Humanitarian aid

Plenary session:

How to fix humanitarian aid

The humanitarian aid system is in crisis. It’s a crisis of identity, financing and conduct. Agencies set up to deal with the immediate impacts of traumatic events find themselves have become de facto providers of long-term development assistance to displaced communities. Agencies set up to develop global norms and provide technical assistance to governments are facing pressure to coordinate flash responses to transboundary threats. In aggregate, funding for crisis response falls far short of needs and is ad hoc and short-term. Humanitarian actors are more than ever divided over traditional principles of humanitarian action, particularly independence and impartiality. Many of these problems have been thrown into sharp relief by the civil conflict in Syria and its impacts in surrounding countries over the past five years. Arguably, global summitry in 2015 and 2016 has done little to alleviate the humanitarian aid crisis. In a business-as-usual scenario, will implementing agencies really become better coordinated and more efficient, and donors more generous, flexible and willing to increase support for local actors? This panel discussion will air a diversity of perspectives on the state of the humanitarian aid system and options for improving it. Disagreement is guaranteed. So too are concrete ideas.

Plenary panel speakers:

Robin Davies
Associate Director, Development Policy Centre, and Honorary Professorial Fellow, Australian National University

Robin Davies is an Honorary Professorial Fellow at the Australian National University and is Associate Director of the Development Policy Centre. He heads Devpolicy’s program of research into global development policy. He was previously a member of AusAID’s senior executive service for a decade, both in Australia and overseas. Most recently he headed AusAID’s international programs and partnerships division. His policy and research interests include multilateral cooperation for development, development and climate change financing models and public-private partnerships for development.

Jamie Isbister
First Assistant Secretary and Humanitarian Coordinator, Humanitarian, NGOs and Partnerships Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Jamie Isbister joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (formerly AusAID) in January 2009 and has over 20 years experience working in the humanitarian and development field. Jamie is the First Assistant Secretary of the Humanitarian, NGOs and Partnerships Division at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Prior to this he was Minister Counsellor Development for Africa based in Pretoria, and Assistant Director General for the Africa and Middle East Branch of AusAID. He was also the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Australian Government between January 2009 and October 2010. Before joining government Jamie worked in a range of international policy and development positions with NGOs including the International Programs Director for Caritas Australia from 2001-2008. In 2004, he coordinated the initial assessment and response efforts of the Caritas International’s network in Aceh following the Asian Tsunami. Jamie has worked for the Action by Church Together network and was the International Director for ACT – Australia from 1998-2001. In the late 1990’s Jamie worked in the Asia Pacific region particularly in Cambodia, Burma and Thailand on refugee policy and internally displaced issues.

Adam Kamradt-Scott
Associate Professor, Centre for International Security Studies, Department of Government and International Relations, The University of Sydney

Adam specialises in global health security and international relations. His research and teaching explores how governments and multilateral organisations respond to adverse health events such as epidemics and pandemics, as well as emerging health and security challenges. Adam’s most recent research examines civil-military cooperation in health and humanitarian crises, and the correlations between gender, sexuality, health and security. Adam’s professional background before entering academia includes having worked as a health professional, a political adviser, and public servant in national health security and pandemic planning. Prior to joining the Centre for International Security Studies in November 2011, Adam worked as a Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on a €2.5 million project that examined how different values, ideas, and beliefs shape global health policy. He currently serves on a number of editorial boards, was a founding co-convenor of the BISA Global Health Working Group, and currently serves as an executive member of the ISA Global Health section.

Paul McPhun
Executive Director, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

After working with international UN agencies in Africa in the early 1990s Paul joined Médecins Sans Frontières in 1997, setting up medical relief programs in Central Asia and Latin America. As Operational Manager for Médecins Sans Frontières in Canada from 2006, Paul was responsible for programs in countries including Haiti, Russia North Caucuses, Ivory Coast, Colombia, Nigeria and Papua New Guinea, and was one of the coordinators that led the emergency response in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. In December 2010 Paul moved to Sydney to take up the role of Executive Director for Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, where he is responsible for the medical, financial and human resource support that Médecins Sans Frontières Australia provides throughout the world.

Phoebe Wynn-Pope
Director, International Humanitarian Law and Movement Relations, Australian Red Cross

Phoebe has over 25 years experience in the humanitarian sector and has worked in complex humanitarian emergencies and conflict zones throughout Africa, the Middle East and Europe. This field work included working in Iran responding to the humanitarian impacts of the first Gulf War, and leading a humanitarian response to the Somali famine. Phoebe also established programs in Bosnia Herzegovina during the armed conflict and worked in the Great Lakes region as part of the humanitarian response to the Rwandan genocide. Following this experience Phoebe returned to Australia to undertake a PhD in international law focussing on the role of the international community when confronting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Previously Phoebe was a Principal Executive of Fundraising and Communications and from 1996-2002 Phoebe was the Commonwealth representative on the National Council for the Centenary of Federation. In this role she was Convenor of the Communications Committee and chaired the organising Committee of the Yeperenye Festival, the largest gathering of Aboriginal peoples since Federation. Most recently, Phoebe was a founding Director of the Humanitarian Advisory Group where her work focussed on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the use of information technology for the prevention of mass atrocity crimes, as well as researching policy development for businesses operating in fragile and conflict affected states.

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