Remote Management of Humanitarian Operation in Hostile Environment


Based on UN-related reports, attacks against relief workers continue to increase in some of the world’s most violent and insecure environments. International humanitarian organizations and agencies have increasingly adopted remote management arrangements as an alternative way to continue providing assistance to civilians while removing or relocating parts of their staff from harm’s way. This report will provide an examination of the use of remote management in humanitarian relief assistance; benefits, defaults, and risks; and the ways it could be improved. There are many perspectives or definitions for “remote management”, but we will focus on the one related with overseeing activities from a different location.

Organizations see remote management as a temporary and alternative adaptation, yet in some contexts it has been a standard operating procedure for years and the demand for such guidance for humanitarian field staff in dangerous settings is evident. There are many different ways to implement remote management programs, including using different types of implementing factors, ways of monitoring, and levels of direct supervision, all of them share the common, important objective of maintaining some level of humanitarian assistance that would in a way or another stop if an agency withdrew.

Some remote management programs can have remarkable positive consequences for national/local staff and community empowerment and ownership of assistance. They also, however, require similar issues and share a number of common problems and risks:

  • The remote management ‘trap’. Once an organization shifts to remote management, a number of factors make it difficult to return the prior situation of programming and can also prolong arrangement further.
  • Risk transfer. While insecurity drives the decision to undertake remote management, in most of the cases the result is not a security gain. It rather is a shift of risk from internationals to nationals; who typically are provided with fewer security resources, materials, training, and capacity building than their international counterparts.
  • Effects on program quality and effectiveness. Agencies and donors, in general, accept that standards and the level of sophistication and quality of program activities will slip when an operation ‘goes remote’. Lack of planning and guidance on how to provide technical support, advice, and training to local staff and partners in remote arrangements triggers and exacerbates the problem.
  • Effects on program efficiency and accountability. Difficulties with logistics, communications, monitoring, and coordination are all heightened in remote management situations. In terms of reporting and accountability, agencies continue to focus mostly on ‘upwards’ accountability to their donors and fund agencies, with even less than usual accountability to beneficiaries.

Agencies can improve some of these challenges by strategic planning, innovative contextualized arrangements, and considered operational and policy guidance.

Author : Alaa Musallam

Keywords : Remote management, Humanitarian operations