Report No. 40 to the Storting (2008-2009)

Norway’s Humanitarian Policy

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4 Global humanitarian challenges

4.1 Climate change adaptation and prevention

We are facing a clear increase in the number of humanitarian disasters resulting from climate and environmental change. Three out of every four humanitarian disasters are now climate-related in one way or another, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). We will experience more floods, droughts and other climate-related extreme weather events in the years to come.

Those parts of the world where the capacity for prevention and dealing with extreme events is limited will be hardest hit. Africa, small island states and the large deltas in Asia are particularly at risk. The population in these areas will experience an increase in water shortages, poorer food security and new health risks. The most vulnerable groups will be people who live in dry regions, tropical coastal areas and people living in large and medium sized cities, as well as already vulnerable groups such as children, young people, single parents, the elderly and disabled and indigenous peoples.

It is uncertain how the national authorities will respond to these challenges. Disasters could threaten the stability and security of the countries affected. Experience shows that some regimes will choose continued control and repression, while others will strengthen the ability of civil society to deal with the challenges. Some fragile states may collapse completely.

The choices made by the authorities may exacerbate existing patterns of conflict or contribute to the creation of new ones. These conflicts will not necessarily be between countries. They may be internal conflicts between different population groups at the local level. Regardless of which of these scenarios becomes a reality, the impact on people’s right to water, food, health, education and protection will be great.

There is continued uncertainty about how severe climate change will be, for example at the local level, and about society’s need to adapt to climate change. We know enough to act, however. We also know a lot about vulnerability and about how we can prevent natural disasters from having extensive humanitarian and societal consequences. Great human suffering can be avoided and money saved if we grasp the opportunities currently available to us to do more to adapt society to climate change.

The Government wishes to further develop Norway’s climate adaptation policy. Effective efforts in this area will require far better dialogue between international, national and local authorities, and civil organisations. It will also require better coordination between humanitarian assistance, climate change adaptation and development cooperation. Experts on climate change and prevention must cooperate much more closely if we are to achieve effective climate change adaptation.

The new climate agreement currently being negotiated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for the period after 2012 will probably include commitments for industrial countries to finance climate change adaptation and prevention in developing countries. To ensure a sound basis for future work on the issue, it will be very important that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) places greater emphasis on the humanitarian consequences of climate change.

The Panel’s expert assessments carry great weight with the authorities the world over. This is one of the reasons why, in 2008, the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) and Norway jointly proposed a UN special report on the handling of extreme climate events and disasters, which has now been adopted. A report of this kind will give new substance to the work on climate adaptation in the years ahead and serve as a guide for practical measures in the most vulnerable countries.

Figure 4.1 Flooding in Bangladesh

Figure 4.1 Flooding in Bangladesh

Photo: Reuters Alertnet/Rafiqur Rahman

The ability of the developing countries to address climate change depends on familiar development policy factors such as good governance, access to resources and an active civil society. The consequences of climate change cannot be seen in isolation from development processes. Consequently, adaptation strategies must be rooted in countries’ own development strategies, based on knowledge about risk and vulnerability. Climate considerations must be incorporated into national development plans and strategies for agriculture, water management and forestry management, town planning and, for example, energy, infrastructure, health and education plans.

Many developing countries have now drawn up the first plans that identify immediate measures for climate change adaptation, and organisations are working actively with local partners to incorporate adaptation measures into various fields of cooperation. The need for funding is growing and funds will have to be raised from various sources. The financing of climate change adaptation is currently insufficient in terms of both volume and predictability. A strong escalation of support is needed in order to ensure continued development and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. A new climate regime after 2012 will entail strengthening the financing of the work on adaptation. It is important that these resources contribute in a good manner to the integration of climate change considerations with development in the most vulnerable countries.

In the end, it is the severity of climate change and developments in extreme weather that will decide how far adaptation measures can take us. As the white paper Climate, Conflict and Capital points out, some countries have already done a great deal to prevent the negative consequences of climate and environmental change, for example Bangladesh. These efforts have resulted in great human and material gains.

