Humanitarian aid in the face of widespread geopolitical disruption

Dammaged water tower, Gaza Crédits : Robin LloydECHO

Will the humanitarian we know today and for decades succumb to the multiplication of conflicts, terrorism as well as the return of high intensity war against a background of fragmentation-recomposition of the world and the return of peoples, nations and empires.

The humanitarian we are talking about here is the access of victims of conflicts, disasters and major epidemics to the relief they urgently need to live. This humanitarian is that of the principles of political neutrality, the impartiality of aid based solely on needs without distinction of any kind and the independence of NGOs from state political actors. Finally, our humanitarian is that of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) which aims to regulate and basically humanize the course of wars.

Does war today change the conditions for humanitarian action?

What do we see today? We see on the one hand a bloody Hamas expedition to slaughter Israeli civilians and on the other hand the State of Israel, which has the right to defend itself, use massive military means on the tiny territory of Gaza or fighters and Palestinian population are very intertwined at the cost of many civilian casualties. IHL is in danger of being lost if we do not return at least to a regular supply of the population and hospitals, with safe areas, not to mention the protection of hostages and civilians.

In Ukraine, we saw Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, invade a country with internationally recognized borders, in the name of a war of preventive reconquest, generating crimes against humanity, a war of very high intensity, as well as a certain lack of understanding of neutrality as well as impartiality of relief. The war lasts, the Ukrainians are the first response to their own needs, the separatist territories of Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country are inaccessible to humanitarians who, moreover, must demonstrate their purpose and their added value.

In Afghanistan, after 20 years of war by the United States and NATO against the Afghan Taliban, which finally won, impose sharia law and lead humanitarians to choose between relief for millions of Afghans in the face of famine and respect for the human rights of these same Afghans, particularly Afghan women. Everyone determines his action according to the priority of his mandate!

On the road of the forced exodus of more than 100,000 Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. @Twitter

In the South Caucasus, we saw a state, Azerbaijan, supported by Turkey and a passive Russia, impose a total blockade for 9 months to 120,000 Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh that no humanitarian organization could no longer rescue. Then launch a lightning attack to drive them away in a few days from their ancestral land in violation of IHL and the negotiations that were then taking place. The issue of international aid is now crucial for Armenia itself, which is threatened.

We could multiply the examples to other regions such as in the case of Sahel countries that export destabilization to all of western Africa or to the Asia Pacific in the process of accelerated militarization around Taiwan. Nor is it necessary to examine in detail the Middle East on the verge of explosion from the epicentre of Gaza which is both a revealer and an accelerator of antagonisms. It is no mystery to anyone that Hamas’ bloody offensive is a proxy war between Iran and the Arab countries aimed at derailing the Abraham Agreement between Israel and these Arab countries against the backdrop of the Palestinian cause.

From 1980 to 2023, what change of era?

War is not new, neither terrorism, nor war crimes, nor even genocide. What is changing, however, is this multiplication of wars against the backdrop of a conflicted recomposition of the world and the obvious weakening of the UN.

In the 1980s, at the time of the East-West conflict, wars took place essentially on the periphery of the «two great». We were dealing with endless «small wars» where humanitarians then found their place between the legitimacy of solidarity and the need for relief in poor countries with little structure and in civil war. This type of situation still exists but it is no longer the only model.

Moreover, what complicates any binary approach between unjust war and just peace, it is the theory of the so-called just war that meets criteria stated since Roman antiquity by Cicero, then by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the MiddleAge until the Geneva Conventions of the post-Second World War. And to distinguish well in Latin the «jus ad Bellum» on the just causes of a war, the «jus in Bello» on the just behaviors and the «jus post Bellum» on the equitable peace agreements. Without forgetting the duty of resistance, developed by the supporters of the duty of interference like Bernard Kouchner.

Iraqi army soldiers patrol the streets on March 1, 2006 in Mosul, Iraq, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom to retake the city controlled by Daesh. (US Army photo by Spc. Clydell Kinchen)(US Army photo by Spc. Clydell Kinchen)

In 2023, we are experiencing a double background movement that overlaps and fears accelerating each other. There is the active focus of terrorism carried by the most radical Islamist minorities. At the same time there is a powerful aspiration to a multipolar world of what is called the global south, which asserts itself in the face of the so-called western world and its values and which could weaken IHL if we do not know how to promote it as a common value for all without distinction.

