Emergency gap: The challenges of localised humanitarian aid

Emergency gap series 03

November 2016


The current push for a greater localisation of aid culminated with the World Humanitarian Summit’s commitment to put local actors firmly at the forefront of humanitarian responses in their own countries. On the face of it, this most recent call for localised humanitarian action seems entirely valid: why should national and local actors be bystanders when humanitarian crises cause devastation and prompt the need for urgent relief among their fellow citizens? However, upon closer inspection, it seems that the current thinking behind the localisation agenda is too ideologically driven and fails to make some essential distinctions between humanitarian contexts, and to recognise the challenges faced by local actors in conflict settings.

As part of the Emergency Gap series, this paper analyses the role of national and local actors in humanitarian action based on MSF’sexperiences in areas within conflict affected countries where the most urgent needs are found. While MSF has seen many examples of the important humanitarian contributions that national and local actors make, it has also witnessed a number of constraints and challenges that confront these actors when delivering humanitarian assistance, especially in situations of (internal) armed conflict. These limitations, which have been largely ignored by the localisation agenda, are examined in this paper from both a conceptual and practical point of view.

Please join us for the paper’s accompanying event on Tuesday, 29 November @15.00 GMT: The challenges of localised aid in conflict.




Sudhanshu S. Singh
The article has some good and valid points particularly in the contexts of armed conflicts. However, it seems inappropriate to project such examples on the entire humanitarian aid mechanism to challenge the concept of Grand Bargain which aims to provide much delayed justice to local actors. There are plenty of responses outside the war zones too. Why is the paper silent on that?
Ed Schenkenberg
Dear Sudhanshu, Many thanks for uour feedback. The simple answer to your question is that I was specifically asked to concentrate on situations of armed conflict. MSF (OCBA) has prioritised those situations in terms of its emergency interventions and is very concerned about the gaps in humanitarian presence and coverage it sees in armed conflicts. Kind regards, Ed
<p><span style="font-family: 'Atlas Grotesk TF Web', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', 'Lucida Sans', Geneva, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-caps: normal;">Dear Sudhanshu,</span></p><p style="font-family: 'Atlas Grotesk TF Web', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', 'Lucida Sans', Geneva, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-caps: normal;">Thank you for your interest in our work. The focus of the paper, and&nbsp;of the Emergency Gap project as a whole, is humanitarian assistance in the context of armed conflict. We believe that, in recent years, initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness of humanitarian action have been very much focused on protracted emergencies and natural disasters, and that&nbsp;attention to conflict settings has been sorely missing. The purpose of the project and its thematic discussions &ndash;such as this one on localised aid&ndash;is to highlight the existing challenges of emergency response in conflict settings, and to examine current policy developments in light of their potential to improve humanitarian action in such contexts.&nbsp;</p><p style="font-family: 'Atlas Grotesk TF Web', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', 'Lucida Sans', Geneva, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-caps: normal;">Thus, rather than being silent on other type of emergencies, this project aims to give due attention to humanitarian operations in conflict. Armed conflict, as you well know, was the original scope of humanitarian action and continues to constitute the majority of humanitarian operations nowadays.&nbsp;</p><p style="font-family: 'Atlas Grotesk TF Web', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', 'Lucida Sans', Geneva, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 16px; font-style: normal; font-variant-caps: normal;">Kind regards</p>
Dualta Roughneen
Hi Ed, The comment is not really a public one, but share the attached, quite normative discussion on subsidiarity. It is a pity that the MSF paper almost coincided with the attached being finalised as it could have added more concrete issues to the content. I am very much in agreement that the complementary approaches are needed- interestingly subsidiarity in often used as a synonym of complementarity and that subsidiarity is also confused with localisation. I am very much in agreement that the humanitarian system needs to continue to do what is practical rather than looking at unrealistic aspirations and that humanitarian action ought not be converged with development- which is a challenge to the LRRD issue which tends to consider that humanitarian action and development, when carried out by international actors ought to converge whereas development work ought to converge with the broader development initiatives in a country. There is much more to be said- and that localisation ought not be confused with subsidiarity- i hope- and that subsidiarity is about a framework for determining the correct level of response. I think I raise some points that will need further discussion- particularly related to humanitarian principles and local actors- and local people. Dualta
<p>Dear Dualta,</p><p>Thank you very much for the very interesting feedback and reflexions on the concept of subsidiarity. Unfortunately, the Comments template on this webpage does not support attachments, but you can contact us at <a href="mailto:Emergencygap.Project@barcelona.msf.org">Emergencygap.Project@barcelona.msf.org</a>.</p><p>Sincerely,</p><p>The Emergency Gap team</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p>
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