Increased focus on climate change adaptation will affect how Norway, as a humanitarian actor and long-term partner for developing countries, organises its assistance in this area. The climate negotiations and the results of the upcoming IPCC report will require the coordination of measures and budgets, a matter to which the Government will return.

Textbox 4.1 The white paper Norwegian policy on the prevention of humanitarian crises

In the white paper Norwegian policy on the prevention of humanitariancrises (Report no. 9 (2007-2008) to the Storting), the Government states that Norway will actively promote a culture of prevention.

The following figures illustrate the extent of natural disasters: according to the UN, approximately 20 million people have been affected by natural disasters every year since 1991. That is seven times more than the number of people affected by armed conflict. It is always the poorest people who are hardest hit. Given that the extent of the phenomenon is so great, it is natural to ask whether preventive measures can make a difference. The World Watch Institute has previously estimated that one dollar invested in preventive measures means seven dollars saved in reconstruction. The prevention of natural disasters saves lives and is an effective and necessary part of the fight against poverty.

Norway cannot achieve much on its own. In cooperation with a number of partners, we will actively endeavour to promote understanding and mobilise political willingness to intensify work on prevention. Initially, Norway has entered into cooperation with China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cuba on the challenges these countries are facing. Based on their experience, prevention plans and needs, and in close cooperation with experts in different fields, we are in the process of defining the areas where we can contribute.

In the white paper, the Government states that a reduction in local vulnerability, developing local capacity to cope with disasters and active local participation are the most important instruments in the prevention and emergency response efforts. In other words, local communities at risk must be put in a better position to deal with the challenges themselves. Capacity development is becoming an important issue in the international development context, i.e. helping people to help themselves. The need for broad capacity development also includes training children, young people and adults in relevant knowledge and skills that can increase the quality of local emergency preparedness and crisis management.

Figure 4.2 Consequences of a warmer climate given different increases in temperature.

Figure 4.2 Consequences of a warmer climate given different increases in temperature.

Source Stern Review

4.2 Protection of civilians in complex conflicts

Protecting civilians from violence and abuse has become an increasingly important element in humanitarian activities. Warring parties’ lack of respect for humanitarian law is a major challenge. We note that the distinction between civilians and combatants is becoming blurred. Civilian populations have become targets for military and paramilitary forces, also in densely populated areas. Wars and conflicts are increasingly being waged in towns and villages.

Attacks on women, children and young people are part of the tactics employed. Children and young people are forcibly conscripted into armed insurgent movements or the regular army. Breaking down people’s dignity through, for example, sexual abuse, and thus destroying the fabric of society, has become a common strategy. According to recent research, as many as 90 per cent of those killed in today’s conflicts are civilians and only ten per cent soldiers.

The conflicts are often asymmetrical, and the parties use unconventional warfare. Groups of insurgents hide among the civilian population and use the people as a shield. The use of heavy weapons against such adversaries exposes civilian populations to disproportionate risk and extensive losses.

The number of internally displaced persons is increasing, while the number of refugees who cross borders has fallen in relative terms. This highlights the problem of internally displaced persons not being protected by the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. One important goal for the humanitarian reforms of recent years has been to improve protection of internally displaced persons, but this has yet to be satisfactorily achieved. The so-called Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (1997) form a non-binding framework for safeguarding the rights of internally displaced persons. The principles are supported by the UN and other humanitarian organisations, but they do not provide internally displaced persons with the legal protection they need. In many countries, they are much more at risk than refugees, particularly in countries in conflict and where the authorities do not wish interference form the outside world. It is nonetheless encouraging that several countries are now incorporating the guidelines into national law and regulations.

Refugee situations are regional. Regional cooperation is therefore required, among other things to facilitate reintegration once it is safe for refugees to return to their countries of origins and homes. Where it proves impossible to find solutions in the region, Norway can, in cooperation with the UNCHR, offer a place in Norway for a small number of refugees at particular risk. Any expenses incurred after the first 12 months fall outside the scope of what may be funded under Official Development Assistance (ODA).

