AllHumanity Blog

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Is Virtual Reality (VR) the “empathy machine”? What are the best practices of VR, a technology that is taking off in 2016?

Mark Atkin, curator of VR exhibitions at Sheffield Doc/Fest, UK’s biggest non-fiction film festival, speaks with the Thomson Reuters Foundation about the challenges of making VR films and how filmmakers can adapt their ways of storytelling.

Virtual reality was tied to computer gaming when it gained popularity in the 1990s. But as the technology has progressed, it has found many other uses. Filmmakers and charities have begun to use VR films to raise awareness of humanitarian issues worldwide, with its immersive quality helping audiences to better understand the plight of those caught up in wars or disasters.

“It’s certainly not good enough just to take your camera and stick it in the middle of a refugee camp and think ‘now people will understand,'” Atkin said. “If you don’t have a strong connection to the character, if you don’t have a compelling story, it’s just like any other media. It’s not going to move you very much at all.”

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WASHINGTON—Faced with an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis that is stretching aid agencies to the brink, a group of leading U.S. relief and advocacy organizations including CARE USAInternational Rescue CommitteeMercy CorpsOxfam AmericaSave the Children USAU.S. Fund for UNICEFWorld Food Program USA launched a coordinated effort to revamp the way the international system provides emergency and development relief.    The U.S. Institute of Peace, an independent, national institute dedicated to managing conflict, also contributed to the report.

To launch the effort, the eight organizations issued a report, “A World at Risk: Humanitarian Response at A Crossroads,” which outlines a comprehensive set of recommendations that donor countries, host nations and aid organizations must take to address a scale of human suffering not seen since World War II.

“Having been driven from their homes by conflict and natural disasters, 60 million people across the globe are currently in dire need -- and that number is only expected to grow,” says Oxfam America President Ray Offenheiser."We must rethink how the humanitarian system can meet this rising need, working with local leaders, and helping communities become more resilient to the challenges they will inevitably face.”

The current humanitarian system is simply unable to meet the challenge of providing life’s basic needs—food, water, shelter—for the record number of people affected by conflict and disaster across the globe. Such widespread suffering fuels instability that transcends borders.

“This is one of the most significant challenges of our time. These conflict-driven crises not only cause enormous human suffering, but also pose a direct threat to global stability,” says Rick Leach, President and CEO of World Food Program USA. “The U.S. must continue to play a lead role, including mobilizing the rest of the world to address this challenge.”

The report outlines the need to find innovative ways to secure flexible and predictable funding, improve the link between emergency response and longer-term development efforts, boost the role of the private sector, including economic investments to spur job creation among refugee populations as well as host communities, increase local involvement, provide better support for refugee-hosting nations, and increase accountability and transparency among aid organizations.

"The steep increase in humanitarian crises is increasingly driven by protracted conflicts," says Nancy Lindborg, President and CEO of the U.S. Institute of Peace. "We urgently need to rethink how we provide assistance as well as focus on getting ahead of these terrible cycles of conflict so we can shrink the need."  

The report also notes the new socioeconomic challenges created by these disasters, including the protracted nature of conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and elsewhere and the increasing number of refugees who now live in urban settings instead of designated camps. The result is millions of people’s lives are being put on hold now that the average length of displacement stands at 17 years.

The organizations are working together to bring these recommendations directly to Members of Congress, the Administration and relevant financial institutions for in-depth, solution-oriented discussions. The recommendations are presented ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May as well as the upcoming UN General Assembly meetings this fall.

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To download the report, please visit:

Media contact: Holly Frew  +1.404.979.9389

About CARE:  Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE has more than six decades of experience helping people prepare for disasters, providing lifesaving assistance when a crisis hits, and helping communities recover after the emergency has passed. CARE places special focus on women and children, who are often disproportionately affected by disasters. To learn more, visit       

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Is humanitarian aid work becoming more dangerous? At first glance, the figures in the preview of findings from the forthcoming Aid Worker Security Report seem to bear good news. In comparison with 2013, a year that set an all-time record of violence against humanitarians, major attacks on humanitarian workers declined by over a third in 2014. However the decrease in reported incidents does not guarantee lower levels of risk. In fact, the preview of findings for this year suggests that the registered decrease of roughly 30% in 2014 is mainly due to “reduced or reconfigured operational presence (…) with fewer aid workers deployed to field locations deemed insecure”. As a result of greater insecurity and limited access, risk management measures have led many 
aid agencies to increasingly rely on local partner organizations for the implementation of programmes. While the localization of aid for sustainability and empowerment has long been on the humanitarian agenda – indeed, “localization” and “nationalization” of humanitarianism are recurring topics in the World Humanitarian Summit consultations – the last two decades have witnessed a significant transfer of risk toward local and national organizations without a corresponding transfer of capacity to mitigate those risks.

