This year, the World Disasters Report tackles head on the complex and sometimes challenging relationship between local and international actors responding to crises.
Technology is transforming the ability of people and communities to plan for emergencies and to organize their own responses. Although this is true of all technologies, the most significant technological shift has been the rise of digital communications. Mobile phones in particular have seen extraordinary growth. The stats are astonishing:
The current crisis in Yemen is a catastrophic example of the impact on affected communities when humanitarian actors are prevented from delivering assistance and protection, by the warring parties. People are struggling to get basic services across the country amid severe shortages of food, electricity and fuel. With the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross, international aid agencies are being constantly denied access, and the humanitarian response is being largely negotiated by local responders.
The increasingly complex nature of armed conflict has demanded international aid agencies rethink how they provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities. Aid worker casualties have tripled since 2002, reaching over 100 deaths a year. The worst year on record was 2013 with 474 aid workers injured or killed by major attacks. In 2014, there were fewer incidents overall, 190 incidents involving 328 victims, but this reflects a reduced or reconfigured operational presence for international agencies in some settings including, South Sudan and Syria, rather than more secure settings. (AWSD, 2015)
The nature of humanitarian assistance has changed dramatically since the cold war. It has gone through exponential growth, becoming an industry valued at nearly US$20 billion. This growth of investment in crises response and development has facilitated increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for crises prevention and mitigation, and rapid response.
In an everyday setting, international visitors, organizations, or donors must respect the laws of the state they are entering. In a disaster or crises setting though, where a state is overwhelmed and requires immediate assistance in the form of finance, resources and expertise, everyday laws governing how foreign entities can operate can be inadequate or hinder swift response.
The international humanitarian community agrees that building and strengthening the capacity of national and local actors is critical to improving disaster risk management. Each year, millions of dollars are invested by international donor agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) in initiatives to build capacity but surprisingly little is known about the effectiveness or the long-term impact of this investment.