There is growing recognition among humanitarian actors that many different political instruments and actors must be involved in order to find permanent solutions to the problems of refugees. This applies in particular to protracted refugee situations such as those in the Horn of Africa or the Great Lakes region. Used strategically, an offer of resettlement can make it easier for the host country and the country of origin to accept local integration and return. It is often a precondition that donor countries, the UN and others support concrete measures. In practice, many refugees have lost their rights to land and will need help, not just financial assistance but also legal and political help.

Textbox 4.2 Running camps for internally displaced persons in the Congo

The Norwegian Refugee Council’s programme for running camps for internally displaced persons in the Democratic Republic of the Congo was established in 2007 in response to the increased tension in the north-eastern areas of the country. An increasing number of internally displaced persons had sought refuge in makeshift camps in and around the provincial capital of Goma. The goal of the programme was to improve the living standards of and provide protection for internally displaced persons in nine camps in and around Goma and Masisi.

The Norwegian Refugee Council"s emphasis has been on improving the coordination of humanitarian assistance in several sectors where the needs are great (for example water, food, sanitary conditions and health). The internally displaced persons have been involved in decision-making processes concerning the situation in the camps.

The conflict escalated once more in autumn 2008, with resultant abuse and mass flight. Several new camps had to be built. In all, around 100 000 people now live in the nine camps for which the Norwegian Refugee Council is responsible in the Congo. While most of the support for this work comes from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the organisation also receives funds from the UN, ECHO (the EU Commission’s humanitarian agency) and Sweden through SIDA. The Norwegian Refugee Council cooperates closely with the UN and with UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF in particular.

Figure 4.3 “When I come home, I will help my mother and father,” writes a former child soldier from the Congo.

Figure 4.3 “When I come home, I will help my mother and father,” writes a former child soldier from the Congo.

Photo: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Textbox 4.3 Security for aid workers

The lack of security for humanitarian aid workers often prevents aid from reaching those affected.

“And yet, with the evolving nature of armed conflict, the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers has increased, establishing a tension between the imperatives of staff safety and effective humanitarian action. This is an issue which continues to generate acute dilemmas,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, in his address to the UN Security Council on 8 January 2009. He told the Security Council that UNHCR employees were bombed in Bosasso last year, shot at in Garowe and taken as hostages in Mogadishu, adding that while the security risk is high, the nature of the UNCHR’s work is such that it requires proximity to those whom it aims to help. The way in which the local population and relevant actors perceive the UNCHR is much more important to the safety of UNCHR staff than armoured vehicles and barbed wire fences, he told the Security Council, adding that, while it will never be possible to completely eliminate such risk, more concerted efforts could be made to deal with it.

The use of rape as a weapon emerged in earnest during the Balkan wars in the 1990s. Widespread gender-based violence, such as sexual abuse and mass rape, has been documented in several countries, including DR Congo and Darfur. Security Council Resolution 1820 deals with rape on a par with other weapons and methods of war. It states that sexual abuse can be a crime against humanity. Abuse must be prosecuted, but only a few cases have been brought to justice so far. It is necessary to improve the follow-up of international law in this area and to consider the possibility of increased monitoring. In the International Criminal Court’s indictment against Sudan’s president al-Bashir, rape as a weapon is a separate count.

There are also examples of aid workers having been guilty of abuse of women and children. It is important that the humanitarian actors have a clear and unequivocal policy of zero tolerance in relation to such acts. Humanitarian actors must take the issue into account in their recruitment work and have a strong focus on preventive efforts at all levels in order to prevent such incidents. Moreover, the humanitarian organisations must have an effective apparatus for dealing with situations in which abuse is nonetheless committed.

Sexual harassment and exploitation have also occurred in UN operations, perpetrated by forces with mandates that commit them to protecting the civilian population. Norway has played an active part in the efforts to promote the UN"s zero tolerance policy in this area in order to prevent UN personnel from committing sexual abuse. One important measure has been the establishment of dedicated teams that train UN personnel, establish complaint mechanisms and hold meetings with the local population.

