From Lottery to Predictability: Prioritizing Humanitarian Assistance Based on Need


This capstone investigates how humanitarian related agencies can improve their process for prioritizing which humanitarian emergencies receive assistance. Ultimately it will identify a core set of crucial criteria and recommended processes that can empower humanitarian actors to prioritize those with the greatest need or those most vulnerable to armed conflict and natural disaster.

Through interviews and extensive literary research, this paper offers a better understanding of what influences decision-makers at well-established and experienced humanitarian related organizations in their prioritization of emergencies. Their insights and recommendations also helped me to assess the processes and criteria used at my own agency. I use these insights and recommendations to help my organization deliberate the difficult decision of whether or not to provide humanitarian assistance in a politically sensitive and currently high profile emergency.

This paper condenses the major lessons learned into a final set of ten recommendations for improved prioritization criteria and processes. Amongst the recommendations in this paper, several point to our collective need as humanitarian related actors to revisit and redefine who we are, what we do and why we operate. The recommendations instruct us to develop stronger mechanisms to evaluate threat, vulnerability and risk and improve coordination between humanitarian agencies. These recommendations point to our need to assess with more certainty our potential impact and look for ways to provide value-added support.

Ultimately, the recommendations remind humanitarian actors to reflect upon the humanitarian imperative while prioritizing who has the greatest need.

We as the humanitarian response community need to better understand the criteria and processes we use and what impact they can have on the decisions that determine who gets assistance and when. Humanitarian aid workers, policy-makers, donors, governments and international bodies can benefit from a more careful reflection on the humanitarian imperative and our prioritization of those with the greatest need and vulnerability to man-made and natural disasters. The recommended criteria and procedures identified in this paper can offer a good starting point to begin this process.


Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Public Health

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