How Can Humanitarian Analysis, Early Warning and Response Be
Benjamin J. Spatz
Alex de Waal
In 2017, the UN raised the alarm on famines in North-east Nigeria, Somalia, South
Sudan and Yemen. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war in Syria, and the
Democratic Republic of the Congo currently has among the largest numbers of
severely food-insecure people of any country assessed by the Integrated Food
Security Phase Classification (IPC) system. Each of these sites of mass
starvation or famine can be understood as a ‘political
marketplace’. They are characterised by the dominance of transactional
politics over public institutions, and elite politics is conducted for factional
or personal political advantage, on the basis of monetised patronage. This paper
examines the relationship between these systems of transactional politics and
famine and other forms of mass starvation, and outlines the implications of the
political marketplace framework for humanitarian action. It argues that both
transactional politics and mass starvation emerge from particular
political-economic configurations characterised by economic precarity and
mismanagement, violent forms of peripheral governance and war economies.
Applying the political marketplace framework can help improve humanitarian
information and early warning systems, as well as programme decision-making,
while helping humanitarians think more carefully about the constant trade-offs
they are forced to make.
Debates Surrounding Ebola Vaccine Trials in Eastern Democratic Republic of
Joseph Grace Kasereka
Two experimental Ebola vaccines were deployed during the tenth Ebola epidemic
(2018–20) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The first, the
Ervebo vaccine manufactured by Merck, was used as part of a ring vaccination in
the epicentre of the epidemic in North Kivu. In 2019, the prime- (Ad26.ZEBOV)
and boost- (MVA-BN-Filo) vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson
(J&J) became the second vaccine against Ebola, deployed by the DRC-EB-001
vaccine trial in Goma, North Kivu. There was international debate as to the
value and ethics of testing a second vaccine in an epidemic context. This
article examines how this debate unfolded among actual and potential DRC-EB-001
trial participants in Goma. Drawing on ethnographic observation, interviews and
focus groups, it explores how the trial was perceived and contested on the
ground and situated in broader debates about the ethics of clinical trials,
especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We illustrate how debates around the
ethics of clinical research are not simply centred on bioethical principles but
are inseparable from local political dynamics and broader contests about
governance, inequality and exclusion.
This review essay focuses on two books, Heide Fehrenbach and Davide
Rodogno’s Humanitarian Photography: A History (2015) and
Lasse Heerten’s The Biafran War and Postcolonial Humanitarianism:
Spectacles of Suffering (2017). It situates the books in relation
to broader debates about similarities and differences between humanitarianism
and human rights practice, with a particular focus on the visual cultures of and
ethical debates surrounding representations of suffering.
Four Conversations with Canadian Communications Officers
As the production, content and display of humanitarian images faced the requirements of digital media, humanitarian organizations struggled to keep equitable visual practices. Media specialists reflect on past and current uses of images in four Canadian agencies: the Canadian Red Cross, the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, the World University Service of Canada and IMPACT. Historically, the risk to reproduce the global inequalities they seek to remedy has compelled photographers, filmmakers and publicists in these agencies to develop codes of visual practice. In these conversations, they have shared the insights gained in transforming their work to accompany the rise of new digital technologies and social media. From one agency to the other, the lines of concern and of innovation converge. On the technical side, the officers speak of the advantage of telling personal stories, and of using short videos and infographics. On the organizational side, they have updated ways to develop skills in media production and visual literacy among workers, volunteers, partners and recipients, at all levels of their activity. These interviews further reveal that Communications Officers share with historians a wish to collect, preserve and tell past histories that acknowledge the role of all actors in the humanitarian sphere, as well as an immediate need to manage the abundance of visual documents with respect and method. To face these challenges, the five interviewees rely on democratic traditions of image-making: the trusted relationships, both with the Canadian public and with local peoples abroad, which have always informed the production and the content of visual assets. For this reason, humanitarian publicists might be in a privileged position to intervene in larger and urgent debates over the moral economy of the circulation of digital images in a globalized public space.
