The
Future
of
Human
itarian
Aid
#HuCo2019
Vienna
29/03/2019
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What is Humanitarian Space?

The concept of humanitarian space means different things to different people.
Despite over 20 years of use, it remains poorly defined and understood. The term appears to originate in the Cold War conflicts in Central America, where it was reportedly used by
the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to describe a space for humanitarian dialogue with belligerent parties, and to characterise the broader operating environment within which humanitarian agencies were working (Abild, 2009;Loescher, 1988; Hubert and Brassard-Boudreau, 2010).

Definition of Humanitarian space:

  • Humanitarian space as agency space:
    the humanitarian agency is at the centre of this definition, with humanitarian space delineating the agency’s ability to operate freely and meet humanitarian needs in accordance with the principles of humanitarian action.
  • Humanitarian space as affected community space:
    the affected community is at the centre of this definition, with humanitarian space delineating their ability to uphold their rights to relief and protection. The humanitarian agency is still essential; however, it recognises the role that other actors play, including the affected community themselves, in meeting humanitarian needs.
  • Humanitarian space as international humanitarian law:
    humanitarian space is analogous with respect for international humanitarian law under this definition, and therefore focuses on the actions of warring parties with regard to their responsibilities in upholding the law. This includes their responsibilities to meet humanitarian needs or allow impartial humanitarian organisations to provide relief and protection of civilians.
  • Humanitarian space as complex political, military and legal arena:
    the definition put forward by this HPG study highlights the context in which humanitarian action takes place. It highlights the highly political nature of the task humanitarian agencies seek
    to achieve and that humanitarian needs (and their relief) are a product of the dynamic and complex interplay of political, military and legal actors, interests, institutions and processes.

Sources: Overseas Development Institute (PDF)