Editorial: The future of humanitarian action

31 December 2011 Vincent Bernard

What evolution and underlying trends influence the future of humanitarian action and its ability to respond to the crises of tomorrow? Since the end of the Cold War, humanitarian activity has grown exponentially to the point that, given the development of such organizations in number, weight, and professionalization, it is now possible to speak of a 'humanitarian sector' or an 'industry'. Polymorphic and complex, this sector is composed of different systems or 'networks of networks' with no central governance. We see three main components to this sector today: non-governmental organizations of extremely diverse size and missions, the United Nations humanitarian agencies, and finally, the components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The largest of these organizations, whose headquarters are all in the Western world, manage large and constantly increasing budgets, and exercise an influence that, while fluid, is nonetheless real and one of a truly international civil society.

Several factors today seem to demonstrate profound changes in the humanitarian sector. These are factors related first to the development of crises and vulnerabilities and the risks that are emerging, second to the environment around humanitarian action and the contemporary challenges to compliance with humanitarian principles, law, and access to victims, and third to new methods and changes in the composition of the sector itself.

In this edition, the Review gives the floor to representatives of a number of humanitarian organizations and research centres to discuss each of these three aspects of change that we think are critical to the future of humanitarian action.

About the author

Vincent Bernard

Vincent Bernard

Vincent BERNARD is editor in chief of the International Review of the Red Cross, a leading academic journal on humanitarian law, policy and action published by the ICRC and Cambridge University Press. He is also the head of the Law and Policy Forum, which leads ICRC’s engagement with expert audiences interested in teaching, researching and debating international humanitarian law (IHL). The unit runs the Humanitarium conference center in Geneva, the new Humanitarian Law and Policy blog, the IHL online training center etc. Vincent joined the ICRC in 1998 and worked in the field for 6 years in Dakar, Nairobi and Jerusalem. As head of the ICRC’s field communication set-up from 2006 to 2010 he travelled and worked in most of ICRC’s operational contexts. Prior to joining the organization, Vincent studied political science, law and international relations at the Political Science Institute and Law Faculty in Strasburg, The King’s College, London and the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, and taught law at the University of Marmara in Istanbul.