Working together for humanitarian action.

This is the 70th edition of Défis Humanitaires whose objective is to promote humanitarianism, to establish the causal links between geopolitics and humanitarian crisis and to alert and mobilise in the face of the major challenges that threaten us.

In the last editorial (DH 69 October 2022), in the face of the scepticism displayed by some journalists and politicians, I wrote that Vladimir Putin’s threats to use weapons of mass destruction rather than lose the war should be taken seriously without yielding to them. Since then, this high-intensity war in Ukraine has been globalised into a conflict over values and the political model launched by Russia, with the support of China and other countries, against the Western model.

In the meantime, on the ground, this war is intensifying with the destruction of heating infrastructures, water distribution stations and the conflict is evolving into a “hybrid war” where all means are used as a weapon: sabotage (gas pipeline, submarine and terrestrial cables), energy, investments, information, migratory flows and tomorrow, perhaps, the internet!

Should we consider that this war has become global and, even more so, that it is becoming a war of civilisation, to use the title of Samuel Huntington’s book. In any case, the world is becoming fragmented, more uncertain and more dangerous. This can lead us to fear negative consequences for the major international agendas, notably the fight against climate change, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and, by extension, new conflicts.

As dramatic as the war in Ukraine is, with its millions of displaced people and refugees and its countless collateral effects which will also affect us directly (food, inflation, energy, risk of recession), in this issue 70 of Défis Humanitaires we are still attentive and mobilised on other emergencies, to present you with useful analyses for humanitarians and their partners, institutions, parliamentarians, journalists, academics, students, think-tanks, water and climate actors, and political decision makers.



To keep you as informed as possible.

In this edition, the report “Burkina Faso: humanitarian aid in a dangerous spiral“, by Pierre Brunet, humanitarian and writer, alerts us to the delirious increase in the number of people displaced by the fighting, which has increased by 7000% since August 2018. Today, out of 20 million inhabitants, 10% are displaced by this conflict which continues to spread and deepen at the risk of chaos! And yet, humanitarians are faced with the challenges of accessing relief supplies to populations at risk.

Similarly, the latest ALNAP report (350 pages) on the state of the global humanitarian system for the period 2018 – 2021 is presented by Eva Miccolis in a synthetic way in 11 pages with graphs! The observation is simple, during these 4 years, we have seen an increase in the number of conflicts, their intensification and frequency. The number of displaced people has doubled in 10 years and food insecurity has increased by 33% in the last 5 years. What lessons can we draw from this?

Antoine Vaccaro, President of Force For Good, warns us about generosity in times of crisis as humanitarian aid also requires financial resources. The end-of-year period, in France and in other countries, is traditionally the time when 60% of donations to charities are made. However, recent studies have shown that the number of new donors is decreasing and that the average donation of the largest donors is decreasing. So what can be done to mobilise generosity in the service of the general interest at a time when needs are increasing both in crisis situations around the world and in France? Antoine Vaccaro reminds us of the key responses to promote in the face of these challenges.

I am calling on you.

As you can see, Défis Humanitaires remains faithful to its mission of providing information, analysis and proposals for humanitarian aid that is committed, relevant, more effective and able to adapt to each context and to respect the societies, cultures, people and countries where it provides relief and assistance.

In this context, I do feel that our readers expect more from us. But, honestly, this is where we reach our current limits of a very limited budget and full volunteer work.

This is why I am launching an appeal today to support Défis Humanitaires in a concrete way. But, to do what, you may ask? Concretely, if the means allow it, we have the project to adopt a new press-type layout with a greater number of texts and agency photos. In this way, we also want to produce regular humanitarian reports on the ground in crises. We also have an ambitious project to publish the second edition of the Study on International Humanitarian NGOs, for the period 2006-2021, with reference figures for this 15-year period as well as a presentation of the major issues facing the humanitarian sector today.

In this very motivating perspective of developing Défis Humanitaires, a number of personalities have recently constituted a multi-disciplinary Committee of Experts which brings together specialists from the fields of humanitarian aid, philanthropy, foundations, partnerships, communication and publishing, international relations and geopolitics. Their commitment sends a strong positive message of support and participation in this project, which we invite you to join by supporting it concretely now.

I encourage you to participate personally today:

– By making a donation to Défis Humanitaires via HelloAsso.

– By sharing this edition and its articles with your friends and colleagues.

-By sending us ( your comments and proposals, testimonies of your humanitarian action in the field and by telling us what you think of Défis Humanitaires.

For almost five years now, with this 70th edition, Défis Humanitaires has been offered to you each month free of charge and in complete editorial independence. Today, I am calling on your support in order to continue and develop a publication that is read with interest in many countries, from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States, from European countries to France and the Middle East. I warmly thank you for participating in this new type of humanitarian project, which is innovative, and which is above all useful to humanitarian actors and their partners in saving lives with populations in danger.

Alain Boinet.

President of Défis Humanitaires.


19th August, World Humanitarian day, what progress?

World Humanitarian Day is celebrated every 19 August since 2008. While humanitarians celebrated in their own way by implementing appropriate relief efforts, there was no shortage of official statements. We must first of all welcome them because these statements are useful to reinforce the need for solidarity with populations in danger. We must also take them at their word. Is humanitarian aid always equal to the needs and risks of the victims of war, disaster and epidemics against a background of extreme poverty?