The danger of a politicization of the humanitarian.

In this extremely destabilizing context for the humanitarian world, some may have the dangerous temptation to politicize the humanitarian to assert their own personal preferences and promote this or that system of thought or ideology. We must warn them to impose on themselves the recurrent criticism they oppose to States or international organizations when they accuse them of sometimes using humanitarian aid for political purposes.

For those who nevertheless wish to pursue this partisan path, it seems to me that the shortest path would be to engage politically without using a humanitarian screen that would have everything to lose in legitimacy, consistency and confidence, including their partners and public opinion, both here and on the ground. Not to mention the internal divisions that this would generate within each organization and within the humanitarian community itself.

Henri Dunant
“Un souvenir de Solférino”













Continue in the humanitarian path called «dunantist» in reference to the founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, during the battle of Solferino in 1859, which bases the humanitarian principles already mentioned (humanity, neutrality, impartiality, independence), which does not exempt us from thinking about what the Germans call «zeitenwende» or change of era and its consequences on the new conflictual contexts of humanitarian aid.

The need to adapt.

This also does not exempt humanitarians from making their «aggiornamento» and evaluating their limits as a force of proposal, influence and effectiveness in the service of populations in danger. In this online review «Humanitarian Challenges», we have initiated this reflection and we will continue it as with this editorial that participates in it.

Thus, I believe that respect for so-called universal values can and must be compatible with respect for human diversity, which is a wealth. Diversity of peoples and cultures that want to be recognized and respected and whose most minority are by definition the most threatened with disappearance or oppression. Biodiversity is well and rightly protected. Let us also protect humanity one and diverse.

Humanitarian aid is more necessary than ever to save more and more lives at risk. The humanitarian crest line is always the path of humanist commitment, impartiality, risk-taking to allow access to relief for populations in danger.

The international humanitarian situation and the modalities of its action will be at the heart of the 5th National Humanitarian Conference (CNH) which will be held in Paris and which will be the opportunity to present the 3rd edition of the Humanitarian Strategy of France for the period 2023 – 2027.

Alain Boinet.

President of Humanitarian Challenges.


PS/ Your support even modest (faireundon) is essential to continue publishing this journal and to develop it.



Alain Boinet

Alain Boinet is the president of the online journal Défis Humanitaires and the founder of the humanitarian association Solidarités Humanitaires, of which he was executive director for 35 years. In addition, he is a member of the Humanitarian Consultation Group at the Crisis and Support Centre of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, a member of the Board of Directors of Solidarités International, the French Water Partnership (PFE), the Véolia Foundation, the Think Tank (re)sources.




Discover the Défis Humanitaire 82th Edition :

40 years of CHD

40 humanitarian years with the CHD

On September 21, 2023, at the Apprentis d’Auteuils in Paris, a gathering of humanitarian actors took place around the anniversary of the Coordination Humanitaire et Développement.

If you would like to know more about this Coordination which celebrated these 40 years this year, an interview with its co-presidents Xavier Boutin and Thierry Mauricet was published in the previous edition: The Humanitarian and Development Coordination (CHD) celebrates its 40th anniversary

Back in picture on the workshops, the great debate and the evening that allowed French humanitarian actors to meet to exchange and continue to grow CHD!


Workshop about human ressources in humanitarian

The HR Circle coordinated a workshop. In a playful spirit, Human Resources was approached from the perspective of a game of 7 families. Participants had the opportunity to exchange, share ideas and practice in areas such as skills assessment, pedagogy or preparation for the recruitment interview. They explored the different qualities sought by recruiters: know-how, organization, taking initiatives…

ONG support group’s wokshop

Thanks to the NGO support group, the participants were immersed in the heart of the actions of the NGOs Support and had the opportunity to take part directly in their realization, thanks to an interactive course that made them discover a multitude of actors. This experience allowed to test their practical knowledge about the essential support provided by NGOs Support to international solidarity activities.

