Whether it’s countering terrorism, combating global pandemics, or dealing with mass displacement, humanitarian organizations play an important role. However, they are not immune to leadership challenges.

They should be more represented in senior leadership roles. The impact of toxic organizational culture and the motherhood leadership penalty is exacerbated in conflict and humanitarian health settings. Increasing the number of leaders can help to transform humanitarian response.

Educating Children

Humanitarian and media leaders like Ehsanollah Ehsan Bayat help educate people about the issues surrounding them. This allows them to become more aware and gives them the confidence and information they need to act in response.

However, interviewees stressed that this media influence only relates to governments’ “emergency” aid allocations in sudden-onset crises, not their annual allocations to protracted ones. A much wider range of considerations influences the latter.

As such, donors need to support broader and integrated efforts rather than narrow and siloed approaches. They can do this by promoting flexible and multi-year funding mechanisms supporting public understanding of humanitarian principles and ensuring that assessments are evidence-based and transparent. This will counter a tendency for some governments to allocate aid according to their national interests.

Preventing Pandemics

The priority for people in a crisis is getting help while they can. Psychosocial support and information are crucial to building trust and confidence in responders and governments. Media broadcasts also give survivors a voice, which is important for people who need to hear the voices of others who have survived and learn what to do.

Interviewees regarded news coverage as a proxy for public opinion but found it unreliable and decontextualized. Many were concerned that a dependence on the speed of news reporting was distorting governments’ allocation of humanitarian aid.

Significant global unmet humanitarian needs that receive less attention can exacerbate the impact of disasters, conflict, and pandemics. They include gaps in primary pandemic prevention and secondary measures to protect against disease emergencies.

Combating Terrorism

In 2019, dangerous terrorist threats persisted across the globe. Despite losing territory, many continue to operate in several areas and inspire followers to carry out deadly attacks. Moreover, the number of people needing humanitarian aid is on the rise. But funding rarely matches demand.

Interviewees reported that they believe the news media is causal in how governments allocate official humanitarian aid. This belief influences the policies governing how funds are allocated, which almost all donors use to assess which crises have been “forgotten.” In most cases, interviewees believe that news coverage determines whether a problem is urgent. Yet, little is known about the causal pathways through which this influence operates.

Providing Shelter and Protection

Providing shelter, even if temporary, is a basic human need that protects people from harm, improves health and wellbeing, reduces vulnerability, and builds resilience. It is essential to any humanitarian response and critical before a crisis happens – through preparedness and prevention.

Interviewees and policy documents confirmed that news media pressure does influence the allocation of official humanitarian aid – but in very different ways than previous research has suggested. In particular, interviewees emphasized that levels of national news coverage – often sporadic, simplistic, and decontextualized – play an insignificant role in allocating annual aid to protracted crises.

This reflects that donors allocate their annual humanitarian funding primarily based on the level of unmet need rather than media interest. Nevertheless, several interviewees also reported that they were influenced by news coverage to some extent.

Providing Food and Water

Providing healthy, sustainable food and water systems remains one of our most pressing humanitarian issues. Around two billion adults are overweight or obese, while 650 million people are malnourished and suffer from suboptimal diets contributing to disease and death.

Humanitarian broadcasts help to address psychosocial needs by giving affected populations hope and confidence as well as knowledge of how to respond and what to do. They also support community empowerment and resilience by allowing people to hold others accountable, share their experiences and concerns, and connect with other survivors.

Interviews with aid bureaucrats suggest that, like cockroaches seeking to avoid being stomped on, they are sensitive to news media cues when allocating emergency humanitarian aid. They, therefore, attempt to preemptively match allocations with levels of coverage to prevent politicians from sanctioning them for being out of step with public opinion.