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SWP-CPN Pilot Study on Humanitarian Assistance

In recent years the nature of emergencies have changed so that the vast majority of humanitarian crises are now acknowledged to be conflict related. These emergencies are often described as 'complex' emergencies. Recognising the need to pre-empt the social, political and economic forces that culminate in conflict, the EU commissioned SWP in January 1997 to manage its new initiative the Conflict Prevention Network (CPN). This pilot project brings together a pool of expertise comprised of academic institutions, NGOs and independent experts to provide analytical and operational input to the EU system.

It is now realised that humanitarian assistance is almost never free from a whole range of social, political, economic and security implications which go far beyond the intended humanitarian impact.
Aware of the problems faced by the humanitarian aid community, ECHO is seeking to understand if and how principles, policies, and practices can be adapted to improve adherence to humanitarian principles through the provision of humanitarian assistance. SWP-CPN will carry out a pilot assessment study on humanitarian assistance also drawing on the experience of one complex emergency, namely, Sudan. The study will run from May-October 1998 with the final report being completed by November 1998.

Study aims and objectives

The research which will be conducted through qualitative analysis goes beyond the 'project evaluation stage' to examine the wider political, social, and economic impact of humanitarian assistance. At a practical level, the study will seek to recommend ways in which ECHO and its operational partners could refine the type and process of aid delivery, with a view to minimising the 'negative' impact of humanitarian assistance and proactively planning for the political, so far "unintentional" side-effects. The findings should serve as a platform for debate about the possible need for changes in policies and practices in other complex political emergencies.

Issues to be studied

The following eight hypotheses address some specific criticisms and/or unintentional side-effects with regard to delivery of humanitarian assistance, and will be the study's basis for analysis.
Humanitarian assistance:
* creates economic and political dependency, thus blocking potential future development, rehabilitation, and reconstruction.
* fuels the war economy through a spin-off effect.
* fuels active war activities and severely alters a conflict.
* causes population movements.
* severely alters a country's political and social structures and grants legitimacy.
* undermines local capacities.
* unintentionally allows and possibly encourages human rights abuses.
* is provided within a policy vacuum which allows for (and is based on) political action and/or inaction of a variety of international actors. As such, it potentially assumes a legitimising aspect.

A specific series of questions have been formulated to address each hypothesis - the question of proportionality is important.

Methodology and work plan

The study will be conducted in three stages: an initial literature review on humanitarian assistance; expert interviews (with field practitioners and other experts) on humanitarian assistance and specifically Sudan and/or an empirical case study on Sudan; and finally a policy assessment paper integrating the conclusions of a workshop on July 8th 1998 with the findings of the papers and workshops. Depending on its success, this study may be followed up with other more detailed studies.

For further information please contact: SWP-CPN, Zeller Weg 27, 82067 Ebenhausen, Germany. Tel: 49 81 7870380, Fax: 49 81 7870406, e-mail:

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Reference this page

SWP-CPN Pilot Study on Humanitarian Assistance. Field Exchange 4, June 1998. p17.



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