Accountability in the balance: Exploring the paradox of program criticality on the high-risk frontier of humanitarian assistance
MetadataShow full item record
- Institutt for geografi 
With a staggering 128.8 million people in need1 of humanitarian aid throughout the globe as of 2018, one would hope that the appropriate reaction would be simple for organizations who operate in response to a de facto humanitarian mandate: to promptly provide aid when and where it is required. However, the nuances of humanitarian go/no go decisions do not allow for provision of aid in isolation. Further, most high humanitarian need situations consequently pose high risks by definition due to the changing nature of international conflict. This renders humanitarian work more high stakes than it has ever been before. The humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality, independence and humanity are inescapably perverted as neglected rules of war force the humanitarian system to adapt. The intentional deflection of international human rights law renders both civilians and humanitarian aid workers at great risk. As the boundaries of the four core humanitarian principles are stretched over the new frontiers of the humanitarian context, contentious conversations of liability and accountability abound. At this charged intersection of duty of care and humanitarian need rests the concept of program criticality. For some, program criticality is employed primarily to ensure the security of aid workers in the field. For others, it is a mechanism through which to assess acceptable levels of risk against levels of humanitarian need. In this context where humanitarian need is on the rise and objective risks to staff continues to escalate, the humanitarian sector is forced to ask itself which risks take preventative precedent: risks to staff, or risks of non delivery of aid. This research addresses the former via qualitative methodologies which include but are not limited to interviews with experienced high risk and emergency experts and the security and program staff of prominent humanitarian organizations. This primary data is further enhanced through document reviews on existing program criticality literature through which the question of program criticality decision making processes in high risk contexts is thoroughly explored.