Despite impressive growth and institutionalization, the humanitarian system risks being outpaced by new threats and vulnerabilities linked to conflict, technology, and natural disasters. As the system struggles to adapt to the social and political changes spawned by globalization, the way it is organized and its framework for decision-making risks becoming obsolete.

Unless urgent steps are taken, humanitarian action will lose its relevance as a global system for saving and protecting the lives of at-risk populations.

The project was a collaboration between Kings College London, the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and the Feinstein International Center.


The project aims to influence the direction of ‘non-traditional’ and traditional humanitarian actors to help them deal with a world that is rapidly changing and potentially growing more vulnerable. It lays out the reasons and evidence for why the system needs to fundamentally change and suggests measures to adapt to an ever more complex and uncertain future. To do so, it draws upon the lessons of the past, captures the rapidly changing landscape of the present, and proposes ways to prepare for a world in which the types, dimensions, and dynamics of threats that produce humanitarian needs will increase – in some instances, exponentially.

Planning from the Future: Is the Humanitarian System Fit for Purpose?
failings of the humanitarian system

Does the humanitarian system have the capacity and vision to respond effectively to the crises of today, tomorrow, and deep into the future? This report analyses the failings of the...

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Regional Humanitarian Challenges in the Sahel

The Sahel rarely makes headlines. Until the early 2000s, it was on the margins of geopolitical interest and of humanitarian action and debate. Today, the Sahel is on center stage...

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No End in Sight: A Case Study of Humanitarian Action and the Syrian Conflict Component 2. The Contemporary Humanitarian Landscape: Malaise, Blockages and Game Changes
humanitarian action in syria
By Kimberly Howe | January 2016

The scale of the Syrian conflict and resulting humanitarian need constitute one of the largest crises of our time.  This case study analyzes contemporary humanitarian action in Syria, cross-border operations,...

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Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy: Implications for Humanitarian Response
Sweden's feminist foreign policy
By Dyan Mazurana, Daniel Maxwell | January 2016

This policy brief presents the implications of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy for the people they strive to assist, Sweden’s own humanitarian policy and operations, and more broadly the whole humanitarian...

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Protection in the context of humanitarian action
By Norah Niland | December 2015

The bulk of humanitarian action occurs in armed conflict settings and this will likely persist into the foreseeable future. Therefore, protection – keeping people safe from armed violence, abuse, discrimination,...

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Can revolutionary medicine revolutionize the humanitarian system?
humanitarian activities
By Nicola Dahrendorf | August 2015

Cuba’s contribution to and involvement in humanitarian activities provide an instructive and challenging lens through which to investigate alternative courses to Western dominated humanitarian action. Cuba’s participation in a range...

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The Somalia Famine of 2011-2012

The Somalia famine of 2011 was to date the worst famine of the 21st Century. In retrospect the disaster should never have reached the severity that it did, but the famine developed...

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The Return to Violence in South Sudan
violence in South Sudan
By Daniel Maxwell, Phoebe Donnelly | August 2015

South Sudan became the world’s newest country in July 2011, but internal political struggles resulted in renewed violent conflict in December 2013, affecting nearly half the country’s population and displacing some...

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