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Schreiner University

Publication Date

Spring 2020

Program Name

Switzerland: Global Health and Development Policy


Aim: This research aims to examine what guidelines and regulations help ensure that humanitarian organizations are held accountable to their beneficiary populations.

Background: Although people have always been the focus of humanitarian aid, their voice and participation didn't become a centralized part of the conversation until the 1990s and later gained real traction in the early 2000s. During these times, many new foundational documents were created to highlight the "centrality of local participation in aid." Among the documents that enshrined this new principle of population participation included the 1992 Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, the Humanitarian Charter in 2000, the Good Humanitarian Donorship principles in 2003, and the Humanitarian Reform initiative in 2005. Later came the adoption of the Cluster approach and the introduction of the HESPER model for needs assessment, but despite the gains in policy development, little change was being made to address the concerns of the affected populations in humanitarian emergencies. Even with the creation of the Transformative agenda and its goal of accountability to affected populations (AAP) as its core principle, humanitarian reviews still find little reform in the area of accountability to affected populations.

Methods: A literature review was used to identify relevant peer-reviewed articles and gray literature that centered on "people power in humanitarian settings," donor to beneficiary relations, humanitarian coordination, humanitarian law and policy, and existing guidelines on accountability in humanitarian action. Two semi-structured, virtual interviews were conducted with experts in humanitarian aid and international policy who were chosen due to their relevant background in this topic. An analysis was conducted on the interviews to determine the main themes and subthemes in both responses.

Discussion: Factors that lead to a hinderance in accountability to affected populations include limited to no localization of aid in conflict settings, lack of communication between national and non-national humanitarian actors, marginalization of aid recipients’ leadership roles, problematic downward accountability measures, and a lack of participation when it comes to people’s perceived needs. However, due to prominent shortcomings in many recent major humanitarian responses, the importance of increasing accountability to people in humanitarian work has now become a focus that can no longer be ignored in the international community.

Results: Two themes emerged from this research: the implementation of proper channels to ensure accountability to affected populations and the barriers faced when working towards a coordinated approach for upholding humanitarian principles to aid recipients.

Conclusion: The lack of accountability to affected populations is not due to a lack of policy or principles, but rather it deals with the obscure nature of the rhetoric surrounding the humanitarian concept-- "humanitarian relief must involve, and be accountable to, the crisis-affected people it serves" – and the inability of the humanitarian community to turn this idealistic doctrine into a reality.


Business Law, Public Responsibility, and Ethics | Emergency and Disaster Management | Emergency Medicine | Health Policy | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | International Humanitarian Law | Medicine and Health | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Peace and Conflict Studies


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