In terms of funding, the humanitarian financing system is still the feudal grant of traditional international agencies. Between 41% and 62% of the humanitarian assistance that comes from government donors goes to multilateral organizations, mostly UN agencies. Of the total of almost USD 19 billion that governments spend in humanitarian assistance, only a small percentage goes to NGOs as first-level recipients, and if we look at the funding that is directly channeled through national NGOs, it amounted to only USD 46.6 million in 2014. That is roughly 1.2% of the total given to NGOs, and 0.2% of the total humanitarian funding. While international agencies eventually channel more funding to NGOs, the growth of the humanitarian system in the last decade has translated into a multilayered system of contracts and subcontracts, making it difficult to “follow the money” and obtain aggregate data beyond first-level recipients.

Despite their slight weight in the humanitarian financing system, national NGOs are often the ones ultimately implementing programs on the ground. This shift to local partners is even more acute in high-risk contexts where international humanitarian agencies have difficulty operating. Awaiting the publication of this years’ Aid Worker Security Report and further disclosure of the figures, we expect the analysis of last year’s incidents to confirm previous reports in revealing that most of the victims of attacks are national employees, i.e. those providing aid within their own countries and employed either by international or national organisations. In 2014, 87% of the victims of violence were national staff.

However, statistical evidence does not accurately capture many of the incidents that local staff and national organizations encounter. A number of factors taint the information coming from national organisations, notably, but not limited to, disparities in their reporting capacity, different perceptions of risk compared to international organisations, and distinct approaches to security risk management. As a result, many security incidents involving local staff still go unreported, despite some limited efforts of international aid agencies to strengthen the reporting mechanisms of their local partners.

With humanitarian access becoming more difficult to achieve by international agencies in certain highly insecure contexts, many of these agencies consciously seek others to carry out critical activities. Three quarters of all major attacks against aid operations in 2013 took place in just five countries: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan and Sudan. With the exception of the latter, which has been replaced by the Central African Republic in 2014, these contexts continue to top the list of most violent settings for aid workers. Not surprisingly, aid delivery in these conflict settings is often channelled through national and local partners.

However, the increased reliance on local partners, and the subsequent risk transfer from international humanitarian organisations to national aid agencies, has not always translated into better security risk management within the partnership. Although international aid agencies have started to recognize that their risk profile differs from the risk profile of their local partners, and that each has differing capacity to manage their own vulnerabilities, international humanitarian organisations and their local partners haven’t yet found a mutual language around security risk management. This not only affects reporting from national NGOs, but also their capacity to manage risks.

Research published by the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) has tried to make a first step towards a wider debate on partnerships with local organisations and security risk management. EISF’s report aimed to clear some of the confusion around the responsibilities that international NGOs hold towards their partners, and tried to provide a better understanding of the legal and ethical responsibilities of international NGOs towards supporting the protection of their national implementing partners.

International NGOs are transferring risk down the line. However, they are not transferring the capacity required to manage the particular risks faced by local partners in a manner that addresses national agencies’ needs and risk culture. Different contexts require different approaches to security, and mainstreaming security risk management from international NGOs to local partners may not be a lasting solution to sustainably mitigate vulnerabilities and achieve better protection of national and local staff. The disconnect between international NGOs’ approaches and understanding of security risk management, and that of their local partners, is partially a product of a lack of understanding of both the particular risks national staff encounter in delivering humanitarian assistance, and of the traditional mitigating measures that national agencies may employ.

International NGOs need first to understand local partners’ attitudes to security risk management, including the threats, their vulnerabilities and traditional mitigation measures; and then identify their knowledge gaps and the factors that can drive organisational change. Without bridging this disconnect first, any future attempt by international aid agencies to build the protection capacity of local partners will likely be fruitless and short-lived.


Raquel Vazquez Llorente's picture

Raquel is a researcher at the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF), where she coordinates projects and conducts research to help humanitarian organisations gain safer access to communities affected by conflict and emergencies. To hear Raquel discuss the security implications of new information and communications technologies for humanitarian actors, listen to her interview on the ATHA podcast.

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