Lewis Hine’s Photographs of Refugees for the American Red Cross, 1918–20
Sonya de Laat
From June 1918 to April 1919, the American social photographer Lewis Hine made photographs of refugees in Europe. Refugees emerged as an unexpectedly humanitarian subject during World War I. Care for them was part of the American Red Cross’ (ARC) overall war relief activities, which Hine was hired to visually record. In this paper, I present the way in which refugees went from being framed in the ARC’s mass-circulated popular Red Cross Magazine as unique, innocent, idealized war-affected civilians to eventually being visually displaced in a shifting humanitarian landscape. For refugees who were, by 1920, making their way across the ocean to North America, visual displacement from the humanitarian visual sphere was tantamount to territorial displacement. Anxieties and negative rhetoric of the unassimilated alien prevailed, resulting in the temporary ‘closure’ of America’s borders and the ARC’s growing American-centric relief activities. Entwined with anti-Bolshevism, American immigration, and isolationist politics of the early twentieth century, Hine’s photographs and the ARC’s role in contributing to humanitarian photography are an early example of a rise and fall in sympathies towards refugees that would continue throughout the century.
This article introduces you to the general themes and questions of this special
issue. We argue that history and visual media have long been central to
humanitarian communication, but that the overlaps between history, visual media,
and humanitarian communication have seldom been addressed. A focus on those
overlaps, we suggest, not only demonstrates that critical historical inquiry has
much to offer for professional communication specialists, it also sheds new
light on the workings, changes and persistence of humanitarian narratives over
the twentieth century.
The Visual Politics and Narratives of Red Cross Museums in Europe and the
United States, 1920s to 2010s
Interpreting Red Cross museums as a visual medium, this essay explores the visual
politics of Red Cross museums through the twentieth century. The essay puts
particular emphasis on the entanglements between the visual politics and
humanitarian narratives of Red Cross museums and identifies three major
narratives that museums promoted through the times: a heroic narrative, a
narrative of civility, and a volunteer’s narrative. Last, the essay
argues that Red Cross museums may offer a fruitful field to encourage more
engagement between (public) historians and humanitarian practitioners.
An Interview with Rainer Schlösser, Spokesperson of the Association of the Red Cross Museums in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der deutschen Rotkreuz-Museen)
An accomplished academic, collector, and long-time Red Cross volunteer, Professor Dr Rainer Schlösser is head of the Red Cross Museum of the Red Cross Chapter Fläming-Spreewald in Luckenwalde. He has directed the museum since 2000. Since 2006, he has also served as official spokesperson of the Association of the Red Cross Museums in Germany, a group connecting thirteen Red Cross museums across Germany. I met Rainer Schlösser in his office at the Red Cross Museum in Luckenwalde. After an extended and insightful tour through the museum we sat down to discuss his ideas and his work at the museum.
For two decades, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) prepared pedagogical materials for Canadian schools. This article reviews the role of visual media in the hundreds of publications prepared for Development Education. Samples collected by Marc Rockbrune, Distribution Clerk responsible for their expedition in schools, libraries, and homes, and donated in 2016 to Carleton University Archives and Research Collections, are read with the help of the ‘psychopedagogical guides’ prepared by CIDA, and the testimonies of two workers of the agency linked to their preparation and dissemination: Mary Bramley, curator of the International Development Photo Library, and Rockbrune himself. Prepared with a large measure of autonomy by a sizeable team of visual artists, designers, and third world reformers, the program outreach was large, and its popularity strong. The expected and effective roles of visual media in the history of this short-lived institution of Development Education is explored to suggest elements of understanding of their impact on a generation of Canadian children and youth.
Visual Advocacy in the Early Decades of Humanitarian Cinema
Focusing on the pivotal period of 1919–23 and the large-scale humanitarian responses in Central and Eastern Europe, this paper discusses the development of advocacy in the movies made by organizations like the ICRC, Save the Children Fund or American Relief Administration. While aid agencies observed and competed with each other for visibility, humanitarian cinema shaped visual advocacy, grounded in the idea that ‘seeing is believing’. Exploring the fragmented audiovisual archives, as well as magazines and promotional material, this paper explores the testimonial function of humanitarian films in the 1920s. It first shows that the immediacy of the cinema technology increased the immersive and affective experience of the viewers by using forensic evidence and images of the body in pain. It then analyses how these films compelled audiences to witness suffering and act through persuasion, suggestion, and emotions. Finally, it inquires into the use of eyewitness images and first-hand accounts during the screenings, to show how these movies operated within larger regimes of visibility, while making claims on behalf of distant beneficiaries.