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Published: October 9, 2015

What is ‘humanitarian communication’?

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In October 2014, the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) launched a knowledge hub on communications technology and security risk management. The first publication of this project brought together 17 authors who analysed in 11 articles how communications technology is changing the operational environment, the ways in which communications technology is creating new opportunities for humanitarian agencies to respond to emergencies, and the impact that new programmes have on how we manage security.

The most recent contribution to the project comes from the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. In their article, al Achkar, Card and Raymond explore what constitutes ‘humanitarian communications space’, and the challenges to agreeing a common definition of ‘humanitarian communication’ and its protection under international law.

It is time for the humanitarian community to revisit and revise the definitions of what constitutes ‘humanitarian’ aid in a networked world. As a result, we will be able to begin the long and iterative process of developing standards based on these definitions to protect technology’s promise and help mitigate its perils.


What is ‘Humanitarian Communication’? Towards Standard Definitions and Protections for the Humanitarian Use of ICTs. al Achkar, Z., Card, B. and Raymond, N. (2015)

Read the full article


About the authors:

Nathaniel A. Raymond is Director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). He was formerly Director of Operations of the Satellite Sentinel Project at HHI. He served in the past as the director of the Campaign Against Torture at Physicians for Human Rights and in various positions at Oxfam America.

Brittany Card is a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. She worked for the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative as part of the Satellite Sentinel Project (2011-2012) and the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology (2012-2015). Additionally, she is a data research consultant for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2014-2015).

Ziad al Achkar is a researcher with the Signal Program at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. Achkar has a Masters degree in Diplomacy & International Relations from the School of Diplomacy at Seton Hall University.


Visit the communications technology hub


The hub aims to provide an outlet for researchers and practitioners to make original and policy-relevant research available to the humanitarian community. If you would like to contribute, please get in touch with the editor of the series at eisf-research@eisf.helpful.ws


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