Families carrying home their share of food, Oromi IDP camp, Kitgum District, northern Uganda, 18 May 2007. © Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
Rob Grace - May 14, 2015

More people are fleeing conflict and violence than ever before on record, with the number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons (IDPs) now exceeding 50 million people. Amongst these, IDPs — who are displaced within their country of origin — account for the largest portion, reaching a record 38 million people in 2014, according to a new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Yet unlike refugees, who by definition have fled across an international border, IDPs do not benefit from the special status or specific rights and protections afforded to “refugees” under international law. As a result, their protection remains primarily under the purview of their national governments, many of which are either unable or unwilling to provide adequate protection and assistance; furthermore, some of these more...

Julia Brooks - May 6, 2015

We asked, you answered!

In partnership with the Law and Policy Forum at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), ATHA launched a 13-question survey of humanitarian professionals working across the globe on topics and challenges in the humanitarian sector most crucial and relevant to their work.

The response has been outstanding: In the first month of the survey, we received 549 responses from individuals with an average of 6-10 years of professional experience in the humanitarian sector, based in 88 different countries including Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, South Sudan, Jordan, Pakistan, and Kenya.

We would like to thank everyone who completed the survey for your valuable insights! The survey results will directly contribute to informing the ongoing more...

David Polatty - April 29, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Professor David Polatty. David teaches military strategy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and is a co-founder and co-director of the NWC College of Operational & Strategic Leadership - Harvard School of Public Health “Joint Civilian-Military Humanitarian Working Group.”

The tragic deaths of as many as 900 migrants in the Mediterranean Sea last week appear to have been a call to action for not only the European Union (EU), but the international community at large. After intense media scrutiny of this horrific event within a much wider and intensifying migration crisis, EU politicians finally came together to reexamine ways to mitigate risks to vulnerable populations. While the UN welcomed more...

Rob Grace - April 27, 2015

A number of issue areas — civil-military coordination, security for field workers, and negotiation on the front lines of humanitarian action, for example — are high on the humanitarian sector’s research and policy agenda. Alongside these issues is the question of how researchers, practitioners, and trainers can most effectively collaborate to facilitate professional exchanges geared toward learning lessons from past practice. A number of forces countervail the drive to build professional unity within the sector: e.g., scarce resources, the distinct organizational identities of different humanitarian organizations, and the notion that many contexts in which humanitarians operate are sui generis. In light of these factors, as the humanitarian sector engages in a continual process of professionalization, how can it carry forward lessons more...

Relatives of missing persons from Sri Lanka's 26-year long civil war hold their pictures during a meeting in Sri Lanka capital Colombo -- © Amantha Perera/IRIN
Theo Boutruche - April 22, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Theo Boutruche, a member of the Harvard Group of Professionals on Monitoring, Reporting and Fact-finding. This post is adapted from a post that was previously published on the author's blog, The Art of Facts. Theo's previous experience includes work as Post-Conflict Legal Adviser at REDRESS, Amnesty International Researcher on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Associate Human Rights Officer within the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and as the IHL/Human Rights Expert of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any of the organizations or institutions for which the author works or has more...

© Mark Hodson
Julia Brooks - April 20, 2015

Humanitarian action is an exercise in triage, requiring strategic planning around enduring constraints in capacity, resources, and operational funding. Impartiality dictates that priority is given to the most urgent cases of distress, whereby the most good is to be made out of the limited resources available. Yet given the large number and scale of current humanitarian crises – from Syria and Iraq, to the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and Ebola-affected West Africa – the international humanitarian system is overwhelmed. In many of these cases, the emergencies themselves and the social, economic and humanitarian costs endure for years. Never before has so much money gone to humanitarian relief – global humanitarian funding reached a record $22 billion in 2013 – and it is yet still far outpaced by the unprecedented scale of more...

Julia Brooks - April 15, 2015

Amidst difficult peace negotiations in South Sudan, the parties are pitting the pursuit of justice and accountability against the interests of peace, reviving a lingering debate over the role of transitional justice in conflict resolution. In the process, they are jeopardizing both peace and justice, perpetuating a legacy of impunity at the expense of civilian protection.

After over a year of investigation into human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council decided to indefinitely defer the release of a report by its Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) on January 29th of this year, arguing that it could jeopardize the ongoing peace process. This decision sparked a wave of criticism by both South Sudanese and international more...

David Polatty - April 6, 2015

This guest blog comes to us from Professor David Polatty. David teaches military strategy, maritime security, and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, and is a co-founder and co-director of the NWC College of Operational & Strategic Leadership - Harvard School of Public Health “Joint Civilian-Military Humanitarian Working Group.”

As the recent international humanitarian response to Cyclone Pam hitting Vanuatu on 13 March 2015 demonstrates, effective civil-military coordination is critically important during complex emergencies. With over 166,000 people scattered across 80+ islands who are still impacted by the effects of the category 5 cyclone, the international humanitarian community responded immediately but found itself needing logistical and more...

