Humanitarian Response, Complexity, and UHC: My High Hopes for 2014


These aren’t predictions, exactly, or New Year’s wishes. More like positive signs I am hoping will occur. Clues that we’re getting our act together as an international system.[1] The good omens I would like to see.

1. Better response to complex humanitarian emergencies. Every single year, complex humanitarian emergencies get worse. Refugee and displaced persons crises tend to be cumulative, not sporadic. Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps were established twenty years ago. The oldest Palestinian refugee camp was established in 1948. On top of displaced persons, natural disasters are increasing in frequency because of climate change – massive storms and extended droughts are the new normal. We may also see increases in conflict as a result of climate change. The old ways of providing relief in emergencies aren’t going to be able to hold up when the emergencies keep coming faster and harder. We need to do better[2]. I hope that next year we’ll start to figure out what better looks like, and start to make it happen.

2. Complexity: Complexity theory as it applies to international development first hit my personal radar a couple of years ago, when I started seeing people talk about cynefin on Twitter. (possibly this Linda Raftree post). Then I started twitter-following Dave Snowden.  This year Ben Ramalingan, one of my favorite aid thinkers, wrote a whole book on it[3]. I really hope that next year we’ll see complexity theory go from fascinating topic of conversation to actual tool used in designing aid efforts.

3. Universal Health Coverage: We’ve heard a lot about UHC in 2013. Nearly every major development player, from Oxfam to the World Bank was talking about it.[4] We’ve all agreed that universal health coverage is a good thing. That’s the easy part. Actually making UHC happen will be the hard part, and I am hoping to see some movement on that in 2014. Next year let us know whether we’re looking at a catchy phrase that gets talked about (remember health for all[5]?) or a catchy phrase that translates into action (ie the Millennium Development Goals).


[1] If we were naming baby princess 2014 and I was the good fairy invited to the party, these are the gifts I would give her.

[2] And there are a lot of really interesting tools we could use for better emergency relief – crowdsourcing information, drones for relief deliveries, faster, better emergency communication tools.

[3] Which I haven’t read yet because I am inexcusably lazy and also was distracted reading everything ever written about health in Kyrgyzstan in order to obsessively prepare for my new job. Here is one brief example if you would like your heart thoroughly broken.

[4] Even my own employer, USAID. And please remember, as always, this blog is my personal opinion and not that of USAID or the US Government.

[5] Feel free to argue that I am wrong about the minimal impact of Health for All. I would be entirely delighted to be wrong about this.