International Relations

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A Focus on Community Engagement
Frédéric Le Marcis, Luisa Enria, Sharon Abramowitz, Almudena-Mari Saez, and Sylvain Landry B. Faye

Community engagement is commonly regarded as a crucial entry point for gaining access and securing trust during humanitarian emergencies. In this article, we present three case studies of community engagement encounters during the West African Ebola outbreak. They represent strategies commonly implemented by the humanitarian response to the epidemic: communication through comités de veille villageois in Guinea, engagement with NGO-affiliated community leadership structures in Liberia and indirect mediation to chiefs in Sierra Leone. These case studies are based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out before, during and after the outbreak by five anthropologists involved in the response to Ebola in diverse capacities. Our goal is to represent and conceptualise the Ebola response as a dynamic interaction between a response apparatus, local populations and intermediaries, with uncertain outcomes that were negotiated over time and in response to changing conditions. Our findings show that community engagement tactics that are based on fixed notions of legitimacy are unable to respond to the fluidity of community response environments during emergencies.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Interpreting Violence on Healthcare in the Early Stage of the South Sudanese Civil War
Xavier Crombé and Joanna Kuper

This article seeks to document and analyse violence affecting the provision of healthcare by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and its intended beneficiaries in the early stage of the current civil war in South Sudan. Most NGO accounts and quantitative studies of violent attacks on healthcare tend to limit interpretation of their prime motives to the violation of international norms and deprivation of access to health services. Instead, we provide a detailed narrative, which contextualises violent incidents affecting healthcare, with regard for the dynamics of conflict in South Sudan as well as MSF’s operational decisions, and which combines and contrasts institutional and academic sources with direct testimonies from local MSF personnel and other residents. This approach offers greater insight not only into the circumstances and logics of violence but also into the concrete ways in which healthcare practices adapt in the face of attacks and how these may reveal and put to the test the reciprocal expectations binding international and local health practitioners in crisis situations.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
José Luís Fiori

This article explores the significance to the inter-state capitalist system of the new US national security strategy, as defined by the Donald Trump administration on 17 December 2017. By looking beyond the inconsistencies and idiosyncrasies of President Trump, we see that this strategy represents a break, not only with the strategies of recent US administrations but also with a longer tradition in US foreign policy. This article proposes that the supposed crisis of ‘liberal order’ is a direct and inevitable result of the expansion and success of the inter-state capitalist system. To explain the strategy of the US in this scenario, the article adopts an unorthodox approach, analysing the myth of the Tower of Babel.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
From the Global to the Local
Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh

This article explores the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees’ (UNRWA) responses to the US Government’s decision to dramatically cut its financial contributions to the Agency in 2018. Acknowledging the complexities of the fast-moving changes and dilemmas faced by UNRWA and Palestinian refugees, this article focuses specifically on the events that unfolded in the first six months of 2018. Through a multiscalar analysis, I start by situating UNRWA’s key responses as they have played out on the international stage through a high-profile fundraising campaign (#DignityIsPriceless). I then develop a close reading of three regional-level UNRWA circulars disseminated to UNRWA staff pertaining to the provision of maternal and neonatal health services, and to Palestinian UNRWA staff members’ employment and pension rights. Against the backdrop of the impact of UNRWA’s responses across the region, I subsequently examine how these operational changes have been experienced and conceptualised by Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, noting that those experiences must be analysed within the broader context of protracted displacement, enforced immobility and overlapping displacement.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Mel Bunce

When people look online for information about humanitarian crises, they increasingly encounter media content that blurs the line between reality and fiction. This includes everything from rumour and exaggeration to partisan journalism and completely invented stories designed to look like real news (so-called ‘fake news’). This article shows that disinformation is causing real and serious harm to those affected by humanitarian emergencies; it can undermine the ability of humanitarian workers to provide relief; and it has exacerbated conflict and violence. Disinformation is also making it harder for journalists to report on the humanitarian sector, and hold the powerful to account, because it undermines audience trust in information more generally. The article concludes by considering interventions that could address the challenges of disinformation. It argues for more support of quality journalism about humanitarian crises, as well as media literacy training. Finally, it is crucial that aid agencies and news outlets commit to accuracy and fact checking in their reporting and campaigning.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
David Rieff

The political landscape in which the humanitarian movement took current form has changed radically. If humanitarian certainties have been upended, it is not in Sri Lanka, or even Syria or Afghanistan, but in the NGO response to the migration crisis in Greece and in the Mediterranean. However overstated, the claim of neutrality has always played an important role in establishing the legitimacy humanitarian action has enjoyed in Europe. But it is no longer possible, if it ever was, for relief workers to separate their ethical commitment to helping people in need from their political convictions, including about what the EU should stand for.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Editor’s Introduction
Juliano Fiori
Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Open Access (free)
Governing Precarity through Adaptive Design
Mark Duffield

This paper provides a critical analysis of post-humanitarianism with reference to adaptive design. At a time when precarity has become a global phenomenon, the design principle has sidelined the need for, or even the possibility of, political change. Rather than working to eliminate precarity, post-humanitarianism is implicated in its reproduction and governance. Central here is a historic change in how the human condition is understood. The rational Homo economicus of modernism has been replaced by progressive neoliberalism’s cognitively challenged and necessarily ignorant Homo inscius. Solidarity with the vulnerable has given way to conditional empathy. Rather than structural outcomes to be protected against, not only are humanitarian crises now seen as unavoidable, they have become positively developmental. Post-humanitarianism no longer provides material assistance – its aim is to change the behaviour of the precariat in order to optimise its social reproduction. Together with the construction of logistical mega-corridors, this process is part of late-capitalism’s incorporation of the vast informal economies of the global South. Building on progressive neoliberalism’s antipathy towards formal structures and professional standards, through a combination of behavioural economics, cognitive manipulation and smart technology, post-humanitarianism is actively involved in the elimination of the very power to resist.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
An Interview with Caroline Abu Sa’Da, General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE Suisse
Juliano Fiori

In this interview, Caroline Abu Sa’Da, General Director of SOS MEDITERRANEE Suisse, discusses search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, in particular those conducted by her organisation. She explains that as a European citizen movement, SOS MEDITERRANEE has adopted a hybrid and politicised approach, which represents a new kind of humanitarian engagement. And she reflects on the challenges of protecting and supporting those crossing the Mediterranean.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Olivia Umurerwa Rutazibwa

This paper questions the extent to which the (arguable) end of the liberal humanitarian order is something to be mourned. Suggesting that current laments for the decline of humanitarianism reflect a Eurocentric worldview, it calls for a fundamental revision of the assumptions informing humanitarian scholarship. Decoloniality and anti-colonialism should be taken seriously so as to not reproduce the same by a different name after the end of the liberal order.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs