Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Humanitarian effectiveness in complex emergencies: South Sudan and Darfur

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posted on 2021-11-14, 11:34 authored by Jirouskova, Pavlina

My Master‟s Thesis explores the extent to which the international community has established processes of evaluation and learning that are improving humanitarian responses to complex humanitarian emergencies over time. It does so by reviewing a range of existing evaluations of successive crises in the former Sudan, with particular emphasis on Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) and Darfur. I assert that by addressing the shortcomings of past humanitarian operations and learning from them, the international community can improve the effectiveness of future humanitarian responses. OLS, which was the first multilateral humanitarian operation after the end of the Cold War and which is perceived as one of the biggest failures in humanitarian aid history, will be used as a starting point. Consequently, I used the case of Darfur in order to answer the following research questions: How has humanitarian effectiveness evolved in the former Sudan since the launch of OLS? Have lessons been learned from the failures of OLS? To answer these questions, I applied the UN OCHA-proposed Elements of Effectiveness as a framework, namely: performance, accountability, coordination, contextualization, principles and standards, relevance, participation, capacity, resilience and preparedness, innovation, and access.  The thesis is divided into three main parts. The first part (chapter 2) explains how humanitarian aid has evolved after the end of the Cold War in regard to complex emergencies, and why the international community has felt the need for evaluating and improving humanitarian effectiveness. Chapters three and four critically analyse humanitarian effectiveness in the former Sudan, during OLS and in Darfur, respectively, in order to demonstrate how ineffective humanitarian aid has been and how little has changed in the international response, despite the fact that the former Sudan has been one of the largest recipients of humanitarian aid since the end of the Cold War.  I argue that humanitarian aid has generally been seen as a failure since the end of the Cold War, and that evaluating humanitarian effectiveness is necessary for the improvement of humanitarian aid. On the other hand, complex emergencies are inherently political and require addressing their underlying socio-economic causes. Therefore, humanitarian aid cannot be solely blamed for the overall failures of international interventions, as it only exists alongside of crises and it is limited to saving lives, alleviating suffering of affected populations, and maintaining their human dignity. International actors mostly failed to address political problems of crises in the aftermath of the Cold War and humanitarian aid was used as the only response. When the crisis in Darfur broke out, the international community had more than ten years of experience in responding to complex emergencies. Yet, it again failed to respond effectively and repeated many of the mistakes of OLS. Major weaknesses of both operations were, apart from lacking political response, also problems associated with accessibility and lacking coordination and cooperation between humanitarian agencies.  Although some improvements have been finally made in terms of humanitarian effectiveness in the past decade, there are still major problems in the humanitarian sector, such as insufficient funding mechanisms and inability of the UN to resolve prolonged crises on a political level. Furthermore, humanitarian aid is still characterised by a lack of data. Therefore, I assert that it is important to develop better standards for humanitarian response based on reflections on past operations. The Elements of Effectiveness give the impression of a useful starting point for developing such standards. Unified standards for monitoring and evaluation of humanitarian operations on an on-going basis will enable the international community to learn from past mistakes and to effectively fulfil the primary objectives of humanitarian aid.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of International Relations

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Schick, Kate; Thirkell-White, Ben