Humanitarian crises have come thick and fast in recent times – notably Ukraine, Afghanistan and situations worsened by Covid-19. While each creates urgent humanitarian needs, each also carries the risk of becoming protracted or recurrent like so many other existing global crises.
The reflex currently is to provide short-term, reactive humanitarian aid. But this response pattern is not always the most effective way of helping vulnerable people to cope. A lack of evidence and knowledge-sharing is preventing the sector from improving its approaches. Various strands of IDS research are helping to bridge this knowledge gap by providing vital insights and cross-disciplinary connections to make humanitarian responses more effective.
The dramatic return of Taliban control in Afghanistan in 2021 posed serious problems for local NGOs seeking to ensure access to humanitarian aid, particularly for women. IDS researchers at the Knowledge, Evidence and Learning for Development (K4D) Programme, which provides quick access to evidence and analysis on key development questions, were able to inform negotiating efforts with the new regime.
K4D published a Helpdesk report ‘Lessons Learnt From Humanitarian Negotiations with the Taliban: 1996 – 2001’, drawing on a rapid literature review of humanitarian agency reports, evaluations and academic articles, and leading experts’ opinions. It highlights lessons on negotiating practices used previously with the Taliban, chiefly to try to secure women’s access to aid.
The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR) said the report was ‘a very timely release as NGOs have been struggling to negotiate with the current regime on various issues’.
Increasing impact of K4D analysis
The K4D report was quickly shared on Relief Web and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) Research for Development Outputs websites. ACBAR also asked the author to present the report at their monthly consortium meeting, attended by several NGOs.
After consulting with ACBAR, K4D translated the report into Dari – which was greatly appreciated by local NGOs and increased its reach among those negotiating with the Taliban. It was uploaded to the IDS institutional repository and shared directly with ACBAR for dissemination among its members.
The conflict in Ukraine has created another complex context. Within weeks of Russia’s invasion, K4D established the Conflict, Peace and Humanitarian Resource Hub. It brings together multiple new Helpdesk Reports about Ukraine, Russia, and post-conflict rebuilding, to support those working in conflict, peace and humanitarian spaces.
Responding well to protracted crises
In January 2021, an IDS-led consortium launched BASIC (Better Assistance in Crises) Research to generate evidence on how to strengthen social assistance in the most difficult protracted crisis settings and for populations that are the hardest to reach. Yemen, Iraq and Mali are among the areas that the programme is studying. Funded by the FCDO, the consortium includes the University of Sussex and the Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT) at the University of Wolverhampton.
IDS is also a leading partner in SHAPP – the Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform – which in 2021 began a new fellowship programme to pair social scientists with humanitarian practitioners in the same region to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and knowledge exchange. So far 35 fellows have benefited from the programme, with another cohort beginning in mid-2022.
Similarly, the Covid Collective programme has been linking academics and practitioners working in humanitarian responses to Covid-19, while developing new partnerships with the humanitarian sector. The Humanitarian Learning Centre also continues its work on protracted crises and agency-led inclusive responses to multiple shocks. It brings together high-quality analysis, dialogue and debate with accessible, operational learning to improve humanitarian response, practice and policy.