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The Importance of Adhering to the Core Humanitarian Principles to Deliver Effective Humanitarian Aid

Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, and Independence – the core principles identified as necessary to effective humanitarian response.


These principles converge into the notion of providing humanitarian aid, revolving around eliminating barriers and maximising benefits for people in need.

Originally created by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and later adopted by the United Nations, they offer a universal outline of the necessary conditions for humanitarian response.


Giving unbiased aid to those who need it most – protecting lives and safeguarding health – requires an understanding of the right ways of operating under specific circumstances.


But what exactly does adhering to these core principles entail?


Here, we delve into the reasons why following these principles is key to delivering effective humanitarian support.


The meaning of the principles: Humanity as a priority


Indisputably the pillar of the seven principles, the principle of Humanity, inherently elicits a quality of compassion and empathy: human suffering cannot be met with indifference, and all human beings in need of aid should be protected and respected regardless of who they are.


This principle promotes mutual respect and cooperation – anyone could find themselves in need of humanitarian aid, and assisting without discrimination or ulterior motives is at the core of the definition of ‘humanity’ itself.


As much as we would like to believe that helping our fellow human beings is a natural impulse, however, humanity is not effortless, and translating this principle to concrete action is not without its difficulties.


Ultimately, humanity is what inspires volunteers to provide emergency aid, motivates groups of individuals to build charities to directly assist those in need, and encourages organisations to take action to support those striving to make a positive impact.


Impartiality in practice


Intrinsically linked to the principle of humanity is that of impartiality, which demands no discrimination on the basis of nationality, religion, gender, sexual or political orientation, with emphasis being placed on need alone.


In a practical sense, this translates to giving assistance to those who need it most without bias, regardless of any other factors that may come into play. Complete objectivity, however, can be particularly challenging – prioritising certain individuals inevitably means others may altogether not receive the help they need.


But ‘compromising’ in an effort to follow the principle of Impartiality is quite simply a requirement, particularly to battle dangerous tendencies that prompt individuals or organisations to give priority to some emergency situations over others, often as a result of media attention being given to large-scale crises as opposed to ‘smaller’ disasters that may have affected just as many people, or more.


Neutrality and Independence: an impossible feat?


In its most simple definition, neutrality means refusing to take sides. But from a humanitarian point of view, there are a plethora of connotations.


When providing aid to countries struggling with civil conflicts, for instance, remaining neutral may mean helping those who may be considered attackers or instigators, which for some is no easy matter.


Of course, putting aside personal convictions to act in a neutral manner does not mean not having any, or not wanting to fight for what one believes to be ‘right’, it simply means acting in a way that doesn’t seek to influence the course of events.


In a similar sense, the principle of Independence focuses on avoiding dependency on political or military powers. Acting autonomously – and demonstrably so – reinforces credibility in those carrying out humanitarian relief missions or those supporting entities that do, and it is ultimately of benefit to all parties involved.


For those who rely on public or third-party funding and aid budgets, diversifying these sources is essential to avoid being influenced and maintain public trust, ultimately enabling humanitarian organisations to continue along the same path of valuable, unbiased humanitarian assistance.


Putting learnings into practice


The principles of Humanity, Neutrality, Impartiality and Independence are recognised by international humanitarian law as essential components of effective humanitarian response, and can be utilised to clearly exemplify what stands at the heart of humanitarian aid.


Humanitarian aid is more than just providing assistance to those in need, also implying a desire to help that is not motivated by financial gain. Businesses that choose to support humanitarian organisations with services or products should just as equally be driven by an altruistic desire to help alleviate pressure from these entities for the benefit of those affected by crises or disasters, rather than generating profit.


Alleviating human suffering ultimately requires a unified, global response that seeks to knock down obstructive barriers. Effective humanitarian response is inherently connected to global cooperation, compassion, solidarity and equality, and adhering to the core humanitarian principles is key to begin putting thoughts into action and create long-lasting change.

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