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September 10, 2015

Responding To: SFS Dean Inaugurates Georgetown's Discussion of Global Governance

Bridging the Humanitarian-Development Gap

Marion Abboud

Dean Joel Hellman’s Global Futures lecture shed light on the development sector’s greatest and most pressing challenge. The reality is that the current “development architecture” is not equipped to address the key global issues and crises we will face in this century.  

As the Dean rightly explained, increased cooperation and collaboration between the diversity of traditional and non-traditional development actors must be central to the new development paradigm we build. He specifically mentioned the divides between academics and practitioners, economists and political scientists, and regional and international actors. But the particularly concerning disconnect that was not mentioned is the one that exists between the humanitarian and development communities. 

Today's crises are long and protracted, and the world's extreme poverty is increasingly concentrated in the most fragile and volatile countries. In this new global context, the division between the humanitarian and development sectors not only hinders, but threatens our ability to face these challenges.   

Until now, these sectors’ roles and responsibilities are laid out in a sequential logic. The humanitarians are the first responders to a crisis – those who address short term, basic needs. Once the situation is relatively stable (assuming that day ever comes), development organizations take the floor, and are tasked with tackling long term, ‘post-crisis’ challenges.   

But in this transition, information gathered and lessons learned by first responders are not effectively transmitted. This results in the wasteful replication of activities, the ‘reinvention’ of the wheel, and most importantly, interventions that are too little and far too late. By the time development workers take the stage, donor fatigue has set in, and the initial sense of urgency, which united and moved so many, has dissipated. And yet, this post-crisis, post-conflict rebuilding phase will be critical and decisive for sustainable, long-term peace and stability.  

If we want to effectively tackle present and future global challenges, humanitarian and development efforts must happen simultaneously. They must share information, coordinate programming and interventions, and, most importantly, mobilize around their shared goals of reducing and eliminating human vulnerability and insecurity.  

Recently, international organizations have advocated for increased collaboration between the humanitarian and development sectors. But the real question is not merely how we can foster a collaborative spirit, but rather how we can institutionalize and systematize a real synergy, synchronization, and harmony between these two fields so that they can face our century's challenges as one united force. 

Marion Abboud is a student in Georgetown's M.A. Global Human Development Program.

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