Vincenzo Bollettino - March 20, 2015

The United States and other international militaries are sometimes called on to provide humanitarian relief in the wake of large natural disasters or complex emergencies that overwhelm the capacity of the affected state/s to adequately respond to the immediate needs of its people. With an expected increase in the magnitude and frequency of deadly storms, it is reasonable to assume that militaries will be increasingly called upon to participate in the delivery of relief to populations affected by large-scale natural disasters, conflict, or complex emergencies. Yet, the extant frameworks that govern civil-military engagement (namely the ‘Oslo Guidelines’ and the ‘MCDA Guidelines’) clearly limit the use of military assets for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and proscribe their use except as a matter of last resort. Nonetheless, more...

Julia Brooks - March 18, 2015

Military participation in the provision of humanitarian relief in complex emergencies is increasingly common. Foreign and national militaries have played particularly significant roles in responding to natural disasters — such as the floods and cyclone in Mozambique in 2007, or the earthquakes in Pakistan in 2005 and Haiti in 2010 — as well as in providing aid to civilians in fragile and conflict-affected states – such as during the recent conflicts in Iraq or Afghanistan. Often, natural disaster and conflict overlap to produce complex humanitarian crises, as in the tsunami in conflict-affected Aceh and Sri Lanka in 2004, or flooding and displacement in Pakistan in 2010. While militaries can bring unique capabilities and resources to bear in emergencies, military engagement in humanitarian assistance poses significant challenges to more...

Julia Brooks - March 10, 2015

Despite a growing reputation for brutality, inhumanity and repression – including the rape of women and enslavement minorities – the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has managed to recruit a significant number of women and girls among the thousands of locals and foreigners joining its ranks. Counter to popular assumptions about women’s participation in armed groups, many of these women are joining voluntarily, driven by a variety of motivations.

Why do women join armed groups?

Women join armed groups for a variety of reasons, some unique and some common with men. Some women are abducted by fighters, or otherwise forced or coerced into joining the group. Many join voluntarily, whether convinced by the group’s ideology or attracted by the sense of mission and purpose. Some join armed groups out of more...

A boat carrying migrant workers and Libyans from Tripoli arrives at the Lampedusa port, escorted by the coastguard  © Kate Thomas/IRIN
Julia Brooks - February 26, 2015

The year 2015 is off to an ominous start on the Mediterranean Sea, where at least 300 sub-Saharan migrants died last week in a failed attempt to reach Europe from Libya; the Italian coast guard rescued a further 1,100 migrants. This comes after record numbers — approximately 218,000 people — made the crossing in 2014, and 3,500 lost their lives, according to UNHCR.

“The Mediterranean has gone from being a route mainly involving migrants to being a major route for refugees fleeing war,” notes UNHCR, with Syrians making up the largest population arriving in Italy — around 22% of the total. Nonetheless, Syrian asylum-seekers in Europe only account for a small fraction (around 6%) of the rapidly growing population of approximately 3.8 million Syrian refugees spread mainly across Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt. These host more...

: A Pakistani humanitarian aid worker for the United Nations World Food Programme supervises Pakistani soldiers as they unload food and supplies to aid flood relief in Swat Valley, Pakistan, Sept. 5, 2010
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik - February 18, 2015

This guest blog post comes to us from Kristin Bergtora Sandvik. Kristin is a senior researcher at PRIO and a founder and director of the Norwegian Center for Humanitarian Studies. She has published widely on humanitarian technology and the challenges facing contemporary humanitarianism, and holds an S.J.D from Harvard Law School. 

The humanitarian sector faces an unprecedented number of crises globally. The growing operational and financial deficit in the capacity of governments and humanitarian organizations to respond has led to calls for changes in the way such crises are understood and managed.  This involves a strong focus on cooperation and partnerships with the private sector.  A large part of the allure is the notion that private-public more...

Camillle Marquis Bissonnette - February 11, 2015

This guest blog post comes to us from Camillle Marquis Bissonnette, a PhD Candidate in Law at Laval University. Camillle holds a LL.M. in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

According to UNICEF, different armed groups in South Sudan recruited 12,000 children to participate in the hostilities in 2014 alone. In the wake of more...

Global Risks Report 2015 / WEF © WEF
Julia Brooks - February 4, 2015

Amongst the world’s economic elite, a humanitarian chorus rang out at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos with an urgent message: the humanitarian system is overwhelmed, and fixing it is the responsibility of the international community as a whole – including the private sector.

Driven in large part by the protracted Syrian crisis, humanitarian need has far outpaced the capacity of the global aid communities to respond in recent years. “UNHCR has never had to address so much human misery in its 64-year history,” attested Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in Davos – a sentiment that extends to much of the humanitarian sector.  “[W]e see millions of people caught in semi-permanent crises. […and] the threat of multiple protracted mega-emergencies has become reality. The aid architecture we built after more...


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