Towards more inclusive, effective and impartial humanitarian action

Briefing/policy papers - Written by Veronique Barbelet, Oliver Lough, Sarah Njeri

Key messages

Failing to include people who are marginalised and discriminated against is not a failure of inclusion but a failure of humanitarian action. Humanitarian actors’ commitment to impartiality must go beyond non-discrimination: it requires proactive and intentional inclusion that seeks to respond to the most urgent cases.

Evidence shows that humanitarian responses often fail to effectively assist and protect the most urgent cases, which can unwittingly exacerbate existing marginalisation and discrimination. Such failures may be seen as an unintended consequence of good intentions. In reality, they are often the result of a lack of political will from operational agencies to engage and take into account harmful norms and power dynamics before and during crises.

Inclusion is often misunderstood conceptually and operationally by mainstream humanitarian actors. A clearer policy framework is needed that positions inclusion as a central element of principled humanitarian action, identifying clear roles and responsibilities, and linking inclusion to existing policies on protection, accountability to affected people, participation and localisation.

Currently, operational organisations and donors prioritise scale (reaching many people in need) over severity (those most in need) or quality (most relevant response). Operational actors and donors need to refocus on quality, equity and impartiality as measures of success.

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