Weapons such a landmines and cluster munitions mainly kill civilians, and children and young people in particular. In addition to the humanitarian consequences while conflicts are still ongoing, unexploded mines and cluster munitions result in ruined livelihoods and security problems long after a war has ended, not least in connection with the return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

War, suffering and disease are interconnected. Violent conflict results in more disease and an increase in mortality and it has ripple effects that are much more extensive than direct war injuries. Disease strikes unequally, however. Vulnerable population groups are hardest hit: children, women and migrants.

Child mortality is a good indicator of the conflict level in a country. Maternal mortality in connection with childbirth is also particularly high in conflict situations, both because normal health services break down and because such help is not given priority in the aid that is given. The lack of reproductive health services hits women hard in conflict situations.

Infectious diseases are a problem in disaster areas. This is primarily due to the disaster situation itself, but a lack of infrastructure, sanitary facilities and water supply will also have a major impact in a situation in which people are living in crowded and makeshift conditions and health services do not exist.

The declaration presented by the “Foreign Policy and Health” initiative in March 2007 1 advocates taking a more coherent approach to monitoring the disease and health situation of populations affected by conflicts and wars, particularly as regards the indirect effects. More attention must be devoted to women’s role as carers and the situation of women and girls at risk of violence.

Armed conflicts arise most often in countries in which the state lacks the capacity and/or power to exercise control over society. This may be due to a lack of institutional, organisational or financial capacity, or it may be because of the absence of norms and rules for the state and the population. Such weak or failed states lack a functioning government administration that fulfils its obligation to provide security, health and education. The development of social services such as healthcare can make it easier to build the trust that is needed to create peace. This is relevant, for example, to the work of the UN Peacebuilding Commission and the Commission’s cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO).

Textbox 4.4 Responsibility to protect

The genocide in Rwanda gave rise to an international debate on the responsibility of the international community when faced with genocide, ethnic cleansing and other grave abuses. This resulted in the UN Summit in 2005 confirming the principle that states are responsible for protecting their own citizens (“responsibility to protect”) from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and war crimes. The summit also confirmed that the international community has a joint responsibility to help states to fulfil their obligations and to intervene in special cases when states clearly fail to do so.

Military intervention is the last resort among a number of alternative courses of action that largely involve preventing and averting the most serious crimes known to man through diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means. There was debate about the international community’s possibility, willingness and ability to assume this responsibility, both by peaceful means and through the use of force, in connection with the conflict in Darfur and following the cyclone in Burma.

The agreement in principle on the “responsibility to protect” raises new challenges when the international community is faced with concrete situations in which the principle proves difficult to apply in practice. It is paramount that the agreement achieved in 2005 is consolidated and not undermined. International law must be developed in order to establish an obligation for UN Member States to follow up these intentions in practice.

The UN Secretary-General’s report from January 2009 on the implementation of “responsibility to protect” emphasises that a range of perspectives is required, and it attempts to remove some of the controversy surrounding the principle. It states that the principle is based on three pillars: the protection responsibilities of the State, international assistance and capacity-building, and timely and decisive response.

4.3 Migration and urbanisation

A failed agricultural policy, climate and environmental change and population growth are factors that contribute to increased migration and urbanisation. This is not a new phenomenon; migration is a traditional adaptation strategy. The new element is that Africa’s agricultural land is more depleted than before. Desertification is a contributory factor to the rapid urbanisation taking place in Africa.

There are many different and complex reasons why people leave their homes, but increased poverty is probably the decisive factor. Most of the migrants will not be defined as refugees under international law, but as economic migrants and internally displaced persons.

A majority of the world’s population now lives in towns and cities. Many migrants have settled in rapidly growing slums. For many people, cities represent hope and the possibility of a better future, but if the increase is due to flight and the urban refugees fail to find paid employment, this can easily lead to an increase in the formation of slums and social unrest.

Urban refugees represent a phenomenon with which the humanitarian system has little experience. While the classic approach to refugee problems has been to establish camps, urban refugees necessitate new forms of humanitarian assistance.

Textbox 4.5 The cities of tomorrow

It is a distinctive feature of urban population growth in the 21st century that it will largely consist of poor people. In Africa and Asia, the urban population will double during the period from 2000 to 2030. The cities’ self-generated population growth will account for approximately 60 per cent of this growth. Most migrants from the countryside and other towns will settle in new, rapidly-expanding slums.

