Humanitarianism is at once a broad dedication to and belief in the fundamental value of human life. Though lacking an agreed definition, this central ethics of humanitarianism crosses cultures and history. Humanitarianism is also a more specific reference to the (international/Western) crisis response that has evolved from the founding of the Red Cross and the first Geneva Convention over 150 years ago. As a systemic response to crisis, humanitarianism involves addressing the needs of people affected by conflict, natural disaster, epidemic and famine. In these crises, the focus of humanitarianism is, to varying degrees, placed upon basic or immediate needs of assistance and protection, as distinct from (though increasingly linked to) work more directly aimed at development, peace building, rule of law, etc.

Humanitarian workers hugging after being released

Photo: Albert González Farran/UNAMID

Key references

Bilingual (French and English) international review of debate and research on humanitarian action, aiming to reflect on its practices and its evolution

Report outlining humanitarian needs over the past three years, the resources made available to address these needs, the current size and structure of the humanitarian system, as well as an assessment of the system’s performance

Publication series aimed at challenging the values, assumptions, and incentives that underpin the humanitarian sector

Report aiming to create a more strategic debate on how to build a humanitarian sector that deploys on time, stays on the ground, and delivers better in conflict

Publication on the humanitarian landscape, current trends, and barriers to change for modern humanitarianism

External blogs

Blog aimed at sparking critical discussion on current issues affecting humanitarian action

Blog on humanitarian action, humanitarian principles, localization, protracted conflict, and technology in humanitarian action

Blog seeking to transform aid to Africa into egalitarian and respectful relationships that challenge unequal power relations, paternalism, and victimization

Blog on history and humanitarianism, as well as the uses of history for humanitarian practice and policy

What is humanitarian action to you?

PHAP certifications

Understanding what humanitarianism as a concept refers to, as well as the main challenges and criticisms faced by humanitarian actors, is covered by the Understanding the Humanitarian Ecosystem (UHE) certification (competency statements 1.1, 4.1, and 4.2).

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