Participation and Accountability in Humanitarian Disaster Management

Panel details

Panel organiser(s) will be presenting In-Person / Online
Number of paper presentations 12


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When a disaster strikes a region that is marked by weak state structures, political turmoil or challenging geographies, it can take a long time for formal humanitarian organizations to reach all affected localities. As such, in many humanitarian settings, local communities have no choice but to take the lead in organizing aid and relief at village level. When formal humanitarian actors become locally active, the community-based initiatives and structures managing the response at village level tend to be either coopted and subordinated or side-lined. Humanitarian organizations generally do not support community-based response initiatives from behind. Instead, they take the lead and allow local communities to participate in the projects they design and roll out from above. This even happens in aid initiatives that specifically aim to empower communities through participation. One very important factor driving this process is upward accountability to donors: local communities generally lack the capacity to design, implement and monitor projects in a manner that conforms to global standards, protocols and expectations. As such, formal humanitarian actors retain the lead so as to deliver projects in a manner that is accountable and transparent to donors and the wider global community. Most humanitarian actors – including donors - are aware of the ethical questions posed by their undemocratic (self)appointed guardianship over disaster hit communities. There is now a proliferation of donor-funded downward accountability programs. Furthermore, ‘new humanitarians’ pioneering new forms of civic engagement in disaster management have entered the field. They set out to challenge conventional views and practices surrounding participation and accountability. Whether the accountability tools they use and advocate for – such as community meetings, open data, crowdsourcing, participatory design – genuinely challenge the power imbalance between major humanitarian actors and local disaster affected communities, or merely provide a useful “participation gloss” is a question worth debating. The claims and aims that underpin such initiatives also deserve attention.

This panel is intended as an opportunity to discuss practice-based, empirical and theoretical work in the field of participation and accountability. The aim of this panel is to bring scholars and practitioners together from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds so as to enable the exchange of ideas and stimulate future research and interdisciplinary cooperation. This panel focuses on the whole disaster management cycle from risk reduction; to response; to recovery.

Panel topics:
• The interplay between accountability and participation in humanitarian disaster management
• Civic engagement towards an accountable humanitarian response
• How upward accountability and downward accountability shape a humanitarian response

Chairs (in alphabetical order)
Kees Boersma; Nimesh Dhungana; Corinna Frey; Femke Mulder

Date & Time

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Femke Mulder