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What is International Humanitarian Assistance and Why Definitions Matter?

CEU building
Thursday, March 14, 2019, 3:30 pm

Environmental Systems Laboratory cordially invites you to the next talk in

CEU Open Lecture Series on Disaster Management by

Ivana Vuco

USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)
PhD student at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy

What is International Humanitarian Assistance and Why Definitions Matter?



The term ‘humanitarian’ is widely used to describe different types of behaviors, intentions, and activities, some charitable, some political and some of military nature. For example, 1999 NATO’s intervention in Kosovo and Serbia was labeled humanitarian intervention. It would seem that this catchy term, abundantly applied by policy makers, international organizations, media, as well as well-wishing people worldwide, have no standard definition and is, therefore, free for anyone to use. Yet, this may not be so. Humanitarian assistance, in fact, carries a very specific meaning to a growing number of professionals who call themselves humanitarian (or aid) workers, to their donors and sometimes to the communities where humanitarian operations take place. While not claiming the ownership over the term, humanitarian organizations have agreed that any material and non-material assistance aimed at saving lives, alleviating suffering and restoring human dignity to disaster-affected populations constitute the very core of their humanitarian work. 

This talk examines the defining elements of the international humanitarian response to human-made and environmental disasters within the reality of political interests, political funding and insufficient awareness of the structures and underlining principles of international humanitarianism and argues that more remains to be done to define and delineate the key terminologies in order to preserve the unique character of the phenomenon called international humanitarian assistance.

Ivana Vuco is a regional humanitarian advisor for USAID’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), based in Budapest. In the past, she held several senior positions within the UNHCR and the UN OHCHR in Yemen, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, Rwanda, Syria, Jordan and Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a Master’s Degree in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She is also pursuing a PhD at the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy at CEU.

All students, faculty and staff members are welcome to attend!

Systems Laboratory and Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy organize a series of open lectures on Disaster Management and Risk Reduction at CEU. The lectures are conducted by practitioners from relevant organizations worldwide: UN agencies, national ministries, international NGOs, etc. Find out more about the CEU Open Lecture Series on Disaster Management and register here if you would like to receive information about similar events in the future.

In the framework of the Third Year of Disaster Management Open Lecture Series.