Bringing humanitarianism to life… A challenge that is taken up again and again…

The function creates the organ… and the humanitarian only exists through its function… action. But like athletes, humanitarians “think” in real time about their action. And we need an organ to think better… in order to act better. So a site like Défis Humanitaires had to be created. Thanks to Alain Boinet, its founder and also founder of the humanitarian NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, it was done in February 2018.

In an April 2018 video, Alain Boinet outlines its objectives. Because humanitarianism is facing immense challenges (increasing refugees, complex and lasting crises, climate change, biodiversity collapse, demographic explosion), it is a matter of “Being lucid to be able to act”, to develop “A greater intelligence of challenges, actors, contexts, capacities and actions”. Three reasons for being at DH: to make humanitarian work known and recognized, to identify the major challenges, and to place these challenges in a humanitarian and geopolitical context. A few months later, Alain Boinet summed up the site’s ambition: “to bring humanitarianism to life”. To do this, each issue of the DH “newsletter” is sent to several thousand “decision-makers” among NGOs, journalists, French, European and international institutions, researchers and academics, water actors and friends.

American soldiers joined by the Afghan National Army during Operation Shir Pasha in the Spira Mountains (21.11.2008) ©DAVID FURST / AFP

Has the challenge of bringing humanitarianism to life been met, almost four years later? Before risking a diagnosis, let’s try an X-ray of the site, as if it were a person… If we look at the Humanitarian Challenges entry themes (excluding archives) as they are listed on the home page (knowing that many articles are linked to several entry themes), what do we find?

  • 80 entries on the theme “Tribunes and interviews”.
  • 70 entries on the theme “Humanitarian crises”, including since 2020 quite a few COVID 19 topics…
  • 69 entries on the theme “NGOs / humanitarian issues”.
  • 58 entries on the theme “Geopolitics”. Access to water as a “geopolitical topic” is quite present, among others…
  • 53 entries on the theme “Reflections”.
  • 41 editorials, very often anchored in a geographical reality (Sahel, Syria, Afghanistan, Armenia-Artsakh…), always focused on a concrete issue.
  • 36 entries on the theme of “Water and Sanitation”, including the annual water barometer published by SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL.
  • 29 entries on the theme COVID 19… The impact of the COVID 19 crisis on the editorial orientation of the site is visible, as well as on the orientation of the reflection and the humanitarian action since the beginning of 2020.
  • 22 entries on the “Innovations” theme.
  • 21 entries on the theme “Studies”, including the annual “Global humanitarian assistance report” and in 2019 a remarkable DH study “French humanitarian NGOs abroad”.
  • 20 entries on the theme “Humanitarian meetings”.
  • 13 entries on the theme of “Philanthropy”.

So, how to sum up the “personality” of the DH website? Well, if this site were a person, we would say that this person, lucid and realistic by nature, has a pronounced taste for exchange and the expression of convictions, that he or she follows the evolution of crises with acute attention and questioning, that he or she likes to share or produce studies that nourish reflection, starting from the facts, from reality. This person cultivates a geopolitical tropism, and pursues a long term fight for access to water. She is concerned about not neglecting the means of better action that are innovation and resources and, as the example of the COVID 19 crisis, knows how to adapt her guideline to the irruption of a major and unforeseen event…


The emblematic example is the exclusive and unprecedented DH study “French humanitarian NGOs abroad”, which X-rayed and dissected the evolution over 10 years (from 2006 to 2016) of the 11 main French NGOs, with a summary presentation for each one, and whose second edition will be published in early 2022.

It seems that DH’s “personality” speaks to subscribers. The results of a questionnaire sent in 2018 to the site’s readers indicated “a very marked interest in geopolitics, for innovation with requests on multi-actor strategies, humanitarian crises and the evolution of aid on the side of field operators.”

The diversity of themes and treatments allows specialists on technical subjects such as WASH (Water, Hygiene and Sanitation), humanitarian impact, the “triple nexus”, fundraising or the pooling of resources, to exchange and publish their progress. As such, for these specialists as well as for researchers and students, DH almost assumes the function of a “scientific journal”.

