Negotiating Humanitarian Access: How Far to Compromise to Deliver Aid
In many crisis situations, aid agencies are only able to provide assistance through negotiations with a variety of actors—armed groups, health authorities, community leaders—each with its own vested interests. Sometimes compromising basic principles is the price paid for being able to act. Humanitarian negotiations are life-and-death issues for people in need, but they also raise troubling political and ethical dilemmas for the organizations that are engaged in them.
On January 26, the Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hosted a discussion on the compromises and negotiations the humanitarian aid community must contend with during crisis situations. Michael Neuman, research director with the Centre de Réflexion sur l’Action et les Savoirs Humanitaries at MSF, discussed the organization’s new book, Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed: The MSF Experience (Columbia University Press, 2012). He was joined by panelists William Garvelink, senior adviser, U.S. Leadership in Development at the Center for Strategic International Studies; Markus Geisser, deputy head of regional delegation for the International Committee for the Red Cross; and Rabih Torbay, vice president for international operations at International Medical Corps. Senior Fellow Elizabeth Ferris, co-director of the Project on Internal Displacement, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
After the program, panelists took audience questions.
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"You have to play the long game. It’s fine to add money, but when the commitment is volatile and your funding goes up and down constantly, you can end up creating more harm than good."
"We have been in Central America for a long time. It’s not just money that has made us effective in the region — there is a lot of hard-earned experience, trial and error, and institution building that is slowly reaping results. The worst thing that could happen now is to go back to zero."