Human Being, Being Human

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Mar 30, 2020

What If I Can Do More?

Do you feel that giving donations during an emergency or disaster doesn’t seem to cut it? Perhaps you’d like to go beyond just packing canned goods and used clothes? Good news: There are ways you can offer your time and resources to actively help people in need – like volunteering. 

But it is not as simple as heading to the affected site and doing what you want to do on the frontline. You need to understand what humanitarian action is, how it works, and why it is needed. It usually starts when somebody reaches out to someone reaching out for help. Knowing all these will prevent you from becoming a burden to the overall effort and avoid instances that could harm yourself or those you’re supposed to support in the first place. 

Reaching Out For Help

People who take ownership deal with their own problems (Respect!). But sometimes the challenge becomes too big, and no matter how much they want to solve it by themselves, they will eventually need a helping hand. When was the last time you asked for help?

Similarly, governments prefer to manage emergencies and disasters on its own. But every now and then, an event may be so disruptive and damaging that it exceeds the national capacity to handle the situation. In such cases, the government could seek external support. And that’s okay. 

In major conflict situations and large-scale disasters (like the 2017 Marawi Conflict and 2013 Typhoon Haiyan), various organizations join efforts to provide aid and relief to people in need. They may come from the neighborhood and community, faith-based groups, NGOs, the Red Cross, the government (affected and assisting states), military and security forces, multilateral organizations like ASEAN and the UN, and the private sector. 

That’s A LOT, right? Can we just lump them all together into one? Well, unfortunately no. Although all the actors share a similar operating space, these organizations may not have the same values and objectives. Each will likely have different mandates and roles. Remember how hard it was to get people to cooperate during group work in class? Now imagine hundreds, if not thousands, of people involved. It can be messy, I tell you. 

So what makes humanitarian action unique from other kinds of aid and response then? Ideally, humanitarian action is organized, principled, and does no harm. In this article, we focus on what makes up organized humanitarian action. Let’s break it down, shall we?

To Assist, Protect, and Advocate

Organized humanitarian action, as it is practiced today, has three elements: assistance, protection, and advocacy. What’s the difference?

Humanitarian assistance is about saving lives and alleviating the suffering of people during conflict or disasters. It’s distinct from other kinds of ‘help’ because it is based solely on need, and provided in a way that maintains dignity and strengthens future preparedness. It involves offering food and clean water, emergency healthcare, and temporary shelter to name a few.

The bottom-line is it’s meant to deliver short-term relief to those who need it the most, when they need it the most, in the most appropriate manner until long-term support can be provided by government and other institutions. It’s not just helping people for “helping’s sake.”

Protection, our second buzzword, represents a large chunk of humanitarian action. It goes beyond just preventing physical harm. It takes into account all activities that promote respect for the rights of an individual regardless of ethnic, political, or religious background. It’s also guided by widely accepted agreements such as the International Human Rights and Humanitarian Laws.

The goal of these agreements? To remind parties in conflict and those responding to disasters to uphold their responsibility in protecting civilians affected by crises and calamities.

Last but not least, we’ve got advocacy! Advocacy refers to delivering “the right messages to the right people at the right time to facilitate assistance and protection”. It includes helping vulnerable people secure access to aid, giving them a platform to voice their concerns, and raising awareness so that their plight is not forgotten. Do you have an advocacy you feel strongly for?

Let’s Get to Work!

Now that you know what makes up organized humanitarian action, you’re in a better position to decide which area you can actively support besides packing relief items and charitable donations. While humanitarianism is rooted in individual altruistic behaviors, it is not enough. The common challenges of humanity call for collective action. Reflecting on your interests and aligning them to on-going humanitarian efforts is the key to making giving back more enjoyable, meaningful, and sustainable.

Up next:

Organizing humanitarian action is one thing. But ever wonder, “how all of these really work in practice?” In the next article, we delve into the ways principled humanitarian action is carried out and the reasons for doing so.

Want to learn more about Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM)? Thinking of starting a career in Humanitarian Affairs? Or are you seeking personal development in this field? The General Academic Strand (GAS) strand offers Disaster Readiness and Risk Reduction as a core subject for Senior High School students.

Learn more about DRMM and how you can take action about it. Read more articles like this on the Commune blog section at now!


Donini, A. “Humanitarianism in the 21st Century”. Revue Humanitaire, vol. 25, June 2010.

Anderson, M. “Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace-or War”.  Lynne Reinner Publishers, 1999.

Slim, H. “Doing the right thing: relief agencies, moral dilemmas and moral responsibility in political emergencies and war”. Disasters, vol. 21, no. 3, September 1997, pp. 244-257.

UNOHCA. OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Principles. UNOCHA, 2012. 

UNOCHA. UN-CM Coord Handbook. Version 2, UNOCHA, 2018.


Humanitarian Principles

What are Humanitarian Standards?


Written By:
Angelo Trias

Angelo Trias believes that we cannot sustain growth and progress in societies unless we build safer and more resilient communities first. He contributes articles to raise awareness on the dangers we face. He continues to pursue lifelong learning and holds degrees and certificates in emergency and disaster management, political science, crisis management and psychology.

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