I spend a lot of time thinking about the divide between humanitarian assistance (HA) and development – and contrary to what some would tell you, there is a significant divide there.  I am, by training, a development person – at least, that is how I tend to think.  I’ve no experience in the HA world – I have not done academic work on disasters and emergencies, nor do I have field experience addressing either.  Yet I find myself serving a fellowship in the HA Bureau of the world’s largest development agency, trying to find ways to better connect our HA efforts and our development efforts – like everyone else in this world, we have all kinds of problems fitting these two worlds together: delayed handoffs, no handoff at all, programs that have no bearing on one another, making planned handoffs impossible, etc.

Working specifically in the area of climate change, the gulf between HA and development work has become really striking.  I’ve been trying to find ways to bridge the HA/development divide via adaptation – thinking about how things like disaster risk reduction and our best practices for relief and recovery might be aligned with adaptation programming to create at least one threat that pulls us coherently from emergency intervention to long-term transformation.  What I have come to realize, in this process, is that the issue of climate change highlights the different cultures of HA and development, at least in this organization.

Simply put, it is not clear to me that the HA side of things has asked or answered the most basic of all questions: what problem are we trying to solve by addressing GCC issues?  Right now the only thing that seems to resonate with the HA side of the house is the idea that we work on climate change to reduce the need for future humanitarian intervention.  While important, that is not a development goal – that is the outcome of achieving other development goals that might lead to more resilient societies with lower sensitivity to and greater adaptive capacity for addressing climate change impacts.  To pull HA and development together around the climate change issue requires thinking about HA programming as furthering development goals – and this, quite simply, is not how most HA folks with which I interact see themselves or their work.  Instead, these folks seem to view the task of humanitarian intervention and crisis management as a goal unto itself.  If you think I am off-base, take the explanation I got from a (ranking) member of an HA office when he was asked about his office’s limited office’s participation in the planning phase of country development strategies: “That’s DA (development assistance) money. We program HA (humanitarian assistance) money.”  Really.  That was the response.  Welcome to my world.  Oh, and the world of a hell of a lot of people in this field, given how many implementing partners we fund.

So you can see the challenge here in linking things via adaptation.  Let’s look at disaster risk reduction (DRR), programming typically handled by HA organizations and specialists.  To link hydrometeorological DRR efforts (think floods and droughts) to adaptation planning requires seeing DRR as more than an end unto itself – DRR would have to fit into larger programs that contribute to development goals which have the overall effect of lowering vulnerability and therefore the need for future humanitarian intervention.  This is not how the HA community I interact with approaches DRR.  Instead, DRR is programmed in the context of specific HA assessments, and with HA-specific goals that may or may not align in any meaningful way with the much broader, longer-term project that is adaptation.

The gulf between HA and development is, therefore, probably only close-able if those on the HA side of the house are willing to reorient themselves toward larger development goals . . . and at least where I sit, that is not going to happen for both cultural reasons and reasons of mandate.  This is a serious problem – we need to close this gap, or we will prolong the programming of HA in places where a decent, coherent program of HA-development planning might get us out of a spiral of disasters.  I see HA as a foundation of development – something that could be built on to create robust change – but this will only be true when the HA side of the house decides it wants to be that foundation.