All Posts By Khayal Trivedi (HOISA), Mihir Bhatt and Vishal Pathak (AIDMI), Prof. Prabodh Chakrabarti, Keya Saha Chaudhary (ICVA)

Humanitarian Observatories Series | A humanitarian observatory for discussing heatwaves in South Asia was recently launched — here’s how it wants to improve responses to heatwaves

The heightened vulnerability of the South Asian subcontinent to heatwaves can be ascribed to several interacting characteristics — but these have not been adequately examined and discussed. The Humanitarian Observatory Initiative in South Asia (HOISA) was launched earlier this year in an attempt to bridge this gap by charting the particular risks and vulnerabilities of the region, observing the state of current humanitarian governance processes, and based on ongoing discussions providing recommendations for more effective responses to heatwaves. This article details some of the main dynamics of heatwaves in South Asia considered during HOISA’s first panel discussion, including specific governance challenges that the observatory will focus on.

A street vendor in Ahmedabad adapts to heat on hourly basis using his own resources, technology, and design. 2022.

A heatwave is a climatic process and a period of abnormally high temperatures — higher than the normal maximum temperature that occurs during a particular season.[1] While they have always occurred, their frequency and severity have rapidly increased due to climate change caused by the industrialisation of modern economies and increased carbon emissions.[2] The WHO considers heatwaves to be one of the most dangerous natural hazards because of their destructive effects, which are severe: from 1998 to 2017 alone, more than 166,000 people have died globally due to heatwaves,[3] and the impact on livelihoods has been just as immense. Yet, heatwaves rarely receive adequate attention because of their delayed effects that moreover are not always easily to pinpoint.


South Asia is particularly vulnerable to heatwaves

While heatwaves are global phenomena that know no national boundaries, their manifestations and impact vary from region to region, depending on various characteristics such as demographics and geography. From this viewpoint, South Asia is known to be one of the most vulnerable regions in the world. First, it has a high-density population numbering close to two billion people. Second, the region has immense variations in its geographical features, social structures, built environments, socio-economic means, and much more. The interaction of these characteristics makes it particularly complex to govern — and the complexity increases even more when heatwaves occur.


And the subcontinent is set to face even more heatwaves

Moreover, a recent report of the WMO claims that heatwaves are 30 times more likely to take place on the subcontinent than before, with massive damage to livelihoods and wellbeing, ecosystems, economies, and infrastructure expected to occur in the coming decades. In one of the latest examples, February this year was observed as the warmest month since 1901. Thus, not only are heatwaves already affecting South Asia badly — it’s going to get much worse.


A humanitarian observatory to better understand heatwaves in South Asia

It is in light of this that the HOISA, the Humanitarian Observatory Initiative of South Asia, was launched in April this year. Its objective is to monitor humanitarian governance processes, with a focus on responses to heatwaves. Considering the urgency of the matter, HOISA organized a first panel discussion on April 7th, which brought together about 30 actors working on heatwaves. Panel discussants included Dorothea Hilhorst (International Institute of Social Studies — ISS), Prabodh Chakrabarti (Swami Vivekananda Chair and Professor of Environment and Disaster Management, RKMVERI, Kolkata), Keya Saha Chaudhary (International Council of Voluntary Agencies — ICVA), Nimesh Dhungana (Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute of the University of Manchester — HCRI), Delu Lusambya (PhD researcher at the ISS) Mihir Bhatt (All India Disaster Mitigation Institute — AIDMI), and Khayal Trivedi (HOISA Project Lead).

The panel focused on the increasing risk of heatwaves, the uniqueness of this occurrence in the region, existing humanitarian systems, and the first steps towards measuring and planning for the effects of heatwaves. This is because although South Asia has suffered the most due to heatwaves and also has found many ways to adapt to it, relatively limited humanitarian and governmental action has been observed and recorded. Some of the main observations made by participants and action points are discussed below.


