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Open Access (free)
The Politics of Information and Analysis in Food Security Crises
Daniel Maxwell and Peter Hailey

Famine means destitution, increased severe malnutrition, disease, excess death and the breakdown of institutions and social norms. Politically, it means a failure of governance – a failure to provide the most basic of protections. Because of both its human and political meanings, ‘famine’ can be a shocking term. This is turn makes the analysis – and especially declaration – of famine a very sensitive subject. This paper synthesises the findings from six case studies of the analysis of extreme food insecurity and famine to identify the political constraints to data collection and analysis, the ways in which these are manifested, and emergent good practice to manage these influences. The politics of information and analysis are the most fraught where technical capacity and data quality are the weakest. Politics will not be eradicated from analysis but can and must be better managed.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Sean Healy and Victoria Russell

The search and rescue of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on the Mediterranean has become a site of major political contestation in Europe, on the seas, in parliaments and government offices and in online public opinion. This article summarises one particular set of controversies, namely, false claims that the non-government organisations conducting such search and rescue operations are actively ‘colluding’ with people smugglers to ferry people into Europe. In spring and summer 2017, these claims of ‘collusion’ emerged from state agencies and from anti-immigration groups, became viral on social media platforms and rapidly moved into mainstream media coverage, criminal investigations by prosecutors and the speech and laws of politicians across the continent. These claims were in turn connected to far-right conspiracy theories about ‘flooding’ Europe with ‘invaders’. By looking at the experience of one particular ship, the MV Aquarius, run in partnership by MSF and SOS Méditerranée, the authors detail the risks that humanitarian organisations now face from such types of disinformation campaign. If humanitarian organisations do not prepare themselves against this risk, they will find themselves in a world turned upside-down, in which their efforts to help people in distress become evidence of criminal activity.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
A Belated but Welcome Theory of Change on Mental Health and Development
Laura Davidson

This article critiques the new Theory of Change (ToC) on mental health published by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in the last fortnight of its existence. The ToC offers development actors a framework for better support of beneficiaries with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities – given disappointingly scant attention by the sector to date. Yet, 70 per cent of mental disorders occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), with a 22 per cent prevalence in fragile and conflict-affected states. Globally, mental ill-health is estimated to affect almost one billion people. Its intersectionality with poverty and physical health has been brought into sharp focus by the current COVID-19 pandemic which has magnified the underlying social and environmental stressors of mental health. DfID’s ToC provides a conceptual framework for improving mental health globally, with an overarching vision of the full and equal exercise of all human rights by those affected by mental health conditions and psychosocial disability. The framework incorporates a rights-based approach with user-participation embedded in five critical change pathways to outcomes. The article analyses the ToC, provides an overview, highlights gaps and comments upon how DfID might have improved clarity for development actors seeking to realise its vision.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Humanity and Solidarity
Tanja R. Müller and Róisín Read
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Middle-Aged Syrian Women’s Contributions to Family Livelihoods during Protracted Displacement in Jordan
Dina Sidhva, Ann-Christin Zuntz, Ruba al Akash, Ayat Nashwan, and Areej Al-Majali

This article explores the intersections of generational and gender dynamics with humanitarian governance in Jordan that cause shifts in the division of labour within displaced families. Drawing on life history interviews and focus group discussions with seventeen Syrian women in Jordan in spring 2019, we explore the monetary and non-monetary contributions of middle-aged females to the livelihoods of refugee households. Older women’s paid and unpaid labour holds together dispersed families whose fathers have been killed or incapacitated, or remain in Syria or in the Gulf. In doing so, many women draw on their pre-war experience of living with – or rather apart from – migrant husbands. Increased economic and social responsibilities coincide with a phase in our interviewees’ lifecycle in which they traditionally acquire greater authority as elders, especially as mothers-in-law. While power inequalities between older and younger Syrian women are not new, they have been exacerbated by the loss of resources in displacement. Our insights offer a counterpoint to humanitarian attempts at increasing refugees’ ‘self-reliance’ through small-scale entrepreneurship. For now, culturally appropriate and practically feasible jobs for middle-aged women are found in their living rooms. Supportive humanitarian action should allow them to upscale their businesses and address power dynamics within families.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Brendan T. Lawson

