Headington Institute Summer 2013 Newsletter

The Changing Face of Humanitarian Crises: Syria

Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon | photo credit: UNHCR/ACNUR Americas

Last month António Guterres of the UN High Council of Refugees spoke of the dire crisis in Syria. Referencing the 8,000 refugees fleeing across borders daily, the 6.8 million Syrians currently in need of humanitarian aid, the brutality of the conflict, and the complexity of the geopolitical implications, he called it the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War. Gutteres, addressing the United Nations Security Council went on to say, “Even compared to Afghanistan, the geopolitical implications and the threat to global stability are profound. It’s the most dangerous of all crises.”
Guterres’ comments highlight the enormous challenges relief organizations encounter as humanitarian disasters increasingly overlap with complex political crises and unstable environments. Donations for Syria and Mali have not been as forthcoming as those for natural disasters, impeding the ability of humanitarian groups to respond. At home, sequestration has led to steep cuts in US disaster funding. Likewise, other global partners in aid have been slow to put forward promised funds. All the while, situations in the field have grown increasingly violent for humanitarians, with kidnappings and bombings on the rise and the delicate balance between political factions and rebel groups always threatening instability.
In the midst of these crises, our concern for the well-being of the humanitarian workers rises dramatically, as well. With aid organizations decreasing programs due to budget cuts, resources are low at a time when threats to staff are high. In response, we’ve increasingly participated in security training events to provide preparation, assessment and awareness training for humanitarians operating in high risk zones. We’ve increased remote support via skype and webinar. Finally, we’re collaborating with a variety of organizations to further develop cost-effective, regional models of support that draw on the strengths of local communities and networks to spread resources.

- Alicia Jones, Assistant Director, Headington Institute


Resources for Aid Workers Workers

Photo credit: British Red Cross

We want every aid worker to have the training they need to stay resilient in their work. In addition to the many free resources on our website, we also host a blog with helpful articles addressing specific topics that speak to the real needs facing humanitarian workers today. These include:
Go to: to read more!

Boston Trip Report
Humanitarian Academy at Harvard

In April, I traveled to Boston to teach in The Humanitarian Response Intensive Course. It is offered once each year by the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard for professionals or graduate students who are working in the humanitarian or development fields. The course covers a wide range of issues affecting fieldwork, including water and sanitation, civilian and military relations, international law, personal security, the latest developments in the use of technology and satellite imagery, and related other topics. The two week course ends with a three day disaster simulation in a rustic state park north of Boston.  

This year we were invited to present on "Responder Mental Health and Resilience." I gave an interactive presentation focused on recognizing the stressors inherent in this work, how the brain manages these stressors, key factors in resilience, and how to control a hyper-arousal response. I also attended the disaster simulation and provided mental health support to students, especially after the mock kidnapping scenario. Over 90 students and 50 volunteers participated in the course. This included Navy personnel, medical residents and practitioners, and other professionals from around the world. I enjoyed interacting with students, and the other presenters, who will clearly have an impact on the future of relief and development work. 

- Dr. Don Bosch, Director of Clinical Services

From the President...

Are you old enough to remember participating in ten-year strategic planning exercises? Today things change so fast that it’s hard to plan beyond five years with any confidence. In fact, we’ve begun our three-year planning cycle one year early due to recent dramatic changes in the humanitarian aid world. Increased political violence, rapid urban growth, climate change, and funding cuts are creating increasingly complex emergencies like Syria. These high-stress, high-risk contexts place uniquely complicated demands on humanitarian aid workers deployed to provide food, water, sanitation, shelter, and medical care for millions of displaced and traumatized people. To keep pace with their changing needs, we are providing new training, assessment, and treatment tools that are more efficient, cost-effective, and scalable. 

We’re being creative in applying good science and compassionate caring to the urgent needs of relief and development workers assigned to these complicated humanitarian emergencies. The challenge in strategic planning is anticipating tomorrow’s problems well enough to develop new and better ways to address them. Old solutions are insufficient to help humanitarian aid workers with the future challenges they will face. As always, you help us in this process by sending supportive thoughts and advice our way, as we endeavor to provide even better support and assistance in the next three years.

Thanks for your help  - Jim

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