WiP – The System is Not Broke, It’s Broken: The Global Crisis in Humanitarian Aid

The rapid increase in the world’s population of displaced people has placed enormous strain on the global humanitarian aid system. With over 65 million displaced people worldwide, the UN-led aid system is now facing a shortfall of $15 billion this fiscal year alone. But critics have charged that the aid system, in which 15 large donors and 15 large international aid agencies control more than 85% of the funding, is not just financially broke, but structurally broken. Despite many calls for reform, though, there has been little change. What are the key issues preventing change in the humanitarian sector? And what can be done to repair the system so many desperate people depend on? Using research conducted over 8 years in the humanitarian community and in the Republic of Georgia, I discuss key structural barriers in humanitarian aid and innovations in aid delivery that can transform the way we help refugees and IDPs.

Elizabeth Cullen Dunn is Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at Indiana University Bloomington. Her work focuses on the effects of large bureaucratic systems during periods of cataclysmic social change. She explores amongst others the effects of war or famine on the people in a given geographic region. In 2004, Dunn published her first monography “Privatizing Poland: Baby Food, Big Business, and the Remaking of Labor”. In this book she examines the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe as cataclysmic social change, using the example of a Polish company and its fate. Her attention turns especially to questions of power and hierarchy – between the corporation’s management and the workers but also between potential foreign importers and the industries of the former Eastern bloc countries. Dunn’s current project focuses on the very up-to-date issue of humanitarianism and displacement, expulsion and uprooting. Between 2009 and 2012, she conducted a fieldwork in refugee camps in Georgia; the result of her study will be published in the forthcoming book “Unsettled: Humanitarianism and Displacement in the Republic of Georgia”.

W-i-P is an ongoing academic discussion series based in Tbilisi, Georgia, that takes place at the new office of CRRC at Chkhikvadze St. 1. It is co-organized by the Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC), the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS, and the American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC). All of the talks are free and open to the public.

The purpose of the W-i-P series is to provide support and productive criticism to those researching and developing academic projects pertaining the Caucasus region.

Would you like to present at one of the W-i-P sessions? Send an e-mail to natia@crrccenters.org.