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From data and misinformation to climate and race: What to watch this humanitarian ‘week’

‘It’s not so much a conference as a festival.’

Sara Cuevas/TNH

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The humanitarian sector isn’t known for being concise, and neither are its conferences.

Take Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week, which begins in-person sessions in Geneva today. The summit gathers aid workers, aid experts, and the aid-adjacent for a gabfest so sprawling that it has outgrown even its own name: It now lasts a full three weeks, including two weeks of online meetings.

“It’s not so much a conference as a festival,” Martin Griffiths, the UN’s emergency aid chief, said while opening the summit online.

This is a forum for exchanging new ideas (or kvetching about old problems) in crisis preparedness and response. But with more than 250 sessions scheduled face to face and online, there’s a lot to take in.

So in the interest of brevity, here’s a pared-back list of some of the issues and panels that The New Humanitarian is eyeing:

Anticipatory action

The humanitarian sector’s buzzword du jour continues to hum. At least a dozen events cover the broad push to better predict and plan for crises before they hit, known as anticipatory action.

Anticipatory action may sound straightforward, or even obvious, but it demands big changes to how the aid sector prepares for and responds to emergencies – from better data and forecasting to revamping funding and more.

The focus of one panel is particularly lofty: The 9 May “Ready from space” session, led by data-focused non-profit iMMAP, covers emerging ways of turning satellite imagery and other data into useable forecasts.

An 18 May online panel has more down-to-earth goals: including the private sector in anticipatory action.

Background reading: The push to anticipate crises gains steam

Data security and aid

Cybersecurity experts say humanitarian data is ripe to be weaponised, and those most at risk are the very people aid is meant to help.

Look no further than the high-profile hack on the International Committee of the Red Cross, revealed in January, for an example of the risk – personal data belonging to more than a half-million people in crises was exposed.

Several panels spotlight data and cybersecurity, including:

- Cybersecurity in the humanitarian sector, on 10 May

- How technology is changing security risk management in the humanitarian sector on 12 May

Background reading: ‘It’s like the wild west’: Data security in frontline aid and The top tech threats humanitarians face in Ukraine

Talking about race

The aid sector is still catching up to wider discussions on race, social justice, and decolonisation.

A 17 May online panel by risk research outfit GISF examines one aspect: how race, ethnicity, and nationality affect aid workers’ security. “Many security managers – and aid workers alike – feel uncomfortable even talking about these issues, afraid of saying the ‘wrong thing’,” the organisers note.

More broadly, “organisational culture and power relations” is one of the nine core topics at the humanitarian summit. It was introduced at last year’s conference, driven in part by wider movements like #AidToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

This year, only a handful of panels explicitly cover this stream. Here’s one that intersects: a 17 May online panel on power dynamics hosted by the Start Network, which focuses on nudging along humanitarian sector reforms.

Background reading: The West’s humanitarian reckoning

The climate crisis

The summit has a heavy focus on the climate crisis, with sessions on food impacts, greening responses, health repercussions, disaster data, risk reduction, and more.

An 11 May hybrid panel aims to place the humanitarian sector squarely within the realm of the climate crisis, and vice versa. It features Red Cross organisations, the UN’s refugee agency, the World Bank, and others.

Background reading: Why the conversation about climate change and migration needs to change

Misinformation

Clearer communication is always welcome. That’s especially the case in an industry known for its penchant for acronyms and abbreviations: This summit features tongue-twisters like INEGMA-E2, ESUPS, and the vowel-challenged JHLSCM.

That’s why we’re partial to the 11 May panel on communicating amid misinformation. It also doesn’t hurt that The New Humanitarian’s policy editor-at-large, Jessica Alexander, is taking part.

Background reading: Aid policy trends to watch in 2022

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