South Asia’s characteristics make heatwaves more intense and dangerous

At the launch, we discussed how the abovementioned characteristics such as population density, infrastructure, and geographical features such as altitudes affect and sometimes aggravate the effects of a heatwave. For example, recent research on ‘wet-bulb temperatures’ in South Asia reports that parts of the region on the subcontinent are much closer to the threshold limits of human survivability than the African and Gulf regions. The depth and range of vulnerability and exposure of the population and economy of the region to heatwaves are also much more intense and complex here. In light of these and other observations, we argue that the current humanitarian approach to heatwaves in South Asia needs to be revisited.

In such a context, we must accelerate the implementation of heatwave action plans at all levels and in key sectors driving development, starting with employment, health, education, and so on. The built environment and supporting infrastructure in their current form, for example, are simply not capable of withstanding severe temperature shifts and is making it harder to adapt, Nimesh Dhungana, one of the key panel members from Nepal, stated at the discussion. A comprehensive study is required to ensure that these are adapted sufficiently and rapidly.


Mobilizing funding for adaptive measures is a key priority

Another important parameter in planning for and mitigating this natural hazard is the mobilization of funding. Across the humanitarian sector, current funding is simply not sufficient to meet the growing needs, particularly when it comes to taking adaptive measures. At the panel discussion, we agreed that more holistic and less siloed approaches to securing funding are needed to address the impacts of climate change. In the case of heatwaves, this means funding modalities that consider both the immediate and long-term consequences of heatwaves to ensure not only immediate responses but also the improved resilience of communities to heatwaves over time. Therefore, increased investments and integrated funding should form part of heatwave management strategies and plans in South Asia.

As part of this, attention should be paid to the meaningful locally led involvement of communities and local and indigenous solutions to addressing heatwaves. What makes this challenging and even more urgent is that the heatwave-affected population in South Asia is hardly protected by a social safety net, leading to massive losses and damage. Resolving or forming sustainable practices that ensure uniform funding will protect these populations therefore becomes critical. Furthermore, the coming together of researchers and operational experts to study and pilot heatwave safety nets, both formal and informal, is overdue in South Asia.


Heatwaves must be placed on the global political agenda

In the wake of increased risks associated with heatwaves and the distinct ways in which it affects the region and its people,[4] this phenomenon must be placed on the global political agenda. Governments, the United Nations, academics, and activists together must aim to draw a global heatwave compact signed by all stakeholders — including those affected — that stretch beyond the current climate policy community.


A joint plan of action for South Asian countries should be formalized

Moreover, as a phenomenon that exceeds borders to affect an entire region, a joint plan of action between countries in South Asia must be formalized. And humanitarian actions must take place simultaneously in a cohesive manner for a positive impact, which is in fact the agenda of the several humanitarian observatories forming across the globe. The formation of a global movement to address the effects of heatwaves worldwide is therefore vital.


Increased trust in science is a key pillar for effective interventions

But such a joint effort and action across South Asia requires a grasp of the state of South Asia’s heatwaves. Unfortunately, the increasing distance between science and society, between evidence and knowledge, and the fragmented use of data and tools for adapting to heatwaves have also been observed lately in the region. More research, knowledge, and evidence is needed, as well as interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges and the transfer of technology, tools, data, and key concepts. Unlocking private and public data on heatwaves and related phenomena that are currently difficult to access is an important first step.


Interdisciplinary heatwave workforces needed

Moreover, we need a locally led comprehensive, multi-level, and multi-directional approach with multiple stakeholders to plan and mitigate the dire effects of heatwaves in the region. Building interdisciplinary heatwave workforces with the knowledge, skills, and capacities to prevent, manage and reduce losses, and to evaluate how to improve things, can help strengthen existing humanitarian systems.

To summarize, South Asia is undoubtedly one of the most complex of the heatwave-affected regions and requires the urgent attention of researchers, policy makers, humanitarian leaders, and other stakeholders to chart local actions and observations and make changes to these to ensure that effective interventions will make a direct impact. Partners of HOISA must and will continue observing, reflecting on, discussing, and recommending actions humanitarian actors and other stakeholders should take.

[1] NDMA India:

[2] IPCC Report:

[3] WHO:

[4] The Guardian view on an Indian summer: human-made heatwaves are getting hotter.

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About the authors:

Khayal Trivedi is the Project Lead, Humanitarian Observatory Initiative of South Asia.





Mihir Bhatt. All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) India.







