Humanitarian Action and Peace Operations
By: Alischa Kugel
Humanitarian actors and peace operations struggle to keep pace with the growing demands of larger and protracted humanitarian crises, necessitating greater coherence and engagement. Necessary gains in protection, prevention, resilience building and risk reduction will not be met without comprehensive, flexible and coordinated approaches. Yet, humanitarian actors and peace operations co-exist in an uneasy relationship – working toward shared objectives with at times conflicting approaches. This brief looks at challenges and opportunities for cooperation between United Nations peace operations and humanitarian actors and provides suggestions on how to maximize collective efforts for consolidating peace and security.
Humanitarian action is exclusively based on need and driven by a strict adherence to the principle of neutrality. Peace operations, however, are political at heart and may at times have to take action against groups that threaten a peace process. As a result, the greatest obstacle to closer cooperation is the concern of humanitarians that their perceived association with the political objectives of a peace operation would undermine their neutrality, thus jeopardizing access to those in need.
Never since the end of the Second World War have there been more people in need of assistance – 125 million, according to UN estimates. Involuntary displacement is a major factor. Last year, the number of forcibly displaced worldwide surpassed 65 million.1 Though natural disasters caused twice as many new displacements as war in 2015, violent conflict remains the main driver of forced migration.2 Today’s conflicts are increasingly complex and intractable, presenting new, longterm challenges to humanitarian and peace and security actors alike. Especially worrying is the fact that both state and non-state actors commonly disregard international humanitarian law, as witnessed by the blocking of aid convoys, the bombing of medical facilities, or the killing and kidnapping of aid workers.
Against this background, the UN system has attempted to adapt its toolbox. Last year, the UN undertook two major reviews on the state of peace operations and the peacebuilding architecture. In May 2016, the UN convened the first World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) on how to effectively respond to major humanitarian challenges. One unifying theme of these initiatives is the call for a coherent and comprehensive approach through closer cooperation of peace and security, development and humanitarian actors.