraising target of Ksh 500m, eventually raising over Ksh 7.5 billion (approximately $8.5m) as well as donations in-kind valued at Ksh 278m (ZehraZidi, 2012). Even so, the overall amount raised was a small fraction of the humanitarian aid received in response to drought appeals ($427.4m).[20]

Cash transfer platforms provide an opportunity for revolutionizing humanitarian response in Kenya and for bringing long-marginalised populations into more integrated markets and the orbit of banking and financial services. The resilience agenda in Kenya is contributing to realizing these possibilities. However, these humanitarian responses are largely still at the experimental stage and there are reasons for caution: switching to these platforms will be a slow process, especially as they are rolled out to distant areas; the sustainability with which bank and telecom systems can deliver aid rests on unproven business models; and dialogue between the private sector and humanitarian actors on shared and respective objectives is ad hoc and dispersed. The remarkable spread of mobile money transfers and village-level banking in Kenya – now extending into more distant and drought-affected areas – brings a potential convergence of business and humanitarian interests to places where past emergency responses had few options for utilizing private markets and delivery channels. Equity Bank and Safaricom are way out in front of the competition, though new financial players, such as the First Community Bank in Mandera, are arriving. Ongoing resilience investments such as the HSNP or WFP’s work on cash for assets suggest that these platforms may be moving closer to the point where humanitarian responses using cash transfers could be done on a large scale.

In Vietnam, one association that had a strong impact  at a local level is a Japanese association. In the fisherman village in Hanoi, a place where people live in poverty and often don’t have what they need. The Japanese association helps them to create sponges from recycled materials that the people in the fisherman village can easily find on the river side. After they create these sponges, the Japanese NGO helps them to sell the items they made abroad. With the profits from the selling activity, the association gives back some money for the production process, some money for the transportation. The rest of the profits is given to the people in the fisherman village, to help them buying the things they need.

Another good practice it’s made by SJV (Partner Organization). They help the people in the village by feeding them, giving them food and rice and also by helping the children in that place by giving them education. Furthermore they help parents to acquire the certification required to get an education  or to get a job.

In Italy, the first organization that has had a strong local impact is Emergency. Emergency s is an independent Italian organization that provides free, high quality medical and surgical treatment to the victims of war, landmines and poverty and it also promotes a culture of peace, solidarity and respect for human rights.

In Italy the right to medical care is recognized by law, and it is actually often denied to immigrants, foreigners, poor people who do not have access to treatment because of their scarce knowledge of their rights, as well as the linguistic barriers and the difficulty in finding their way within a complex health system. More than 260,000 consultations have been given in our Italian facilities (as of December 31, 2016).

In a climate of widespread fear and growing racism, migrants often do not turn to public facilities as they are afraid of being reported to the police or the authorities. For these reasons EMERGENCY began to work in Italy, operating within prisons (2005-2007), treating immigrants, and situations of social distress such as psychological counseling after the earthquake.

In 2006 EMERGENCY opened an Outpatient Clinic in Palermo, Sicily, to guarantee free healthcare to migrants – with or without residence permits – and to any person in need. Our Programme in Italy then was expanded in December 2010 with the Outpatient Clinic in Marghera, near Venice; in July 2013 with the Polistena Clinic (Calabria region, Southern Italy); and in 2015 with the Castel Volturno Clinic and the Naples Clinic (Campania region, Southern Italy). Furthermore, Emergency has mobile clinic, offers social-medical assistance and doctors and cultural mediators are working in Sicily since the summer of 2013 to guarantee basic healthcare to migrants who are coming ashore[21].

Another organization is SOS Children’s Villages. This is an independent, non-governmental international development organization which has been working to meet the needs and protect the interests and rights of children since 1949.

SOS Children’s Villages is present in over 130 countries around the world. It has answered the needs of children and families in Italy for over fifty years, adapting its work in order to support children at risk. For example, as a result of the increase in number of refugees arriving in the country, the social centre in Mantua provided accommodation to children who had fled their home country and arrived in Italy without their parents. There are six social centres in Italy, all of which work with the local communities and agencies to support children and their families so that the children can grow up within a caring family environment. Children whose parents cannot take care of them will find a loving home in one of the SOS families. SOS Children’s Villages also provides semi-independent housing programmes for youths and helps them integrate into the labour market.

[1] Ministère des affaires étrangères – France Humanitarian Strategy

[2]  http://hamap.eu/italy

[3]  https://sites.tufts.edu/jha/archives/1935

[4] Ministère des affaires étrangères – France Humanitarian Strategy

[5] http://drrportal.gov.np/uploads/document/892.pdf

[6] https://ec.europa.eu/echo/who/humanitarian-aid-and-civil-protection/european-consensus_en

[7] https://www.ghdinitiative.org/ghd/gns/about-us/our-members.html

[8] http://hamap.eu/italy

[9] http://hamap.eu/italy

[10] http://hamap.eu/france

[11] http://hamap.eu/italy

[12] http://hamap.eu/italy

[13] http://www.aics.gov.it/?page_id=10181

[14] https://www.intersos.org/en/

[15] http://hamap.eu/country-profiles/france/

[16] Ministère des affaires étrangères – France Humanitarian Strategy

[17] http://hamap.eu/hungary

[18]  International Development Cooperation Strategy and Strategic Concept for International Humanitarian Aid of Hungary  2014-2020

[19] http://hamap.eu/hungary

[20] (Fitzgibbon, 2012).