How to Fix the Broken Humanitarian System: A Q&A with Paul Spiegel

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Refugee kid in front of hundreds of tents, during sunrise in a refugee camp in Idomeni, Greece in March 2016. Image by George Tatakis via iStock.

Even as the world struggles with multiple crises that have forced tens of millions of people from their homes—a scale unseen since World War II—the humanitarian response system designed to help them is broken, says Paul Spiegel, author of an article in a Lancet series on humanitarian response that launched on Thursday.

Reconfiguring humanitarian response to make it more coordinated and effective in dealing with prolonged crises like that of Syria is essential for the future, says Spiegel, director of the Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. What does this reconfiguration look like? Stronger command and control of response, integration of displaced people into local economies and national health systems and fewer organizations involved in response, says Spiegel in this GHN Q&A.

You’ve said that the humanitarian system is broken. How is it broken?
I think it did extremely well for many decades, but it was created for a time when the emergencies were shorter. They weren’t as complex as they are now. Emergencies are becoming more and more protracted. We’ve seen this in terms of both the conflict itself lasting for many years as well as the forced displacement: A refugee is a refugee for over 10 years now. The [weaknesses of] the Band-Aid approach and the division between development and humanitarian response … are now becoming more apparent. The system is clearly not able to function.

Read the full Global Health Now Q&A by clicking here


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