Interview with Jérémie Labbé on the Future of Humanitarianism

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from International Peace Institute
Published on 15 Feb 2013 View Original

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“This modern humanitarian system is evolving towards something of a global welfare system,” said Jérémie Labbé, Senior Policy Analyst in charge of IPI’s Humanitarian Affairs program, in this interview. He said the system has “growing ambitions to be on all fronts: on the front of complex emergencies and conflicts; on the front of sudden onset natural disasters like earthquakes or floods; and also on the front of situations in which the population finds themselves in chronic vulnerability, relapsing into a food crisis every second year, like in the Sahel or Somalia.”

Mr. Labbé had just returned from a conference in Nairobi organized by Médecins Sans Frontières, where participants grappled with a challenging question: is the system moving from principled humanitarianism to a more context specific, pragmatic humanitarianism?

“I think that pragmatism is indeed the order of the day,” he said. “Does it mean that we have to completely relinquish principles? Certainly not. I think that humanitarian actors have to choose whether they want to abide by a very principled form of humanitarianism that has some limitations, or if they want to take a different posture that opens some new opportunities. The key is indeed to have certain degree of flexibility or pragmatism in the action.”

Mr. Labbé also discussed the principles of humanitarian action as they are being applied in an ever-changing humanitarian landscape, such as the situation in Syria, and the tensions surrounding humanitarian aid which is viewed by some as a purely Western undertaking.

The interview was conducted by Marie O’Reilly, Associate Editor at the International Peace Institute.

Originally published in the Global Observatory