Despite its long history, plague has not been an internationally significant disease since the mid-twentieth century, and it has attracted minimal modern critical attention. Strategies for treating plague are generally outdated and of limited effectiveness. However, plague remains endemic to a few developing nations, most prominently Madagascar. The outbreak of a major plague epidemic across several Madagascan urban areas in 2017 has sparked a wider discourse about the necessity of improving global preparedness for a potential future plague pandemic. Beyond updating treatment modalities, a key aspect of improving preparedness for such a pandemic involves a process of sophisticated review of historical public health responses to plague epidemics. As part of this process, this article outlines and compares public health responses to three separate epidemics from the early modern era onwards: Marseille in 1720–22, San Francisco in 1900–04 and Madagascar in 2017. Based on this process, it identifies three key themes common to successful responses: (1) clear, effective and minimally bureaucratic public health protocols; (2) an emphasis on combating plague denialism by gaining the trust and cooperation of the affected population; and (3) the long-term suppression of plague through the minimisation of contact between humans and infected small mammals.
This roundtable was convened on 5 July 2022 and built on five years of collaborative work in Cambodia and ongoing collaborations within the Centre de Reflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaires (CRASH) at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) between Bertrand Taithe, Mickaël le Paih and Fabrice Weissman. The central question raised in this discussion relates to two profoundly intermeshed issues for humanitarian practitioners and organisations: the use of history for humanitarian organisations, and the need for them to preserve and maintain archives.
This article explores some of the challenges, learnings, reflections and opportunities involved in collaborating with grassroots artist collectives in conflict-affected places in academic settings. Using as a case study the collaborative production of the animated short film ‘Colombia’s Broken Peace’, as part of a wider international research project, I reflect on our experiences in co-producing this piece by drawing out lessons that might be relevant for others interested in undertaking similar inter-disciplinary work. In doing so, I aim to re-frame notions of ‘impact’ and ‘capacity building’ in conflict research to a more complex picture of mutual learning and knowledge exchange.
International humanitarian actors, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies, often focus on gender norm change when conducting gender analysis among refugees and internally displaced persons. Dominant humanitarian narratives about gender in research reports, assessments and technical guidance reveal an underlying belief that displacement is causative – an external, intervening force. In such analysis, colonial and neoliberal ideologies may influence how refugees’ lives are represented, resulting in depictions of lack of modernity, tradition and culture as overarching (yet ill-defined) forces, and women and girls as vulnerable by default. Such analysis is frequently ahistorical, presented without analysis of the pre-displacement situation. This paper explores and challenges humanitarian narratives about gender norm change during displacement. It is based on feminist ethnographic research in Jordan with Syrian women and men as well as interviews with humanitarian workers. The paper demonstrates that assumptions about lack of empowerment of Syrian women and men may be misguided, identifying both subtle and more overt forms of Syrian women’s and men’s resistance’ to expected norms. It urges humanitarian actors to use ‘resistance’ as an alternative to analysing ‘change’, recognise heterogeneity within populations, resist ‘rapid’ data collection, challenge paternalistic and colonial stereotypes, and reflect complexity in analysis.
Internal forced displacement is a current social problem in Colombia. Although this phenomenon has been studied extensively, the purpose of this article is to analyse the administration of this crisis under the grille interprétative of humanitarian government during the presidential term of Juan Manuel Santos (2010–18). My argument is that humanitarian government functions as a biopolitical assembly that amalgamates two elements: resilience – a fundamental element of psychosocial attention to the displaced – and the language of compassion used publicly by President Santos. Finally, I will try to underline that this logic operates as a condition of possibility to normalise this phenomenon and hide the functioning of the violence that unequally distributes the compassion between lives considered valuable and those whose lives and problems simply appear to be not valuable at all.
In South Sudan, child marriage is often positioned as a cultural practice tied to conflict and displacement as well as gender norms affirming that girls should marry. Based on findings of a multi-sectoral gender assessment conducted by Save the Children in Rumbek, Torit, Malualkon, Bor and Kapoeta, our paper draws attention to multiple, connected drivers of child marriage. Drawing specifically on findings related to child marriage, we suggest the need to understand child marriage in the context of cycles of poverty and inter-clan fighting. In many communities, cattle form the basis for the ‘bride price’, driving cattle raiding, due to pressure on males to marry. The ability to pay the bride price may be an indicator of manhood in some pastoralist communities of South Sudan. We suggest that while humanitarian interventions tend to fixate on empowering girls or addressing gender norms girls face, less attention is placed on the ‘demand side’ of child marriage – on the gender norms pushing boys and men to marry girls. Our paper emphasises the importance of tackling norms from both the perspective of girls as well as boys and men within a broader context of improving livelihoods in South Sudan.
Within bilateral and multilateral funding circles, there has been a strong and growing emphasis on the importance of understanding and responding to gender inequalities in humanitarian settings. However, given the often-short funding cycles, among other operational challenges, there is limited scope to incorporate interventions that address the root causes and social norms underpinning gender inequalities, or other gender transformative interventions. In the context of the decade-long crisis in the Lake Chad Basin, fuelled by incursions from non-state armed groups (NSAGs), including Boko Haram, and the resultant protracted and chronic humanitarian crisis, this article examines Save the Children’s child nutrition programmes in northeast Nigeria. Taking an ethnographic approach focused on volunteer-driven peer support groups (mother-to-mother and father-to-father) that aim to increase knowledge on best practices for infant and child nutrition, we investigate whether these activities are transforming societal gender norms. While evidence shows an improved understanding and awareness of gender-positive roles by both men and women, restrictive gender norms remain prevalent, including among lead volunteers. We suggest the possibility of longer term shifts in power dynamics in the home and society at large as well as suggest how humanitarian response can better integrate gender transformative programming.
In the absence of a normative framework, the concept of humanitarian corridors lacks a consistent definition and is highly vulnerable to political interpretation. The notion underwent multiple semantic shifts, from referring to a right of passage in situations of armed conflict, to an appeal to facilitated access in the face of bordure closures or bureaucratic constraints. The diverse range of situations in reference to which the terms ‘humanitarian corridor’, ‘relief corridor’ or ‘access corridor’ are used, often interchangeably, is matched only by the diverse range of actors that use them. Calls for their opening have become so common that corridors seem increasingly considered a relevant modality of humanitarian action despite much ambiguity around what they are expected to achieve, how much protection they offer, and how they are likely to affect the overall dynamic of conflicts. Meant to allow the unobstructed deployment of humanitarian aid and/or the evacuation of civilians, humanitarian corridors are by definition temporary and limited in geographical scope. As such, they are a timid assertion of the principle of free access to victims, prone to manipulation by belligerents or third parties to serve war strategies or to project an image of civility. Looking at the wide array of its application in history, the author puts the use of the concept into perspective, drawing on a variety of examples to illustrate how both the idea and its implementation have been problematic. A few operational recommendations are then derived from this analysis for humanitarian practitioners to consider and adapt in light of their particular context.
This interview hopes to build on and contribute to research on humanitarian memoirs by talking to two humanitarians who have written memoirs: Professor Tony Redmond OBE and Gareth Owen OBE. Tony Redmond’s book Frontline: Saving Lives in War, Disaster and Disease was published in 2021 by HarperNorth and Gareth Owen’s book When the Music’s Over: Intervention, Aid and Somalia will be published in June 2022 by Repeater Books. The interview was conducted by Róisín Read.