HOW TO BE A HUMANITARIAN
DEFINING HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE
HUMANITARIAN RESOURCE INSTITUTE
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a person who works to make other people's lives better
a person promoting human welfare and social reform
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In its most general form, humanitarianism is an ethic of kindness,
benevolence, and sympathy extended universally and impartially to
all human beings. Humanitarianism has been an evolving concept
historically but universality is a common element in its evolution.
No distinction is to be made in the face of suffering or abuse on
grounds of gender, sexual orientation, tribe, caste, age, religion,
Humanitarianism can also be described as the acceptance of every
human being for plainly just being another human, ignoring and
abolishing biased social views, prejudice, and racism in the
process, if utilized individually as a practiced viewpoint, or
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There are a number of meanings for the term humanitarian.
Here humanitarian pertains to the practice of saving lives
and alleviating suffering. It is usually related to emergency
response (also called humanitarian response) whether in the
case of a natural disaster or a man-made disaster such as war
or other armed conflict. Humanitarian principles govern the
way humanitarian response is carried out.
Core humanitarian principles
The principle of humanity means that humankind shall be treated
humanely in all circumstances by saving lives and alleviating
suffering, while ensuring respect for the individual. It is the
fundamental principle of humanitarian response.
The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red
Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief (RC/NGO Code)
introduces the concept of the humanitarian imperative which
expands the principle of humanity to include the right to
receive and to give humanitarian assistance. It states the
obligation of the international community “to provide
humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed.”
Provision of humanitarian assistance must be impartial and
not based on nationality, race, religion, or political point
of view. It must be based on need alone.
For most non-governmental humanitarian agencies (NGHAs), the
principle of impartiality is unambiguous even if it is
sometimes difficult to apply, especially in rapidly changing
situations. However, it is no longer clear which organizations
can claim to be humanitarian. For example, companies like PADCO,
a USAID subcontractor, is sometimes seen as a humanitarian NGO.
However, for the UN agencies, particularly where the UN is involved
in peace keeping activities as the result of a Security Council
resolution, it is not clear if the UN is in position to act in an
impartial manner if one of the parties is in violation of terms of
the UN Charter.
Humanitarian agencies must formulate and implement their own
policies independently of government policies or actions.
Problems may arise because most NGHAs rely in varying degrees on
government donors. Thus for some organizations it is difficult
to maintain independence from their donors and not be confused
in the field with governments who may be involved in the
The ICRC, has set the example for maintaining its independence
(and neutrality) by raising its funds from governments through
the use of separate annual appeals for headquarters costs and
The core principles are defining characteristics, the necessary
conditions for humanitarian response. Organizations such as
military forces and for-profit companies may deliver assistance
to communities affected by disaster in order to save lives and
alleviate suffering, but they are not considered by the
humanitarian sector as humanitarian agencies as their response
is not based on the core principles.
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Humanitarian aid is material and logistic assistance to people in
need. It is usually short-term help until the long-term help by
government and other institutions replaces it. Among the people in
need belong homeless, refugees, victims of natural disasters -
earthquake, flooding, cyclonic storms, famines or military conflicts
etc. The primary purpose of humanitarian aid is to save lives, reduce
suffering and respect to human dignity.
Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance provided for
humanitarian purposes, typically in response to humanitarian crises
including natural disaster and man-made disaster. The primary objective
of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain
human dignity. It may therefore be distinguished from development aid,
which seeks to address the underlying socioeconomic factors which may
have led to a crisis or emergency.
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Being a humanitarian does not necessarily involve getting on the next
plane to a third world country, hugging children, and perpetuating the
typical Western “good-doer” stereotype. In fact, humanitarianism is a
rich tradition that encompasses a variety of political, social, and
economic activities appealing to the full spectrum of humanity.
1. Educate yourself. A popular misconception is that humanitarians are
extremely supportive of the United Nations. In actual fact, not all
humanitarians actually support the UN. However, this does not mean that
several documents drafted by the United Nations (although seldom enforced)
lose all relevance; often the problem rests with the institutions tasked
with delivering decent outcomes rather than the well-intentioned statements.