Prabhod Chakrabarti. Swami Vivekananda, Environment and Disaster Management India







Keya Saha Chaudhary. Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific at ICVA

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Fighting fossil subsidies: why professors are protesting in their gowns on the highway

The recent occupation of the A12 highway in The Hague to protest fossil subsidies has dominated news headlines as protestors blocked the highway en masse for several days in a row. ISS Professor of Pluralist Development Economics Irene van Staveren was one of several academic researchers who joined the protests. In this article, she explains why they decided to appear in academic gowns and refutes several counterarguments scientists, politicians, journalists, and others use to deny climate change or the need for climate action. Neutrality is no longer an option, also for scientists, she writes.

About a week and a half ago, I also stood on the A12 highway alongside Extinction Rebellion (XR) to protest against fossil subsidies. I wore my academic gown, along with about thirty other professors, to make it clear that we were there as scientists. Science has been demonstrating for decades that the Earth is warming, and we have increasingly more evidence that this is due to our economic behaviour.

However, there were some counterarguments. For example, an economist who has held numerous leadership positions in the public and private sectors wrote, to my astonishment, that “there is no way to deduce from climate science that ‘fossil subsidies’ should be abolished.” While economic science convincingly demonstrates that price incentives lead to behavioural change. Economists who specifically focus on climate (climate scientists, in other words) emphasize that a price tag on CO2 emissions helps to reduce them.

The new leader of the political party CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) also reacted sceptically to our resistance, suggesting that companies would relocate abroad, and emissions would continue while we would have fewer jobs. As if job retention in polluting sectors should be a priority in these times of labour market tightness. We actually need a lot of hands for the production and installation of solar panels, heat pumps, and insulation. In line with this short-sighted point, there is also the well-known comment at social gatherings, “what about China?” If you genuinely believe that, you should stop buying goods that are produced cheaply there. China is not idle; it’s the country that installs the most solar panels.

Let me now address those subsidies. There was some sour commentary from an investigative journalist claiming that the term is incorrect and that the calculation is based on assumptions. The term does not refer to government expenditures but rather to tax breaks for large companies in the oil, gas, and coal industries. But by now, doesn’t everyone who follows the news know this? They are disguised subsidies. And yes, when you calculate a cost advantage, you cannot avoid making assumptions. The research that XR is based on is transparent about this and calculates the tax benefits compared to the fossil taxes that households pay. Meanwhile, the government has just admitted that the amount is even higher: at least 40 billion euros.

Finally, some university boards had reservations about us being there in our academic gowns. Fortunately, my dean and board supported us wholeheartedly. And rightly so. The academic gown does not belong to the university but symbolizes science. When politics claims to want to achieve the goals of Paris but simultaneously ignores scientifically substantiated arguments that this means we must significantly reduce fossil energy much faster, then we have a responsibility to reinforce these arguments.

Because, as the writer Elie Wiesel said, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” If our country does not stop fossil subsidies very quickly, we are contributing to millions of climate victims. Especially in the Global South, more and more people are already facing shortages of drinking water and food, as University of Amsterdam colleague Joyeeta Gupta, the recently awarded Spinoza Prize recipient, mentioned in her speech at the A12.

This blog article is based on a column first published in Dutch in the newspaper Trouw on 19 September 2023.

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About the author:


Irene van Staveren is professor of pluralist development economics at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Professor van Staveren’s theoretical interest is in feminist economics, social economics, institutional economics and post-Keynesian economics. Her key research interest is at the meso level of the economy with topics such as social cohesion, social exclusion, inequality and discrimination, as well as ethics and values in the economy and in economics.

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Could we have prevented the disaster in Libya?

New research published this month gives a better understanding of how and why countries affected by armed conflict are more vulnerable to disasters. In this post, two of the co-authors of this research argue that much of the loss caused by Hurricane Daniel could have been prevented in Libya.

Image by Hans from Pixabay

As Libya’s death toll rises over the thousands due to the massive floods triggered by Hurricane Daniel, it’s normal to wonder if such a catastrophe could have been prevented. Over 5,000 people lost their lives in Libya as torrential rain caused two dams to burst near the coastal city of Derna. Relentless rain devastated much of the city, washing entire neighbourhoods into the sea and claiming thousands of lives while leaving tens of thousands of people without shelter.

