Book Chapter
Complex Humanitarian Emergencies

Concepts and Issues

The Age of Humanitarian Emergencies makes an effort to define and operationalize a humanitarian emergency. After having discussed extensively definitions related to collective violence, especially genocide and civil war, the paper opts for a more comprehensive definition associated with the idea of a 'complex humanitarian emergency'. This idea stresses the multidimensionality and the political nature of humanitarian crises. Multidimensionality is reflected in the decision to define a humanitarian emergency by four factors: warfare, disease, hunger, and displacement. The human-rights dimension is considered relevant, but embedded in the four other factors than an independent defining characteristic. The political nature of emergencies is reflected, in turn, in the intra-crisis struggle for relative gains in the distribution of economic gains and political power in the crisis-ridden society. While natural disasters can have socio-economic consequences, the humanitarian crises are man-made in two senses of the word; they result from increasing vulnerability of marginalized populations to disasters or may have even been started to reap economic and political benefits for a particular group. On the basis of the four defining criteria of humanitarian crises, the paper develops an empirical classification of different types of emergencies. Throughout the paper these crises are seen as an important component of the dualist development of our time, as a downside of many positive economic and political developments. In the end, these two sides of the human development may be interlinked.