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The Humanitarian Congress Vienna was initiated in 2010. One of the key aims of the Humanitarian Congress Vienna is to address changing humanitarian needs and thus to increase the visibility of humanitarian work. A second key aim is to raise awareness among decision makers regarding the relevance of humanitarian aid. A further focus is on the cooperation and coordination of actions, both at the national, European and international level.

What is Humanitarian Aid?

Humanitarian Aid is a set of measures for the saving of human life, the decrease of human suffering, and the protection of human dignity during and after armed conflicts and/or disasters as well to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations.

For further information see also:

The Principles of Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarianism/humanity: the uppermost aim is to ensure the survival of affected people in acute need and to alleviate their suffering. Correspondingly, the dignity of human beings must remain guaranteed.

Neutrality: humanitarian aid favours no side (party) in an armed conflict or any other confrontation.

Impartiality/non-discrimination: humanitarian aid is based exclusively on need without discrimination of the recipients (meaning unconditionally and without discrimination based on ethnic origin, sex, religion, social status, nationality or political opinion).

Independence: humanitarian aid is given independent of political, economic, military, or religious circumstances or the aims of the parties to the conflict.


The 5th Humanitarian Congress Vienna is organised by the following humanitarian organizations:

Doctors Without Borders, Caritas Austria, the Austrian Red Cross, SOS Children’s Villages, as well as the Austrian Platform for Development and Humanitarian Aid – Global Responsibility and in collaboration with: Arbeiter Samariterbund, CARE, Diakonie, Hilfswerk Austria International, HOPE´87, Jugend Eine Welt, LIGHT FOR THE WORLD, Volkshilfe Solidarität and World Vision

The Path from 2011 to 2019

After almost a year of preparation the first Humanitarian Congress Vienna was held in 2011 and since then the congress successfully takes place every two years bringing together experts from international humanitarian organisations, policy makers, media, academics and students of various disciplines, displaced persons, beneficiaries from affected countries and humanitarian aid staff who have been witnessing humanitarian crises up close. With more than 2000 international participants and speakers’ onsite and online in 2015, the Humanitarian Congress Vienna is now an important forum in the world of humanitarian aid and thus provides rare network opportunities. The congress offers a unique mix of humanitarian and political keynote speeches and innovative debates and thereby strengthens existing structures in order to reach new insights.

From the beginning it was important for the organisers that the Humanitarian Congress Vienna serves as a platform where both acute and protracted humanitarian crises are addressed. Based on this outlook the themes of the previous congresses were developed and lively debated in panel- and round-table discussions:

2011: “Humanitarian Aid — Quo Vadis?”
2013: “Humanitarian Aid — Gender Matters”
2015: “Humanitarian Aid under Fire”
2017: “Forced to Flee – Humanity on the Run”

The Humanitarian Congress Vienna 2019: “The Future of Humanitarian Aid”

When talking about the future of humanitarian aid, only uncertainty seems to be certain. There is an increase in both the complexity of conflicts and their effects, as well as an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters. More places are becoming more dangerous and today’s world has more protracted crises, some of which last decades. These factors as well as major changes in geopolitics create a complex landscape for future humanitarian responses. How can those working in the field of humanitarian aid deal with this complexity?

Although we cannot predict the future, we can nevertheless prepare to navigate uncertainty and complexity. This year’s congress asks leading experts from a wide range of sectors if the current humanitarian aid structures are ready to meet the challenges – foreseen and unforeseen- for the next decade and beyond. Furthermore, we ask what changes are going to be required in order to ensure that the humanitarian aid system is “future-proof”.

To try to capture all of this under the theme “The Future of Humanitarian Aid”
the following six panel discussions will take place:

Panel 1: The Future of Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian needs are increasing around the world. Armed conflicts last longer while new actors appear both on the geo-political and on the humanitarian arena. In times of increasing defence budgets global disarmament is not prioritized and thus there is no prospect of a decrease of armed conflicts. Aid is also becoming increasingly instrumentalized and politicised, reflecting a changed geopolitical context affecting large and small states alike. At the same time global warming has changed the patterns of natural disasters, and made them more frequent.  An additional risk factor for armed conflicts.

At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, experts from across sectors discussed external trends and influences, as well as the imperative for change within the humanitarian system: safeguarding quality in increasingly complex working environments, improving the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian interventions.

But is the global humanitarian system ready for this future and what are the responsibilities of states, international institutions and humanitarian organisations?

Panel 2: Triple Nexus = Triple Challenge?

Over the past decades, conflicts have become much more complex andprotracted: Syria, South Sudan and Ukraine are only a few examples of ongoing humanitarian crises the world faces today. In a conflict that lasts several years there is need to offer longer-term solutions.  For example repairing urban water systems or supplying the population with seeds and agricultural tools become priorities. That is what the ‘humanitarian-development nexus’ is about; the combination of short-, medium- and long-term intervention when dealing with a protracted crisis.