Drilling and hand pump to supply water to the jerry cans of the villagers of Djibo, in Burkina Faso ©Solidarités International

More specifically, water stakeholders can, in DH, develop the why, how, where and when of their commitment to access to this vital resource for all. Upstream and downstream of major meetings on this issue, such as the World Water Forum, whose 9th edition will be held in March 2022 in Dakar, Senegal, preparatory work, data and summaries are disseminated, sometimes in the form of interviews with decision-makers. Actors will also regularly find the latest initiatives, technical progress or the state of research in this field. A good example is the publication, each year, of the water barometer published by SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, unique in its kind.

Elsewhere, journalists or institutions involved in the humanitarian sector can seek or express analyses, positions or issues, both specific and more broadly strategic. Whether they are looking for precise data, the expression of convictions or in-depth analysis of global or specific issues, each issue contains at least one theme/article out of the four published that is of interest to them.

DH’s editorial line is clearly aimed at readers who are already “initiated” in humanitarian or geostrategic issues. It is not a site for the general public, but a place for exchange and deepening of knowledge between people or institutions already “concerned” with these subjects, and above all between humanitarian actors in the broad sense. One wonders if, after reading some of the more specialized articles, a layperson would be able to grasp the richness of the site. Moreover, a regularly updated glossary of international humanitarian terms could be included as an appendix to the site.

Pont aérien du Réseau Logistique Humanitaire pour faire face aux contraintes logistiques de la pandémie de Covid-19. ©Réseau Logistique Humanitaire.

In summary, DH has clearly found a role that no other specialized site has played until now. This positive observation does not mean that there is no need to enrich the proposed content. On a personal level, I would see three axes to be reinforced:

  • Develop a “dialogue” and perspective on crises that have marked the evolution of humanitarianism: what does the Rwanda crisis have to say about the practice of humanitarianism in CAR or South Sudan today, how did the Bosnian page influence the evolution of humanitarianism or its implementation in Syria today? Also Afghanistan and the Sahel (partly covered in DH), Somalia and Yemen, the Tsunami in Southeast Asia and its consequences on the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May 2016, etc.
  • To publish more testimonies that feed our reflection, like the last editorial that was both “field” and very documented (“Thirsty Northeast Syria”).
  • To regularly make room for the word coming from “the other side of the mirror”, that of the people who are the beneficiaries of humanitarian aid, and who are the only justification for the existence of the global humanitarian system, a raw word, without reformulating it in our technical-professional jargon, in order to provide a counterpoint to the expertise developed in these pages.

Beyond these avenues of optimization (and others), and with regard to the objectives declared at the birth of DH, the challenge of bringing humanitarianism to life is always taken up…

Pierre Brunet, writer and humanitarian :

Born in 1961 in Paris to a French father and a Spanish mother, Pierre Brunet found his first vocation as a freelance journalist. In 1994, he crossed paths with humanitarian aid and volunteered in Rwanda, which had been devastated by genocide. In early 1995, he left on a humanitarian mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then torn by civil war. There he took on the responsibilities of program coordinator in Sarajevo, then head of mission.

Upon his return to France at the end of 1996, he joined the headquarters of the French NGO SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL, for which he had gone on mission. He will be in charge of communication and fundraising, while returning to the field, as in Afghanistan in 2003, and starting to write… In 2011, while remaining involved in humanitarian work, he commits himself totally to writing, and devotes an essential part of his time to his vocation of writer.

Pierre Brunet is Vice-President of the association SOLIDARITES INTERNATIONAL. He has been in the field in the North-East of Syria, in the “jungle” of Calais in November 2015, and in Greece and Macedonia with migrants in April 2016.

Pierre Brunet’s novels are published by Calmann-Lévy:

  • January 2006: publication of his first novel “Barnum” by Calmann-Lévy, a story born from his humanitarian experience.
  • September 2008 : publication of his second novel ” JAB “, the story of a little Spanish orphan girl who grew up in Morocco and who will become a professional boxer as an adult.
  • March 2014: release of his third novel “Fenicia”, inspired by the life of his mother, a little Spanish orphan during the civil war, refugee in France, later an anarchist activist, seductress, who died in a psychiatric institute at 31 years old.
  • End of August 2017: release of his fourth novel “The Triangle of Uncertainty”, in which the author “returns” again, as in “Barnum” to Rwanda in 1994, to evoke the trauma of a French officer during Operation Turquoise.

In parallel to his work as a writer, Pierre Brunet works as a co-writer of synopses for television series or feature films, in partnership with various production companies. He also collaborates with various magazines by publishing columns or articles, notably on international news.