Our new research fellow Kristina Roepstorff discusses the problem of the shrinking humanitarian space in Europe. Besides the well-known obstacles to civil search and rescue operations, the humanitarian space is also affected by various other controversial measures in EU countries.
Germany has positioned itself as the second largest donor country, which is of extremely great value in times of a rapidly growing number of people in need. However, Germany’s financial engagement and its policy and strategy capacities have not grown at the same pace. Staffing as well as structural issues prevent Germany to fulfill its potential as a leading humanitarian actor.
Local actors can follow the humanitarian principles, but in certain contexts this poses substantial challenges for them. In order to meet these challenges, local actors need greater institutional and financial power and a broad localisation approach is needed.
The projected funding increases for local actors as part of the Grand Bargain might be an opportunity: Those in greatest need may more effectively receive the help they urgently require. But who is a local actor? Do they face greater challenges as international agencies in providing impartial and neutral assistance? Is the much discussed issue of local or international actors always the right one, or is it often more important to look at actors abilities?
Providing assistance in an impartial way poses major challenges for aid agencies in particular conflict settings. However, there are ways to address these. For example, humanitarian actors can openly discuss compromise options and adopt ethical risk management systems.
Humanitarianism is in crisis – but what are the current challenges? And in what ways could the humanitarian system change in future? Will western actors gradually lose control, to be replaced by other centres of humanitarian thought and action?
Humanitarian organisations are bound to the principle of impartiality. This means that actions must be carried out on the basis of need alone. They must be focused on the neediest, regardless of their ethnicity or political or religious beliefs. In theory, this is clear and logical – but humanitarian workers experience on a daily basis how difficult it is to apply this principle in reality.