The urban population is increasingly vulnerable to humanitarian disasters because of their proximity to the coast (75 per cent of the biggest cities in the world are situated near the coast), a lack of regulation and control of building development and a lack of social services. These challenges must be addressed, but the planning of transport services, water supplies and sanitary and social services has hardly begun.

While cities create environmental problems, they also contain the seeds of improvement. Density of population can reduce the ecological footprint, for example by reducing energy consumption.

Migrants may experience an increased risk to their security in their country of origin or in the transit and receiving country. Violence, human trafficking and abuse are important keywords in this context, as we saw in South Africa in spring 2008, when migrants from Zimbabwe were persecuted and harassed. Several thousand people die every year attempting to cross the Mediterranean, in the Caribbean area and along the border between the US and Mexico.

Technological and ecological disasters can have unforeseen consequences for cities and towns. Uncontrolled chemical or radioactive emissions, also as a result of acts of terrorism, can result in massive destruction and require humanitarian initiatives. At present, these challenges are not well addressed by the established humanitarian system.

4.4 Food security, health and education

Food security

Improved food security for those most at risk must be dealt with through coordinated action, not just in the form of food relief and humanitarian aid, but primarily by addressing the underlying causes. Productivity in the agricultural and fisheries sector must be increased through sustainable measures.

Given the strong population growth, increased food production and the development of global agriculture, including climate change adaptation, will be one of the most important preconditions for preventing future humanitarian disasters. Land reform and other changes to existing power structures are also necessary if vulnerable groups are to have access to the food that is produced.

Food aid must be used with caution in order to prevent it undermining sustainable local and regional agriculture. The distribution of seed corn also requires thoroughgoing analyses of needs. The distribution of money to victims is often a more effective alternative in many situations in that it offers the recipients more options and helps to strengthen the local private sector. When distributing food or money, it is important to ensure that vulnerable groups benefit from this help.


In relation to the population’s survival, access to clean water and functioning sanitary services is in many cases as critical a factor as food supplies. Clean water is decisive in relation to preventing the spread of infectious diseases and ensuring the survival of children.

Climate change gives rise to an increased risk to health: food production can be hit in vulnerable regions, floods carry new waterborne diseases with them and an increase in temperature means that the carriers of, for example, malaria will become more widespread.

In recent years, the international community has devoted a great deal of attention to improving emergency preparedness for a new global pandemic. The WHO believes that the question is no longer whether but when such a pandemic will strike. A disease with high mortality, a very great and rapid proliferation potential and ineffective treatment measures will make great demands on coordination between the UN aid apparatus, international organisations, NGOs and national authorities. The response to swine flu in spring 2009 illustrates the extensive countermeasures that are deemed to be necessary.

Textbox 4.6 The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Internally displaced persons, people who have fled within their own countries’ borders, emerged on the international agenda in the early 1990s. Since then, Norway has played a central role in drawing attention to this group and in developing policy and guidelines in this area. In 2009, at least 26 million people have fled within their own countries’ borders because of wars, conflicts and violations of human rights. In addition, there are tens of millions of internally displaced persons as a result of natural disasters and climate change.

The first UN special representative for internally displaced persons was appointed in 1992. Francis Deng was in charge of the development of the UN guidelines for internally displaced persons throughout the 1990s. The need to formalise and specify international standards for the provision of protection and aid to internally displaced persons was a direct result of the dramatic increase in internal armed conflicts during that period.

The special representative presented his first report to the UN Human Rights Council in 1993, and the second report in 1996 contained an extended overview of which international legal standards were relevant to the protection of internally displaced persons. This group is not protected by the Refugee Convention of 1951. The reports concluded that existing law provided broad protection of the rights of internally displaced persons, but that there were also a number of grey areas and deficiencies. Following thorough consultations with international experts, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were finalised in 1998 and confirmed the same year by the UN Human Rights Council.

Since the introduction of the guiding principles in 1998, they have become recognised as the international standard for the rights of internally displaced persons. At the UN General Assembly in 2005, 190 Member States endorsed the principles and recognised them as an important international framework for the protection of internally displaced persons. The guidelines are used by many international authorities as the basis for the development of national legislation. They are also important advocacy tools for a number of actors, such as the UN and NGOs.

