1. A return to local actors. After a disaster, aid has always come first from friends and neighbors. It takes a minimum of 48 hours for aid to get in from outside, even in a wealthy country. So the first people to help are from the community itself. That’s always been true. Better access to information, however, means that neighbors can mobilize faster than ever before. Occupy Sandy is a great example of what happens when that’s done right.
2. An increase in inexperienced aid groups. Those same improvements in communications also let just about anyone fly into a disaster area, and people are figuring that out. The cacophony of ill-equipped aid groups still attempting to operate in Haiti is a bitter example.
3. New emphasis on communications in emergency situations. Speaking of communications, we’re going to see an increased focus on restoring communications rapidly after disasters. Telecoms sans Frontieres is already an essential partner in many emergency response operations. You’re going to see their name more often, and you’re going to see more humanitarian relief groups with their own in-house teams that focus on restoring communications, using tools like the emergency wireless hub.
4. The politicization of aid. Humanitarian relief has always been a political tool, but that’s going to get more obvious in the next decade. When times are tough economically, aid to other countries is a hard sell. Government donors will need to aggressively brand their aid, to provide visible value for money to taxpayers. As government aid budgets shrink, more non-state actors will get involved in providing humanitarian relief. They won’t be acting out of altruism. You’ll see corporations trying to restore the market for their products, political parties providing aid to win votes, and radical groups winning community support and recruits by distributing aid.
5. More disasters. The impact of climate change is massive, and has consequences beyond what we can plan for. Some things are obvious effects of climate change – massive fires in Australia, hurricanes, and typhoons. Research suggests, however, that climate change may also lead to an increase in the number of earthquakes and violent warfare. Whether the links are clear or not, the 21st century will see far more complex humanitarian emergencies than the 20th century.