While authorities and the media have largely attributed the catastrophe to a disaster caused by climate change, evidence suggests that it could have been largely prevented or its impacts mitigated. New research we published this month gives a better understanding of how and why countries affected by armed conflict are more vulnerable to disasters. In this post, based on this study we show how conflict increases human vulnerability to natural hazards and how this could also be the case for Libya — a situation that could have been prevented.

A country ill prepared

Libya has been torn apart by years of conflict, rendering it ill prepared to face the devastation of Hurricane Daniel. The nation is now governed by two rival administrations — in other words two rival governments forming a transitional unity government with strong rivalry, which complicates and slows rescue and aid efforts. In addition, Libya’s infrastructure has suffered from neglect over more than a decade of political turmoil.

A study we just published along with Dorothea Hilhorst on how armed conflict contributes to disaster vulnerability shows that in countries experiencing armed conflict, disasters occur 5% more frequently and that the death rate due to disasters is an incredible 34% higher in such contexts. While most accounts of disaster occurrence focus on their associated death toll or people affected, their higher chance of occurrence should not be taken lightly, especially in places affected by conflict: while people might survive a disaster, the impact of these on their livelihoods can be significant, with their opportunities to recover also reduced.

We found multiple reasons why disasters occur more often, result in higher numbers of deaths, and can significantly impact people’s lives in places affected by conflict.


Poorly maintained and ageing infrastructure

First, conflict causes destruction and prevents the development and maintenance of infrastructure essential to prevent disasters, such as the dams that have been left in disrepair throughout Libya. As we now know, experts had already noted that the first of the two dams to fail, which was finished in 1977, had not undergone any maintenance over the last years.


A lack of financial protection from disasters’ effects

Protracted wars also damage a country’s economy, reducing opportunities to invest in building and maintaining low-risk livelihoods and increasing people’s vulnerability, making them more susceptible to be affected by natural hazards such as flooding and wildfires. For example, people are less likely to have savings or reserves in place when a disaster hits. Communities often do not have the resources to commit to longer-term planning to build more resilient livelihoods away from risk zones. Two large dams built in the narrow valley in Derna were highly vulnerable because the area was filled with poorly constructed high-rise buildings.


Already displaced and with nowhere to flee to

In addition, wars often force people to flee their homes, leaving them in displacement camps and sheltering with families or friends. This increases their vulnerability to disasters. For example, when flooding hit the world’s largest refugee site in Bangladesh, Rohingya families sheltering there had nowhere to flee to and were stuck living in flooded areas, which made them susceptible to illnesses and disease.

The above examples all show that it is not exposure to hazards driving their devastating effects; rather people’s socio-economic vulnerability and social and political decisions affecting built environments, financial security, and overall stability play an equally great role. Climate change can affect the frequency and intensity of these hazards, but if communities are well prepared for them, these events do not have to become disasters. In the case of Libya, while the civil war ended in 2020, the political situation in the country remains fragile. The UN-facilitated ceasefire in 2020 succeeded in ending militarized clashes between eastern and western armed groups, but much remains to be done to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militants, stabilize the economy, and reduce the vulnerability of the population resulting from a lack of financial opportunities and weakened infrastructure.


Disasters are not natural

What we argue is that vulnerability created through conflict and fragility conditions play a bigger role in disasters’ occurrence than ‘exogenous’ natural events. As many scholars have already observed, disasters are socially constructed phenomena that can be prevented. And while climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of events like storms and heatwaves, proper preparation can prevent them from turning into disasters.


Barriers to preparedness

Unfortunately, conflict settings can create significant barriers to preparedness, leading to catastrophic outcomes, as seen in the recent events in Libya. Therefore, in addition to ending the violence, conflict-affected communities also need to be provided with a safe environment that enables them to prepare and which reduces the risk of being affected by disasters.

Finally, the disaster in Libya also highlights another aspect of the interaction between conflict and disaster. Not only should addressing disaster risks receive more immediate attention in the aftermath of war; conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding should be priority approaches to disaster risk reduction anywhere in the world.