That being said, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an invaluable
document that should be read by all humanitarians. Find out as much as you
can (just typing humanitarianism into an online search engine brings up a
wide array of sources).
2. Select your area. Humanitarianism is a wide field, so it is wise to choose
which aspect interests you most, whether it be social entrepreneurship or
raising awareness about humanitarian disasters. Publicize the necessity for a
more humanitarian, just, and cooperative global order.
3. Be socially responsible. Promote humanitarianism and loyalty to the human
species in your local community, educate the public, speak at rallies and
events. No individual person exists in isolation because existence is a cohesive
conglomerate of energy. Global technological systems of communication and
transportation and an empathetic biological infrastructure all foster the notion
that humanity is an interconnected family whose survival and well-being it is
essential to ensure.
4. Familiarize yourself with humanitarian symbols and the roles of humanitarian
organizations. If you find it useful, join a non-governmental organization or
start one yourself. Volunteer online and reach out to other organizations
promoting the progress of humanity.
5. Get skilled. If you don’t have a skill or a hobby, it’s important to both
yourself and your convictions that you adopt one. You can be creative and blend
your personal interests with your humanitarian beliefs and combine them to
create effective advocacy. Start with reading very widely; the more you read and
understand, the better, and the more likely that you will form your own wonderful
blend of ideas and solutions to humanitarian crises.
•Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that humanitarianism is limited to those
areas affected by large-scale disasters. All humanitarianism is an altruistic
loyalty to humanity and its progress.
•It is absolutely vital to respect the unconditional value of each and every
living person to himself or herself and to humanity as a unique expression of
the most dignified species known to exist as well as to have an unrelenting
passion for actualizing and maximizing the positive potential of existence.
•Identify and magnify the best in yourself and others.
•Base your pursuits on logic. If it works: do it. Don’t fall into the trap of
blind hero-worship or allegiance to a particular organization. Also, don't
fall into the trap of carrying the woes of the world on your shoulders; that
changes nothing and just makes you feel miserable. It is important, however,
to avoid hedonism and realize that social responsibility must come before all
semblance of ego and self-love. Humanitarianism is, and has been widely
acknowledged, to be an ideology of the collective rather than the individual.
It is therefore necessary not to project one's specific political/social
beliefs on one's activities but rather advocate the very simple premises of
humanitarianism: the necessity for supranational authorities, independent
enforcement of human rights, and the consolidation of humanitarianism from an
eloquent confusion of great ideas into a strong and well defined movement.
How to Be a Humanitarian
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Humanitarian assistance is generally accepted to mean the aid and
action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain
and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made
crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen
preparedness for the occurrence of such situations (Source:
Good Humanitarian Donorship).
What marks it out from other forms of aid and foreign assistance
is that it should be guided by the principles of:
saving human lives and alleviating suffering wherever it is found
acting solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between
or within affected populations
acting without favouring any side in an armed conflict or other
dispute where such action is carried out
the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from the political, economic,
military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to
areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.
Defining humanitarian assistance
Global Humanitarian Assistance
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The goal of the Humanitarian Resource Institute is to advance new
ideas, provide access to quality educational programs and support
initiatives developed in collaboration with scholars from around
Humanitarian Resource Institute is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization,
established with a mission focus to "Bridge Unmet Needs to Untapped
Resources" through the development of initiatives associated with
economic, social, cultural and humanitarian issues worldwide.
Humanitarian Resource Institute
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Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance
Advanced Training in Humanitarian Action ATHA
APCN (Africa Partner Country Network)
Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs
The Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM)
Centre for Humanitarian Psychology
Centre for Safety and Development
The Complex Emergency Database
Global Mapping of Emergency Stockpiles
Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust
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The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC)
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Disaster Database
Journal of Humanitarian Assistance
Military Humanitarian Assignments
The ODI Humanitarian Policy Group
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs OCHA
UN Relief Web
What Is a Humanitarian Visa?
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