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A humanitarian crisis (or "humanitarian disaster") is defined as a singular event or a series of events that are threatening in terms of health, safety or well being of a community or large group of people. It may be an internal or external conflict and usually occurs throughout a large land area. Local, national and international responses are necessary in such events.
Each humanitarian crisis is caused by different factors and as a result, each different humanitarian crisis requires a unique response targeted towards the specific sectors affected. This can result in either short-term or long-term damage. Humanitarian crises can either be natural disasters, man-made disasters or complex emergencies. In such cases, complex emergencies occur as a result of several factors or events that prevent a large group of people from accessing their fundamental needs, such as food, clean water or safe shelter.
Examples of humanitarian crises include armed conflicts, epidemics, famine, natural disasters and other major emergencies. If such a crisis causes large movements of people it could also become a refugee crisis. For these reasons, humanitarian crises are often interconnected and complex and several national and international agencies play roles in the repercussions of the incidences.
There is no simple categorization of humanitarian crises. Different communities and agencies tend to have definitions related to the concrete situations they face. A local fire service will tend to focus on issues such as flooding and weather induced crises. Medical and health related organizations are naturally focused on sudden crises to the health of a community.
An ongoing or lingering pandemic may amount to a humanitarian crisis, especially where there are increasing levels of virulence, or rates of infection as in the case of AIDS, bird flu or Tuberculosis. Major health-related problems such as cancer, global warming typically require an accentuated or punctuated mass-event to justify a label of "crisis" or "disaster".
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) lists categories which include different types of natural disasters, technological disasters (i.e. hazardous material spills, Chernobyl-type of nuclear accidents, chemical explosions) and long-term man-made disasters related to "civil strife, civil war and international war". Internationally, the humanitarian response sector has tended to distinguish between natural disasters and complex emergencies which are related to armed conflict and wars.
Socially, women and children (mostly girls) receive a significantly decreased amount of attention in response to humanitarian crises. Women and children make up 3 quarters of refugees or displaced persons at risk post-crisis. A quarter of this population is of reproduction age and a fifth of this population is likely to be pregnant. In times of emergency and such crises, deaths associated with pregnancy, reproductive health, sexual violence and sexual exploitation increase drastically especially amongst females. During such emergencies, women lose access to family planning services, prenatal care, postpartum care and other health services. The heightened risk of female health and safety makes them vulnerable to disease, violence and death.
Non-profit organizations such as the Women's Refugee Commission deal with aiding particularly women suffering from various types of humanitarian crises. According to the Women's Refugee Commission, during the first hours of a humanitarian crisis, women and young children are at most risk. During such an event, agencies and organizations approach matters variably. However, the top critical requirements within hours and months of the crises include: keeping the refugees and internally displaced persons away from danger, allowing access to fundamental needs such as food and healthcare, identification information, preventing sexual violence and others.
Socio-economic realities of humanitarian crises
Economic issues can lead to humanitarian crises or humanitarian crises can lead to economic downfalls. If it occurs after a humanitarian crisis affects a nation, it is imperative to return the livelihoods in the economic settings of the nation. One of the critical needs on the Women's Refugee Commission's list is providing education and economic opportunities in order to maintain the economic qualities of the region. It is done by using the skills of the displaced persons or refugees involved to provide them with opportunities to gain income.
If it occurs as a cause of humanitarian crisis, the society would have been in a state of civil insecurity and economic shortfalls, which could cause the government to collapse. This can also result from food insecurity, famines, corruptions and various other issues. Direct effects of this situation include human rights violations, violence and mass murders.
Environmental and ecological impacts
In the cases of humanitarian crises, especially natural disasters such as tornadoes, tsunamis and earthquakes, these incidences leave environmental and ecological impacts on the regions affected. The aftermaths of natural disasters can lead to a significant decrease in natural resources while making the region prone to future issues. For example, if a forest fire occurs in a large region, the area may be susceptible to air pollution, dust clouds, release of carcinogenic gases and others. Forest ecological wildlife, for example, is severely impacted by such events. In the cases of water natural disasters such as floods and tsunamis, extensive damage due to the water is prevalent. Fish, corals and other ocean life is impacted, which further impacts the livelihoods of fishermen.
There is no singular solution to any one humanitarian crisis. Often, the primary cause of a humanitarian crisis is intertwined with several other factors. Further, one repercussion can lead to another which may lead to another. For instance, in the case of a flood, fish and ocean life is impacted, an environmental and ecological impact. This can further impact humans the source of income for fishermen, an economical impact. This causes the residents of this particular area to be stripped from their source of food and their culture of consuming sea fish. This can lead to women and children being forced to work in dangerous conditions to gain income and food, a social impact. Evidently, one crisis can have many impacts that are interconnected with one another and there is no single solution. The Feinstein International Center at Tufts University works to understand and find solutions to the intersection of various factors that contribute to humanitarian crisis.
Preparing for humanitarian crises
In dealing with humanitarian crises, emergency preparedness plays a critical role by building national capacity to reduce the cost of long-term response. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) employs a multisectoral approach to help countries "develop risk information to guide national and local policy; training and developing capacity for institutions, communities and first responders; reducing the risk of disasters in climate sensitive sectors; and helping planners integrate disaster risk reduction strategies into national development plans." However, humanitarian finance is released after a crisis and instead of providing support through a continued preparedness system, isolated ‘preparedness activities’ take priority. Emergency preparedness is largely underfunded and existing financing is complicated, fragmented and disorganised.
Another significant problem is a mismatch between the supplies delivered and the supplies, which are needed for a particular crisis. A proposed solution is to use distributed manufacturing with 3D printers. Open source RepRap 3D printers have already been redesigned to be resilient for humanitarian responses. In this way only basic materials and printers can be shipped and then those working in the field can fabricate what is needed. In some cases this can even done by waste plastic converted to 3D printing feedstock with recyclebot technology.
To better respond to humanitarian crises, a report by the Overseas Development Institute suggests that although there are advantages to improving existing financing mechanisms, incremental changes will still leave gaps and a new system must be considered to save lives and aid disaster risk reduction.
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