School of Economics and Finance

No. 420: What is a "Complex Humanitarian Emergency"? An Analytical Essay

Jose Miguel Albala-Bertrand , Queen Mary, University of London

October 1, 2000

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The prevailing usage of the concept of complex humanitarian emergency, even if valuable, is often fuzzy and misleading, and rarely articulated in a consistent framework, which could be used advantageously for research, interdisciplinary exchange, and policy making and analysis. We analyse critically the prevailing usage of the concept, and end up by setting up a more consistent and all embracing definition. Both the analysis and the proposed definition are based on a general analytical framework, coined disaster situation, we proposed a few years back in connection to natural disasters. The main conclusion is that the mostly implicit conceptual usage of the term, rather than the term itself, is akin to that of a disaster situation. As such, it can be used flexibly enough by various disciplines, especially from a political economy perspective, to design research, advance knowledge and propose policies within an analytical framework which is more consistent and systematic than that currently used.

J.E.L classification codes: H56, O00, O17, J15, Z10

Keywords:Disaster situation, Complexity, Emergency, Institutional setting