Path dependency when prioritising disaster and humanitarian response under high levels of conflict: a qualitative case study in South Sudan

Rodrigo Mena Fluhmann*, Thea Hilhorst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

In high-conflict scenarios, humanitarian needs often surpass resources, and humanitarians are faced with ongoing challenges of whom to prioritise and where to work. This process is often referred to as ‘targeting’, but this article uses the concept of ‘triage’ to emphasise how prioritisation is a continuous and political process, rather than a one-off exercise to find the best match between needs and programme objectives. This study focused on South Sudan, exploring the formal and informal dynamics at the national, regional and local levels of humanitarian decisions. The article is based on semi-structured interviews and multiple meetings and observations of programmes over four months of fieldwork in 2017. This fieldwork was beset by many of the problems that humanitarians also encounter in their work, including complicated access, logistics difficulties and security challenges. Humanitarian action is meant to be flexibly deployed to respond to priority needs resulting from conflict or disasters, and agencies have multiple tools and policies to facilitate this. However, in reality, we find humanitarian action largely locked into path-dependent areas of intervention because agencies must rely on logistics, trust and local partners, all of which take years to develop, and because local actors’ commitment to see programmes continued.

Keywords: Humanitarian aid, High-intensity conflict, Targeting, Triage, Politics of prioritisation, Disaster response, Path-dependency, South Sudan
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of International Humanitarian Action
Volume7
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding:
This work is part of the research project ‘When Disasters Meet Confict’, funded
by a VICI grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientifc Research
(NWO) (Grant number: 453-14-013).

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