Further information

If you would like to know more about the research into how armed conflict contributes to disaster vulnerability, watch this short one-minute video.


This post was originally published in PRIO Blogs.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Nicolás Caso is a Research Assistant at PRIO’s Migration Centre. His research covers diverse aspects of human development including migration, disaster, and conflict studies. At PRIO he currently works mainly conducting quantitative analyses for two high-profile large projects Aligning Migration Management and the Migration–Development Nexus (MIGNEX) and Future Migration as Present Fact (FUMI). Before joining PRIO he researched the interaction between conflict and disasters as part of the NWO funded project “When disasters meet conflict“.





Rodrigo Mena is Assistant Professor of Disasters and Humanitarian Studies at The International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Dr. Mena has studied and worked in humanitarian assistance/aid, disaster governance, and environmental sociology for almost twenty years, especially in conflict-affected and vulnerable settings. He lectures on humanitarian action, disaster risk reduction, methodology, and safety and security for in-situ/fieldwork research.


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How is the war on Ukraine affecting international development? A look at lesser-heard stories about winners, losers, and the unknowns

The impacts of the war in Ukraine — the largest conflict in Europe since the Second World War — are enormous. The war’s ripple effects are permeating international relations, international organizations, and trade. An important question is who is winning and losing, in which ways, and what we can do about it. During the fourth episode of Research InSightS LIVE held on 29 June, three ISS researchers discussed the compounding effects of the war on global development. In this blog, Adinda Ceelen and Isabella Brozinga Zandonadi summarize the key takeaways of the discussion.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

Losers of this war

Russia’s war on Ukraine has had devastating effects on more than 40 million Ukrainian people. This includes the displacement of millions of Ukrainians from their homes and from Ukraine itself. At present, there are more than 5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine, more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees across Europe, and approximately 17.6 million people in Ukraine in need of humanitarian assistance.

Beyond displacement, the war has had ripple effects that continue to be felt all over the world. In many ways this war is a game changer, not least due to its extensive global dimension, with many countries directly or indirectly involved, for instance by supplying weapons to Ukraine and implementing sanctions. Moreover, it has far-reaching consequences that are impacting the lives of millions of people far removed from the epicenter of the conflict.

In the fourth episode of , a series of engaged discussions with ISS researchers and societal partners on current topics, Dr Oane Visser, Associate Professor in Agrarian Studies at the ISS, painted a vivid picture of the compounding effect of this war on food security. Ukraine and Russia together account for more than 30% of the global wheat supply and are major suppliers to low- and middle-income countries. Disruptions in the supply chain have led to shortages and higher prices with great negative repercussions for countries like Egypt and Sudan that heavily rely on these imports. The weaker bargaining position of smaller low-income countries makes it more challenging for them to secure affordable deals, with devastating effects.


Speculators and profiteers are exploiting higher food and land prices

Media and policy discourses are quick to attribute skyrocketing food prices to the war in Ukraine, on top of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and poor harvests due to climate change. But Visser revealed that there is more to this story: the role of speculation and hidden profiteering. According to a 2023 publication by Unearthed, a “group of ten leading ‘momentum-driven’ hedge funds made an estimated USD 1.9 billion trading on the food price spike at the start of the Ukraine war, that drove millions into hunger”. The lessons learned: while it’s important to look at who is suffering, it’s equally important to investigate who wins and who profit(eer)s.

Visser presented another lesser-heard story from Ukraine, where a recent change in law allowing the sale of farmland raises concerns about foreign investors and oligarchs taking over agricultural land and jeopardizing the livelihoods of local farmers. Ironically, while Ukrainians are fighting to defend their land in the face of foreign aggression, simultaneously there is a push to sell large amounts of this land to foreigners.

Both stories can be linked to Naomi Klein’s concept of disaster capitalism, where unpopular reforms are pushed through during times of crises, shock, and paralysis.


Small, vulnerable countries are profoundly affected by the war

Meanwhile, in the discourse around the Russian war on Ukraine, the perspective of smaller and more vulnerable countries like Sri Lanka are rarely heard. Dr Shyamika Jayasundara-Smits, Assistant Professor in Conflict and Peace Studies at the ISS, expressed concern about this and emphasized the importance of paying attention to narratives and power dynamics.