Children’s group workshop

Through the workshop of the children’s group, the participants discovered the tools and strategies based on the rights of the child, in order to maximize the effectiveness and impact of projects for the youngest. A reflection was made on the response of children to crises, on the notion of participation, resilience…

Workshop about today’s CHD

“Ideas for tomorrow’s SMB” was a session dedicated to the future prospects and challenges that await SMB. Discussions included SMB services tailored to its members, strategic directions for the future, and innovative initiatives for sustainable impact. Ideas were shared and debated in a good mood.

The great debate

The great debate moderated by Alain Boinet and closed by Alain Le Roy, with, from left to right: Alain Boinet, Justine Muzik Piquemal, Nathalie De Sousa Santos, Anne Panel, Olivier Routeau and Alain Le Roy.

Alain Boinet, President of Défis Humanitaires and founder of Solidarités International, moderated the debate. The 3 main themes of the conference were:

1. The challenges of access to aid for the most vulnerable populations:

Covering both the question of NGOs’ access to populations and populations’ access to the services offered by NGOs. The issues at stake are security, economic, administrative, ethnic and gender-related.

2. Actions to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and the complementarity between humanitarian aid and development:

It was stressed that the effectiveness of actions undertaken depends on complementarity between NGOs and links with local populations and players (local NGOs-CSOs, public services, businesses).

3. Prospects for the humanitarian and development sectors:

Relations with donors, the duration of programs, access and the role of the United Nations were examined as avenues for improving French humanitarian and development action.

These questions were discussed by :

Justine Muzik Piquemal, Regional Director for CAR, DRC, Sudan and Mozambique at Solidarités International. She emphasized the importance of innovation and constant questioning by humanitarians to adapt their programs, but also to ensure that they are sustainable and rooted in the local context. Justine encouraged transparency and support between NGOs, and reminded us of the important role of the United Nations in addressing the issues raised.

Nathalie De Sousa Santos, Deputy Managing Director of La Chaîne de l’Espoir. This humanitarian showed us that the separatist vision between humanitarian aid and development was over, and that the question of program timing was central to navigating between emergency and development. The flexibility and agility of NGOs must therefore be reinforced, as must the solidarity and complementarity between them.

Anne Panel, Director of Fert. As director of a development NGO, she reminded us of the indispensable adaptability that these structures must demonstrate in the face of the changing contexts in which they operate, giving the example of Burkina Faso. She also shared her experience in terms of localization, and highlighted the contradiction that exists between the precautionary principle applied by donors and the risk principle to which NGOs must also subscribe.

Olivier ROUTEAU, Director of Operations at Première Urgence Internationale. Olivier presented his vision of the increasing complexity of crises. He also emphasized the challenges that go beyond NGOs, such as the sometimes contradictory demands of donors (going back to basics, but also constantly reinventing oneself), the need to be present in the field sometimes even before the emergency itself, and the excess of reports to be provided for accountability rather than action.

In the course of these fascinating exchanges, we had the opportunity to look back at the contributions made by CHD to French humanitarian actors. The mutual aid and communication between players enabled by CHD was highlighted.

Alain le Roy, former French Ambassador to Madagascar, former UN Under-Secretary-General in charge of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and former Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), concluded the debate by thanking the speakers for their contributions in the field. He considered NGOs to be the mouthpieces of the people in their dealings with public authorities, and encouraged them to continue their work of advocacy and dissemination of their valuable experience. According to Alain Le Roy, efforts must always be directed towards education, health and employment on a global scale. He emphasized the professionalizing contributions of CHD, as well as the points for improvement that could benefit the entire field.


Celebrate together 

All SMB members gathered on September 21, 2023
Celebrating 40 years of CHD



Thanks again to the organization of the event, especially to Alexia Tafanelli!



If you’d like to find out more about this Coordination, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, an interview with its co-presidents Xavier Boutin and Thierry Mauricet appeared in the previous issue: Coordination Humanitaire et Développement (CHD) celebrates its 40th anniversary