From the start, Norway has been an important advocate of the rights of internally displaced persons, and Norway’s unceasing support for the UN special representative in this field is well known. The first conference on the development of the guidelines was held in Norway in 1992 in a collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Refugee Council. In 1998, the Norwegian Refugee Council was requested to establish a centre for monitoring and reporting on the situation for people who have fled within their countries’ borders because of wars, conflicts and violations of human rights. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre ( in Geneva has been in charge of this work since 1998. It is now regarded as the leading international institution in this field in terms of information and analysis.

HIV/Aids remains a very serious health challenge in certain countries, and it has also been in focus in connection with wars and conflicts. However, several surveys show that it is often migration and the discontinuation of health services that are decisive in relation to the spread of HIV/Aids, rather than the conflict situation itself. Crises, particularly those that involve mass movements of people, increase the risk of HIV infection because, for example, they lead to the breaking up of social networks and family structures, increase the risk of sexual violence, reduce access to preventive and HIV treatment services and/or because people move to an area where HIV is more prevalent.

However, the greatest threats to human life and health in disaster situations are neither surprising nor unusual. People die in connection with childbirth, from diarrhoea and pneumonia, from normal diseases and lack of treatment, and from both acute and chronic complaints such as Aids and tuberculosis. That is why the burden of disease is as great if not greater after a disaster is over.

After the acute phase of humanitarian disasters, it is important to maintain focus on fundamental health services, particularly for children and women. The humanitarian organisations that mobilise during disaster situations will be able to compensate for a short period for the breakdown of a country’s own health system. Once the acute situation is past, however, there will be great pressure (financial and political) for the withdrawal of these organisations.

At the same time, experience shows that health services and infrastructure that ensures water supplies and sanitary conditions are rarely prioritised in national and international reconstruction efforts. Moreover, many countries’ chronic shortage of health professionals will be strongly exacerbated because of migration caused by the crisis.

This makes better coordination of health efforts increasingly necessary. Children are particularly vulnerable to the mental health effects of disaster situations. Violence, abuse or the loss of parents exposes children to major mental strains that will leave their mark on them and their surroundings for a long time.


The lack of educational provision in the world is worst for children and young people affected by crises and conflicts. Education is often perceived by international donors as a number two priority during humanitarian responses, and it is often underfinanced as a result. The UN and international humanitarian organisations must become better at integrating education in connection with humanitarian crises.

Knowledge and education help individuals to achieve an overview, security and self-awareness. Better basic knowledge improves people’s chances of looking after themselves and makes it more difficult for profiteers to exploit the population for their own ends.

The prioritisation of education is also part of the broader development agenda. Among other things, education during humanitarian crises is a necessary focus in order to achieve Millennium Development Goal 2, universal primary education for all children by 2015. Education is also often a prerequisite for reconciliation initiatives, creating mutual respect and establishing lasting peace. Support for educational measures during humanitarian crises contributes to the protection of children and it may prevent children being recruited as child soldiers or becoming victims of prostitution. It is important that the planning of education during humanitarian crises is part of prevention and emergency preparedness plans. The Government believes that the work being carried out under the auspices of the Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) is important.

Schools can be a suitable arena for the distribution and coordination of other humanitarian aid such as food and medicines. Schools establish a more secure framework for children and young people. Their rights are often ignored during armed conflicts and natural disasters. Inclusive education also contributes to the early recovery and normalisation of affected communities. Both pupils and teachers need information about how they best can tackle a new disaster situation.

Textbox 4.7 Standards for education

Stronger focus is required on support for education for children in vulnerable states and countries in conflict. However, the education must be relevant in relation to children’s needs, adaptable to children’s educational level, participatory by involving both children and parents in the learning process, inclusive in order to ensure access for all and protective so that children are not exposed to violence and conflict.



A political collaboration between Brazil, France, Indonesia, Norway, Senegal, South Africa and Thailand aimed at shedding light on the connections between foreign a policy and global health issues.