Tracking and measuring global humanitarian efforts could be considered a fool’s errand. Humanitarian crises are chaotic, violent, and without coordination among governments and nongovernmental organizations. Coming from a data-driven background, it is difficult to look at such chaotic events as the humanitarian crisis in the waning days of the Vietnam War or the Civil War in Syria or at our own U.S. southern border and apply data-driven analysis of the root causes and how to do better. James Purcell’s article “The Humanitarian Journey: From Root Causes to Recovery” attempts to trace the root causes of humanitarian crises and provides a data-driven framework on how governments can continue to do better as we tackle this century’s humanitarian challenges.
Purcell, having worked at the U.S. State Department in the 1960s and in various roles with the United Nations through today, has put together an analytic-based playbook that traces how the world responded to the humanitarian crisis in Vietnam to current day issues in Syria. This analytic playbook takes a dry, reasoned look at how he and his colleagues used data to make tough decisions regarding how and when to expend resources to have maximum impact on people’s well-being and often their lives.
Purcell’s article talks about how managing humanitarian crises is much more than watching CNN and reading Twitter. Even back to the 1960s the United States and the United Nations employed on-the-ground resources to track data such as the origination of refugees, food access, and the ability to house and feed refugees as they move away from conflict. Purcell points out a mindset he lived by as he saw and managed these crises close up:
…identify partners and assure a steady flow of data and information to keep root cause analysis and other data systems relevant to fast-changing events: keep your eyes on the ground developments, supplemented by occasional views from on-high; use this information to formulate strategies and be unafraid to act decisively when the time comes (para. 7).
These guidelines could be used to teach managers how to analyze supply chain issues at Amazon or how to handle network operations at Netflix. Yet this is how Purcell and his contemporaries learned to deal with something more important than a modern-day information-age business question; the business of ensuring refugees are taken care of as they flee places of crisis.
Purcell’s article reads as a history anthology and critical look back at how the world handled major humanitarian crises from the on-the-ground perspective as well as the macropolitical perspective. It not only talks about the successes but the failures and specifically addresses, with numbers, what makes up the successes and failures. The article covers various pieces of legislation the United States passed in support of improving humanitarian crisis response, which is a good introduction to the role politics plays in effective humanitarian efforts. Purcell notes how American public opinion is critical to garnering support and correlates to the amount of success one can have when responding to crises.
The article logically and with data concludes with his proposal on how to evolve humanitarian crisis management to be more effective. Purcell proposes a return to the Global Humanitarian Cooperation model, which he argues, with data, provides for a balanced system of regional immigration, economic support, and potential solutions for the root causes of humanitarian crises around the world.
Scott Tranter has no financial or non-financial disclosures to share for this article.
©2022 Scott Tranter. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) International license, except where otherwise indicated with respect to particular material included in the article.