International Order & Conflict

UN Integration and Humanitarian Space

in Program

An Independent Study Commissioned by the UN Integration Steering Group

For over two decades, the United Nations has developed policies and practices to create greater coherence within the UN system . Today, UN integration is a formal policy aimed at maximizing the individual and collective impact of the UN to consolidate peace and applies to every country context where a UN peacekeeping or political mission and UN country team of development and humanitarian agencies coincide. Yet, the benefits and risks of UN integration for humanitarian space have been intensely debated for many years. Some humanitarians remain deeply skeptical that UN integration can benefit humanitarian action. Other humanitarians are opposed to UN integration on principle, arguing that integration arrangements blur the distinction between humanitarian, military and political action, subordinate humanitarian priorities to political prerogatives and therefore place humanitarian action at significant risk. Conversely, many in the UN political and peacekeeping community stress the need for enhanced coherence and highlight the positive experiences of UN integration and the significant progress made in policy development and practice in recent years.

In 2010, the UN Integration Steering Group commissioned the Humanitarian Policy Group and the Stimson Center to undertake an independent study to explore the impact of UN integration arrangements on humanitarian space and make recommendations towards the improved management of this impact.

The study found both positive and negative impacts of UN integration arrangements on humanitarian space and evolving policies and practices over the last decade intended to better protect humanitarian space. Despite these reforms, the debate remains polarized and stakeholders – including UN departments, funds, agencies and programs – should redouble their efforts to promote greater awareness and consistent implementation of policy provisions that seek to ensure that UN integration arrangements protect humanitarian space. They should also do much more to build confidence across the political, peacekeeping and humanitarian communities to help ensure that the potential benefits of UN integration for humanitarian operations are maximized, and the risks minimized.

The study focused on three main case studies (Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia), complemented by a desk review of the Central African Republic, Darfur (Sudan) and Liberia. It looked at the impact of diverse integrated arrangements on five areas of humanitarian space within each context: humanitarian aid worker security, access to beneficiaries, ability to engage with non-state armed actors, perceptions of humanitarian actors and humanitarian voice or advocacy. The report includes a number of more detailed findings and recommendations to UN stakeholders including UN departments , agencies, funds and programs and non-UN humanitarian organizations.


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