Over the past 25 years, the humanitarian sector has become increasingly dominated by numbers. This has been reflected in the growth of academic work that explores this relationship between humanitarianism and quantification. The most recent contribution to this literature is Joël Glasman’s Humanitarianism and the Quantification of Humanitarian Needs. Through his empirical and theoretical contributions, Glasman draws our attention to the different ways that academics approach this topic. These four strands structure the literature review: knowledge – the technical difficulties in quantifying phenomena; governance – how numbers help humanitarian organisations manage the sector; effects – the impact that quantification has had on the sector as a whole; meaning – the importance of rhetoric, discourse, representation and communication when it comes to understanding the quantitative. As part of the review, the essay also identifies how academics can better engage with each of the four strands.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Arjun Claire

Evidence-based advocacy is all the rage in humanitarian action. It is premised on rational thinking, which posits that factual evidence can limit subjective bias in humanitarians’ call for change. Data has come to be a cornerstone of this turn towards reason, aggregating human stories in numbers and percentages, which when reaching an elusive threshold is expected to persuade decision-makers to act. This article claims that the prominence of data and facts comes at the cost of understanding people’s concerns and aspirations, and reveals an increasingly emotions-scarce and morally depleted humanitarian enterprise. Examining Médecins Sans Frontières concept of témoignage, the article argues that the pull between reason and emotion crystallises a more profound tension between the need for a professional and technical humanitarianism as opposed to a political and morally charged one. It concludes that the prism of solidarity can help reinvigorate humanitarian advocacy helping reconcile reason with emotion, combining practices of advocacy with those of activism, in turn creating the foundations of a more solidarist humanitarianism.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Abstract only
Lorena De Vita

In the second half of the 1950s, Bonn refused to establish official diplomatic relations with Israel – a seeming contradiction of its initial stance on the Jewish state. Worse still, in December 1959 an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic attacks orchestrated by Stasi agents took place across the Federal Republic, reigniting deep anti-German feelings among the global public and damaging West Germany’s public image (Ansehen) – right on the eve of the very first personal encounter between Chancellor Adenauer and David Ben Gurion. Yet while the option of diplomatic relations with Israel faded, covert cooperation in the fields of security and commerce intensified. Offering a fresh take on the issue, the chapter shows how the FRG managed to use its rivalry against the GDR to its own advantage – both to justify not establishing formal diplomatic relations with Israel as well as to deflect Arab suspicion regarding the actual degree and realms of cooperation between the Federal Republic and the State of Israel.

in Israelpolitik
Abstract only
German–Israeli relations between past and future
Lorena De Vita

The book closes with an epilogue that summarises the argument of the book and outlines the implications for our understanding of the Cold War and of the special relationship between Germany and Israel. It argues that the German–German Cold War was, from the start, deeply interlinked with the Arab–Israeli conflict, and that this overlap was far more complex, and had much wider repercussions, than is generally acknowledged. The epilogue also reflects on questions that transcend the content of the individual chapters, reflecting on post-genocidal international reconciliation and the weight of the past in international politics.

in Israelpolitik
Abstract only
Lorena De Vita

Chapter 3 spells out the strategies put in place in each Germany to wage their Cold War in the Middle East. The chapter examines the intensifying East German efforts to drive a wedge between West Germany and its Arab partners; to use the question of the FRG’s readiness to pay reparations to Israel to galvanise the German population against the Luxembourg Agreement; and to resist Israeli demands that East Germany, too, pay reparations to the Jewish state. Special attention is also paid to two West German political manoeuvres: the efforts to placate Arab concerns on the economic and military strength of the State of Israel following the signing of the Luxembourg Agreement, and the use of the agreement as a tool to bolster West Germany’s claim to international legitimacy. The chapter challenges the view that Arab–Israeli and Cold War rivalries started intertwining following the 1955 arms deal between Nasser’s Egypt and Communist Czechoslovakia. In fact, as this and the previous chapter show, by the early 1950s the Arab–Israeli conflict and the German–German Cold War were already firmly entangled.

in Israelpolitik