When it comes to the ripple effects of the war, Sri Lanka did not remain untouched, evidenced amongst others by soaring food and fuel prices. The country was already in a highly vulnerable state — a product of the 2019 Easter bombings, the COVID-19 pandemic and its residual effects, negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, and dire governmental mismanagement. The Ukraine war made the country even more vulnerable to the looming economic crisis — the worst since the country’s independence. It taught the country a critical lesson: vulnerability is not only due to external factors but can also be born out of poor domestic policy.

Sri Lanka’s historical non-aligned foreign policy history in which it benefited from relations with Russia, China and Western institutions means that it cannot afford to take a strong stance. It necessitates a certain level of pragmatism. When the sanctions put in place against Russia ironically led to avenues of working around them, for instance with Russia diverting its trade through Asia, the Sri Lankan government for instance bought Russian oil from India at a subsidized price to tackle its population’s need of the hour.


The war is an attack on the liberal international order

The Ukraine war is indeed not only a European war, but a war that concerns all people and governments. During the discussion, Wil Hout, Professor of Governance and International Political Economy, explained how this war is an attack by Putin on the liberal international order. This order, established after the Second World War, has been critiqued for its legitimacy. The rules are dominated by the West and biased towards the immediate WWII power situation.

While the majority of countries voted for the March 2022 and February 2023 UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the invasion and demanding Russia’s withdrawal, which can be interpreted as continuing support for the existing order, it’s noteworthy that in both cases economic heavyweights such as China, India, and South Africa abstained from voting. Meanwhile, there are many speculations of new alliances, but the reality is that we simply do not know where things are heading, nor how this war will end. One scenario is a Russian defeat, for instance in the form of Russia leaving the Donbas or Crimea. Another scenario is the continued occupation of part of Ukraine, which might result in a new cold war and bring back to life the “Disunited Nations” that we saw during the Cold War period.


Moving from analysis to action

“Peace is needed today more than ever. War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty and hunger, and driving tens of millions of people from their homes,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres. Indeed, at the end of the day, war only creates losers. Considering this observation, what are the next steps?

For one, the EU has for a very long time pretended that it’s not a global power. It’s inevitable for the EU to stop pretending and to start adopting a political identity, thought Hout. Meanwhile, the world’s gaze is still too often on the here and now. Visser noted that we need to learn to think and plan ahead: How are we going to rebuild Ukraine after the war and ensure democratic control over recovery efforts? And lastly, our current order was established at a time when our situation was dramatically different. Jayasundara-Smits believes that contemporary interdependent relations of countries need to be taken much more seriously now and in the future, in times of both war and peace.

About Research InSightS LIVE

Research InSightS LIVE is ISS’ showcase event series to jointly share, reflect on and discuss insights and stories from ISS’ cutting-edge research in the field of global development and social justice. True to the DNA of ISS, these critical conversations are based on real-world insights and draw from a kaleidoscope of perspectives.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:


Adinda Ceelen is Knowledge Broker & Research Communications Advisor at ISS. Her background is in public international law, development studies and international relations. She holds an Advanced Master in International Development (AMID) diploma from Radboud University, an LL.M degree from Utrecht University and a BA degree from University College Utrecht.




Isabella Brozinga Zandonadi is the AMID Trainee and works as a Junior Research Project and Communication Officer at ISS. Her background is in legal studies, international and European Law, human rights law and international development studies. She is currently enrolled in the Advanced master’s in international development (AMID) programme from Radboud University, and she holds an LL.M degree from Maastricht University and a Law degree from Faculdade de Direito de Vitoria.

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Extinction rebellion

On Saturday 9 September, thousands of activists joined Extinction Rebellion in a blockage of the A-12 highway in The Hague, to protest against the 37 billion Euro annual subsidy of the fossil fuel industry in the Netherlands. The amount was established by research collective SOMO and consists of direct subsidies and tax exemptions. On the highway and at the support demonstration organised by several Dutch NGOs there were dozens of professors, wearing their gown joining the protest, among them several professors of ISS. Joyeeta Gupta of the University of Amsterdam and winner of the Spinoza price 2023 spoke at the support demonstration. Here is her speech.

