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Humanitarian governance: accountability, advocacy, alternatives

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - HUM-GOV (Humanitarian governance: accountability, advocacy, alternatives)

Período documentado: 2022-07-01 hasta 2023-12-31

- How is humanitarian governance imagined and organized in the interplay of different actors?
- How do accountability and advocacy processes of aid recipients and civil society actors alter governance relations ‘from below’?
- How do different patterns of governance emerge in different types of crisis and contexts of state-society-aid relations?

The Humanitarian Governance (HUM-GOV) project is financed by a European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant and has a special focus on how civil society actors and crisis-affected people shape humanitarian governance by using accountability and advocacy.

Additionally, the project seeks to develop models of alternative humanitarian ethics, for example centering on solidarity in addition to humanitarian principles.

Finally, there is a component researching how humanitarian actors conceptualize and deal with climate-related displacement. HUM-GOV works with partner institutes in Colombia, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where case studies take place. The project runs from 2021-2025.

An important secondary objective is to re-asses humanitarian studies by expanding the spaces and strategies that have opened up for reform ‘from below’ in the rapidly changing, risky and unstable contexts of humanitarian crises.

By focusing on the viewpoints and influence of affected communities and civil society actors, the HUM-GOV project will contribute to the way humanitarian governance is seen and understood. It will also shape future humanitarian and ethical research exploring the boundaries of participatory research in conflict-affected and politically volatile areas, by promoting more equal research partnership.

Why is this research relevant?

The number of people worldwide whose lives are endangered and that are rendered destitute by conflict, disaster or political collapse is growing, as well as the numbers of people that become displaced from their home communities. This is partly in relation to climate change.

Changes in humanitarian governance
Humanitarian governance has been rapidly changing over the last decade. The international character of humanitarian action is shifting to recognize and advance the multiple roles of local state and non-state actors. The logic of humanitarian action is becoming more diverse and shifts from a single focus on humanitarian principles to alternative practices organized around, for example, resilience, accountability or solidarity.

We also expect to see that aid recipients gain more voice to challenge governance through accountability and advocacy practices. Finally, humanitarian actors find it increasingly difficult to define the scope of their actions and identify who is, and who is not, eligible for humanitarian assistance. The latter gains in importance as projections on disasters and displacement in relation to climate change concern ever larger numbers of affected people.

The HUM-GOV research is a timely project to analyze these ongoing changes and to amplify the voices and influence of crisis-affected populations in humanitarian governance.

People-centred sustainable development
Crisis-affected areas are often in the lowest ranks of the Sustainable Development Goals and hence we see increasing effort from the whole international community, including the United Nations, to promote service delivery and development in these contexts.

The project studies these trends from a lens of social justice and accountability and hence may contribute to make humanitarian action and service delivery more people-centred, and better aligned with sustainable development.
This project, guided by five objectives detailed in the proposal, aims to comprehensively explore new facets of humanitarian landscapes, with a specific focus on variations within these landscapes, accountability dynamics, and addressing inequalities. The program is structured into four distinct work-packages.

In the first phase, Ethical Alternatives, the review of prevailing ethical literature and knowledge in humanitarian governance has resulted in intermediate outputs, such as the article "Ethical Considerations of Disaster Research in Conflict-Affected Areas." Another aspect has been the formation of Humanitarian Observatories, opening spaces for humanitarian and ethical discussions in the regions or countries where the observatories are present. The observatories will convene at the Humanitarian Studies Conference in Dhaka in November 2023 to further exchange knowledge and experiences.

The second work package informs about Humanitarian Governance, Accountability, and Advocacy. Research is actively examining these aspects in Colombia, Ethiopia, and the DRC. Fieldwork is nearly complete, leading to diverse outputs like humanitarian observatories, recommendations, and advocacy efforts. On the basis of preliminary fieldwork, further case studies have been identified for each country. For example, in the case of DRC: Ebola responses, advocacy by displaced people in the city of Goma, and accountability around protection against sexual exploitation and abuse. In the fall of 2022, humanitarian observatories have been launched in DRC, Ethiopia, and Colombia. They all have had multiple meetings, yielding a range of outputs, including websites, recommendations, advocacy statements, and blogs. The project is also developing a Q-methodology study in each observatory with humanitarian actors.

The third package focuses on Climate-Related Displacement. The ongoing case studies center on climate change adaptation, forecast-based financing, and social protection. For viability reasons, the cases are all focusing on the country of Bangladesh, with some additional work in West Africa. The engagement extended beyond interviews, encompassing presentations of the research topic and plan to partnering host organizations. This collaborative effort aimed to enhance accountability, facilitate constructive feedback, and foster deeper cooperation. A significant portion of the research took place in Kalapara Upazila, situated within the Patuakhali District. This specific geographical location was chosen to conduct sub-case studies that provided localized insights, particularly within the context of the central coastal area of Bangladesh.

A final work package focuses on Conceptual Tools for Humanitarian Governance. The project has yielded various publications. Notably, one article presents a comprehensive approach that delves into humanitarian accountability, a cornerstone within the project's framework. It furnishes a theoretical framework enriched by cases and examples drawn from fieldwork conducted in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, and Myanmar. Meanwhile, another article is dedicated to comprehending the intricate interplay between climate change, humanitarian action, development, and peacebuilding. With a different focus, another article outlines both theoretical and methodological approaches for ethical research of disaster and humanitarian action. This includes an examination of the primary challenges and moral dimensions inherent in our work and practice as researchers in this field.

Across all the work packages, a pivotal Project Working Retreat took place in Cartagena, Colombia, in April 2023, wherein preliminary results were shared and conceptual tools honed. This interdisciplinary endeavor advances the understanding of complex humanitarian governance, driving the application of grounded knowledge and novel methodologies to humanitarian contexts.
Project outputs include:

Guest lectures at the University of the Netherlands and Centre for Poverty Analysis, Sri Lanka
Blogs on Bliss about the asylum system, prejudice about refugees and racism in humanitarian studies
Article and commentary in the Dutch national newspaper Volkskrant
Africa Knows! Conference panel discussion
Various events organized by partner organizations addressing refugees, civil societies and humanitarian studies
An online talk show on refugee regime Europe
Humanitarian Observatories in Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia
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