On August 19th, Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, said that 303 million people were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and that he had “great hope” despite “the depths of despair and division”. Joseph Borell and Janez Lenarcic for the European Commission applaud “…all those working on the front line, constantly risking their lives to save others and reduce human suffering”. Even US President Joe Biden from the White House said that humanitarians “…need our protection and support more than ever” and “It is therefore imperative that we collectively strengthen our humanitarian response”. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recalled that “Far from the spotlight”, “against all odds, often risking their lives, humanitarians are alleviating suffering in the most dangerous of conditions”. He goes so far as to say that “Humanitarians represent the best of humanity”. I would add that we must humbly and convincingly demonstrate this every day if we are to live up to our mission to save lives!


Humanitarian emergency in Nepal after the earthquake in April 2015 @Alex Cauvin

The theme of this year’s day is “It takes a village”; between those affected, neighbours who help each other, local, national and international humanitarians with diverse and complementary skills and capacities. We cannot forget public services and states as the sustainable solution to be supported and promoted.

This recognition cannot fail to raise questions and to be useful to public opinion, governments and the various actors in political, economic and social life. However, in order to carry out our humanitarian mission, beyond the moral support of these leaders, we need above all concrete measures and an adapted and demanding policy on their part.

In welcoming their statement, this is the best they could do to give humanitarianism what it needs to be more effective in relief work.

Humanitarianism is based on the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. These principles apply to all and the partnership between humanitarian actors and state or inter-state actors must scrupulously respect and apply them. It is up to humanitarians to be the first to set an example in their daily work, avoiding any risk of partisan politicisation for purposes other than impartial relief.

Beyond commitment, humanitarian aid is about providing the means to meet the vital needs of people at risk. In 2020, we found that while humanitarian needs had increased rapidly, resources had stalled after a steady increase in previous years. This year, OCHA found that needs were estimated at $46.3 billion but only $15 billion had been mobilised by mid-year! What will happen at the end of the year when Ukraine requires immense resources that cannot be taken away from the victims of other crises, from the Sahel to the Middle East?

Humanitarian overview 2022 in needs by country.

Let’s face it, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is in danger of being weakened, if not undermined, by anti-terrorism laws (COTER), which risk on the one hand “criminalising” humanitarians in the territories where they provide relief and where so-called terrorist groups operate and, on the other hand, by imposing administrative screening obligations on the populations they rescue. The mechanical and unintelligent application of these measures will have the effect of reducing aid to victims and putting humanitarians at risk. Who will take this responsibility?

Child with both legs missing due to bombing in Syria. @UOSSM

Similarly, at the 1st World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, one of the collective decisions had been to decide to simplify the administration of humanitarian action, which has the unfortunate tendency to become bureaucratized at the risk of weakening the responsiveness, adaptation, access and impact that are essential to relief efforts, and increasing their cost. But this does not seem to have happened. On the contrary, bureaucracy is thriving and becoming more expensive in all areas of aid to people. Why don’t the institutions do what they publicly commit to? Can we believe that more and more bureaucracy is always better humanitarianism? Which institution will set an example of virtuous, efficient and sufficient simplification for all?

Moreover, the industrialisation of aid is also a danger at the end of the humanitarian chain. In the face of major crises such as the food security crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, it is essential to massify the volume of international aid. However, at the other end of the chain, aid must be adapted as closely as possible to the needs of each population, lifestyle and capacity in order to optimise the quality of the aid for the benefit of the recipients. In this respect, the diversity and complementarity of actors is a major asset, whereas a “single model” designed to manage volume would ultimately weaken the humanitarian ecosystem which has been built up over time through a kind of organisational empiricism which is regularly revisited. As not everyone can do everything and a few cannot do what all the others do, the synergy of diversity is a key asset.

Food distribution in Haïti @Solidarités International

Beyond these messages to the leaders and partner institutions such as the United Nations, the States, the European Commission and others who are described as “donors” in the NGOs but who are first and foremost partners, I would like to conclude by placing all this in a more global context.

If humanity is one, humanity is also a diversity that deserves respect and recognition. A diversity of peoples, countries and nations, states, cultures, ways of life, religion, cuisine, music and many other “identities” inscribed in history. Conversely, massification is one of the characteristics of totalitarian systems or of a vision that would reduce human beings to the exclusive role of producers and consumers in a world that would resemble a vast supermarket.

The war in Ukraine, beyond freedom and independence, is also a global geopolitical war that will change the existing order and balance of the world. Some believe that this is the end of “globalism”, or even “universalism”, and the affirmation of localism, nations, peoples, religions and history as the frameworks of collective belonging necessary for the sovereign governance of each people and for the security of human communities. If humanitarianism has worked in ‘globalism’, it can just as easily be adapted to these frameworks, which are equally in need of humanitarianism in times of crisis.

On the condition that we pay more attention to “others”, in particular small peoples, small countries and minority cultures, which are all the more in need of our attention, our respect and our help because they are small and often the object of domination and great misfortune in their history. In this context, which could be described as “human relocation”, humanitarian actors can and must also alert, mobilise and act in the face of increasingly threatening global risks such as climate change, extreme droughts and floods, and the increasing scarcity of water and biodiversity, which humanity, in all its diversity, urgently needs to live. Will humanitarian aid be able to contribute to this, that is the challenge.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who make this edition of Humanitarian Challenges possible through their donations, however small (make a donation). Thank you.

Alain Boinet.