The double nexus becomes a triple nexus: Humanitarian – Development – Peacebuilding when account is taken of the need to address and eliminate the root causes of political conflicts.

This panel will seek to explore and unpack the challenges, the risks and opportunities for principled and effective humanitarian action within the triple nexus, especially at the country and regional level

Panel 3: The Humanitarian Sector in the Media: Worthwhile Struggle or Lost Cause?

‘The limits of my language are the limit of my world’, states the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.     

Whether and how crises are addressed frames perception. In the past, the media created overwhelming moral imperatives in several conflicts, which in some cases legitimised humanitarian or even military interventions. Within Myanmar, where majority Burmese have deep prejudices against Muslims, the Rohingya are dehumanised to the extent that even horrific crimes against them fail to generate public or official sympathy. The use of national media for hate purposes often trumps the more humane voice of international media.

In Europe today the labelling of migrants and refugees as a threat has led to new policy measures. In some cases, NGOs have been verbally criminalized for providing humanitarian aid to refugees. This discriminatory sentiment at times is strengthened by traditional news media as well as by social media – based on selective facts or sometimes without a basis in fact at all.

What are the consequences of such narratives – and what does it mean for humanitarian actors?

Panel 4: Tech for Good – Or Not?

Blockchain is helping to efficiently manage cash transfers and to supply basic items to refugee populations in cooperation with local supermarkets, thereby cutting out costly financial intermediaries, reducing mistakes and most of all, reaching people much faster.

Earth observation data from satellites and drones, data mining and artificial intelligence are able to help predict locations of trapped persons after an earthquake. Augmented reality apps train emergency squads in better response or provide people caught in a natural disaster with the best exit routes. Drones can deliver medicine and provide local telecommunications, where infrastructure has disappeared.

There seems no end to the positive transformation and great advancements made possible through new technologies when it comes to natural disasters, conflict and epidemics.

Kranzberg´s first law of technology says “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” Taking all this into consideration one has to ask: What is the power and where are the pitfalls of next generation technologies? Who is responsible for making sure that emerging technologies are for the good? How does one ensure that future technology does not endanger human life but takes into account dignity, rights, and the humanity of the communities we seek to serve? 

Panel 5: International Law in Tomorrow´s Wars

International humanitarian law (IHL) is meant to protect those not taking part in hostilities during armed conflict. However, wars today are increasingly fought in urban settings, and civilians rather than the military bear the brunt of armed violence. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas can disproportionately affect civilians, even more dangerously so in combination with chemical and nuclear charges. Autonomous weapon systems and combat robots add their own set of legal and ethical questions, in particular the degree of human control required. Has IHL evolved to keep up with these developments, and where are the successes and set-backs?

The fight against terrorism raises different issues, such as the impact that such operations may have on neutral, independent and impartial humanitarian action. Counterterrorism legislation needs to take into account not only security but also existing international law, which includes both IHL and human rights law.

What are the challenges for human rights and international humanitarian law, when projecting the way today’s wars are fought further into the future?

Panel 6: Investing in Humanity

The World Humanitarian Summit 2016 in Istanbul launched an urgent call to action for adequate political, institutional and financial investments in order to ensure the provision of effective humanitarian aid. Yet, three years later, significant improvements concerning the mobilisation, allocation and use of resources are still needed. More than 132 million people are still in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Will particular methods such as forecast based financing, grass root savings, cash transfer programming or impact financing help to close the financial gap in the forthcoming years? How can we ensure that resources are available to the diverse actors, including local actors, who are often best placed to meet and reduce people’s needs? How can new financing sources and models be identified, new methods, new accountability?How can financial flows for humanitarian aid become more efficient between states?

Panel 7: Humanitarian Aid and Future Generations

Climate change looms. Famine, floods, earthquakes, short and protracted armed conflicts
all present great humanitarian challenges for the near and long term future. With all those challenges in mind how will the coming generations engage in humanitarian affairs, keeping in mind that half of the world’s refugees are under 18?

Often change is a gradual and painstaking process, and misery is not done away with from one day to the other. As global warming and technological developments accelerate, will humanity have to adapt more radically and faster? Will future generations engage more or withdraw from humanitarian efforts as a lost cause? Will the international outlook and mobility of today’s young people make them more amenable to humanitarian aid activities, both as active participants and as democratic shapers of public policy?

Are there new ideas on engaging with those who reject humanitarian activities or believe markets provide all solutions and that each nation should fend for itself in consequence? What role can technology and new media play?

Read more about Austrian Humanitarian Aid Policy