Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance for Community Workers and Funders

According to Good Humanitarian Donorship, Humanitarian Assistance is broadly defined to mean the action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations.

Humanitarian assistance in the international arena vastly differs from domestic emergency response within the United States.  As a field unto itself, humanitarian assistance also differs greatly from shorter-term disaster response in scope, objectives, and duration.  In addition, the field encompasses codifying norms, international standards, and critical concepts that exist to maintain humanitarian principles, ensure quality intervention, and create sustainable improvement.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, over 400 medical teams arrived to assist communities in need. Only a tiny fraction of teams were able to identify or plan intervention strategies and programs utilizing international humanitarian architecture or standards. This lack of knowledge translated into failures in communication, coordination, and usage of resources with direct implications for populations affected.

This problem is neither new nor has it been adequately addressed over time. Several studies, ranging from 2001 to present have reported that a dearth of nongovernmental organizations responding to disasters offers any teaching or orientation prior to departure. Authors and practitioners have put forward a critical call to action for improved accountability, well-defined core competencies, and greater quality control.  With appropriate and tailored training, practitioners will have exponentially improved efficiency, impact, and sustainability. In turn, these professionals better share expertise with local and national staff who remain, as always, the first-responders in their communities as they build themselves toward resilience and self-reliance.

In addition, the underlying circumstances necessitating pre-departure education of humanitarian workers have been intensifying. For example, the complexities of urban disasters require multi-sector coordination, community stakeholder engagement, and division of scarce resources more than ever. There are increasing risks and threats to humanitarian aid workers and less room for inexperience, waste, and error. Compassion in and of itself is not enough, however, compassion coupled with knowledge, guided by experience, and directed into effective action leads to substantive effective change.

If you would like more information and want to better inform your humanitarian efforts, consider enrolling today in our Introduction to Humanitarian Assistance Course.

Leave a Reply