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Where does government responsibility lie?

A continual focus on the international aspects of the humanitarian system means that we can forget that national governments have responsibilities too.

The Sendai Framework (UNISDR 2015) has been endorsed by the UN General Assembly and clearly outlines national level government responsibilities. Some of which are outlined below:

  • Improved efforts to reduce the exposure and vulnerability to existing and new disaster risks

  • Focus on underlying ‘risk drivers’

  • Mainstreaming risk considerations within policies

  • Incentivising and regulating private DRR investment

  • Moving away from unsustainable resource usage

  • Improved preparedness and coordination

  • Strengthened governance at all levels

This national and local-level government responsibility is clearly described within the guiding principles:

Disaster risk reduction and management depends on coordination mechanisms within and across sectors and with relevant stakeholders at all levels, and it requires the full engagement of all State institutions of an executive and legislative nature at national and local levels and a clear articulation of responsibilities across public and private stakeholders, including business and academia, to ensure mutual outreach, partnership, complementarity in roles and accountability and follow-up (UNISDR 2015: 13).

Government responsibility to promote and maintain effective preparedness mechanisms, such as early warning systems, pre-positioned stocks, trained staff and volunteers, communication systems, drills, and evacuation shelters, among other measures, is also clearly highlighted. While its role and responsibility in ensuring the safety of schools and hospitals and promoting adherence to building codes is also widely recognised.

One of the major constraints to effective humanitarian accountability is the issue of access. The ACAPs Humanitarian Access Overview (2018) identifies four countries, including Syria and Yemen where access is severely constrained by a range of context specific factors which have direct or indirect relationship to government action. A further eight countries are described as nearly inaccessible, and nine others have access constraints (ACAPs 2018).

The issues include:

  • Violence against humanitarian responders/targeting of health workers (Syria/Yemen)

  • Border closures (Jordan and Turkey with Syria)

  • Denial of access to human rights workers (Eritrea)

  • Travel limitations outside the capital (Eritrea)

  • Obstruction of civilian access to assistance (Yemen)

(ACAPs 2018)

Despite these challenges, Dubois argues for better understanding and acceptance of the realities of government at national and local level in crises contexts and avoiding, where possible, the historic inclination to work around government rather than building relationships and partnerships to jointly develop ways forward which acknowledge political challenges and constraints (Dubois 2018).

Dubois also argues that despite likely problems in relation to efficiency and neutrality, it should be local state and community stakeholders driving the localisation process not INGOs and other international bodies. He cites the examples of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia in the Ebola crisis and how, while flawed, they assumed a measure of leadership and responsibility. Otherwise the process will undermine national sovereignty (Dubois 2018:10-11).

Your task

Read the following three PDF documents below:

  1. Read the whole eight page PDF document: ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview August 2018 PDF document

  2. Read the document, specifically focusing on reading pages 19-20 of the Dubois document HPG Working Paper: The new humanitarian basics by Marc DuBois May 2018

  3. Read specifically the following pages 17-18 of UNISDR Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030

  • What are the opportunities to strengthen government humanitarian accountability?

  • What are the main challenges?


ACAPS (2018) Humanitarian Access Overview. Geneva: ACAPS

Dubois M (2018) The New Humanitarian Basics. London: ODI

UNISDR (2015) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2015-2030. Geneva: UNISDR

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This article is from the free online course:

Disaster Management and Accountability

Coventry University