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The Cost of Coherence

Emergency Gap Series 4


About this resource

Resource type:Research, reports and studies
Keywords:Development & humanitarian aid, System-wide performance
Agency:MSF - Médecins sans Frontières
Author(s):DuBois, M.
Date published:December 2016

The long history of trying to operationalise coherence has brought to light its inherent inconsistencies and operational costs. The new push for coherence based on the paradigmatic shift announced at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) marks a departure, a vision based not on the building of bridges between humanitarianism and other sectors, but on humanitarianism being assimilated by them. This comes at a time when the global context demands even greater independence if humanitarians are to steer through the interests of power actors towards the needs of people.

This paper questions the basis and wisdom of the WHS’s transforming of humanitarian action into a support mechanism for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), realigning the ultimate humanitarian goal towards ‘ending need’. After setting forth the issue in greater detail, this paper lays forth three interlinked flaws in the new paradigm:

  1. contradiction at the conceptual level;
  2. misjudgement of the nature of the problem and disregard for the lessons of history; and
  3. underestimation of the impact upon a humanitarian sector that is already slow, rather inflexible, politicised and progressively less able to meet the emergency needs of people in crisis.


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