Humanitarian Issues: Charting the future of humanitarian aid research

28 December, 2011
9 July 2011: Somali woman and children walk through a dust storm to their tent in Dagahaley refugee camp, north-eastern Kenya. Land degradation and water shortages are putting growing pressure on relief operations. CREDIT: UNICEF/ Kate Holt
9 July 2011: Somali woman and children walk through a dust storm to their tent in Dagahaley refugee camp, north-eastern Kenya. Land degradation and water shortages are putting growing pressure on relief operations. CREDIT: UNICEF/ Kate Holt

More than sixty leading experts called for a global ramp-up of research efforts to tackle the rising challenges facing humanitarian workers, at an inaugural Policy and Research Conference in New York.

Participants warned that climate change, rising populations, environmental degradation, water shortages, and spiraling food prices were putting growing pressure on humanitarian relief operations – and required a concerted effort by research networks to come up with more innovative solutions.

The December 12-13 conference, entitled “Risk, Adaptation and Innovation in Humanitarian Action”, was organised by OCHA, and featured experts from academic institutions, governments, inter-governmental bodies, think tanks, NGOs and UN practitioners.

Major research priorities included finding better ways to gather timely and relevant information, and analysis for strategic decision making, and a deeper look at how the humanitarian system integrates risk-reduction and resilience building into its work.

Participants also warned that the humanitarian system remains too risk averse - lacking a culture that stimulates innovation. Humanitarians tended to ignore failure rather admit it and learn from it, they said.

The experts called for OCHA and the humanitarian system to build deeper and more strategic relationships with emerging actors from the Global South, such as national NGOs, and to find ways to listen to their needs and concerns more attentively.

OCHA committed to bring in new partners and deepen its collaboration with the research community over the course of 2012.