Good morning all!

I am here today because I take every opportunity to call for climate justice. My argument today is: Living within Earth system boundaries requires a just approach. There are system boundaries on Earth. from local to global level. Boundaries must be safe and just. Safe – to ensure that the system does not collapse. Just to ensure that damage to people and nature is kept to a minimum.

Globally, we have crossed seven of the eight boundaries. At a local level, at least two boundaries have been crossed on 50% of the land area, affecting 80% of the world’s population. Boundaries relate to climate change, water, nitrogen and phosphorus, biosphere, air pollution.

Climate change is also part of this. The Paris climate limit of 1.5-2 degrees Celsius is not just enough. Already at 1°C, tens of millions of people are exposed to very high temperatures; much more for sea level rise. Extreme weather events are already costing lives and damaging infrastructure. Furthermore, climate change affects all other Earth systems. By not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions. I repeat, by not demanding stronger targets, we accept that these millions of people will be affected by our actions.

Global boundaries determine what we do in each country. Every country must try to reduce its emissions. But rich countries that have emitted heavily in the past must do more. Instead, in the Netherlands we subsidize our fossil fuel sector with 37.5 billion euros annually, while we only provide hundreds of millions in climate aid. That’s mopping with the tap open. And with a very small mop, and a very large tap. We have no blueprint for phasing out fossil fuels, even though we led the world on climate change in 1989. The global fossil fuel sector is worth between $16 and $300 trillion. We must make this sector responsible. A first step, which should have been taken thirty years ago in the Netherlands, is to abolish fossil fuel subsidies in a fair manner, so that it does not affect access to energy for the poorest.

Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. This seems painful because we have to produce and consume less. But perhaps that has no influence at all on our well-being, our happiness. We need to redesign our societies to ensure that what we do here does not harm anyone else far away. We must adopt the ‘no harm’ principle. Boundaries mean that we have to share the environmental utilization space. But if we let the market do that, the price of scarce resources will rise and only the rich will be able to buy them. Ensuring that the world’s poorest have access to water, food, energy and housing will put additional pressure on the boundaries we have already crossed. This may sound like the problem is that there are too many poor people. But to meet the minimum needs of the poorest, their additional pressure on the environment is equal to that imposed by the world’s top 4%. And we are among the richest countries in the world. Boundaries mean that we have to share environmental utilization space. Indigenous people and local communities protect at least 22 percent of the world’s most important biodiversity areas – where 80 percent of biodiversity is found. We should support them, not marginalize them. Climate change could even cause the Amazon to become a net emitter of greenhouse gases, further increasing climate change.

We have crossed boundaries on climate change, biodiversity and water. This means we need to use less and share better. We need Earth System Justice – to ensure that we are held accountable for the harm done to others and to ensure that resources are distributed fairly. We need a global constitution. We must mobilize all actors. If governments are unwilling to take action, social movements may have to use their civil rights to convince their governments to do so with peaceful demonstrations. We must get rid of fossil subsidies. We must get rid of fossil fuels. Thank you.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South, Faculty Sustainability Professor, Governance and Inclusive Development (GID), Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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Launch of the Humanitarian Studies Centre (HSC): “Humanitarian Studies is about dignity and it is about humanity”

Humanitarian Studies has been defined by Professor Thea Hilhorst as the study of societies and vulnerable communities experiencing humanitarian crisis originating from disaster, conflict, refugee situations, and/ or political collapse. This definition stemmed from the recent launch of the Humanitarian Studies Centre (HSC) on 31 August, 2023 at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. The HSC aims to build a network of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to collaboratively impact the field of Humanitarian Studies.

The Humanitarian Studies Centre at ISS launched on August 31, with a full-day opening event to ‘take stock of Humanitarian Studies’. Guest speakers included Prof. Antonio De Lauri (Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies), Dr Juan Ricardo Aparicio Cuervo (Universidade de Los Andes), Rob Schuurmans (Acting Director, International Affairs, Municipality of The Hague), and Mariëlle van Miltenberg (Head of Humanitarian Aid at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The day was intended to map humanitarian studies in the Netherlands and provide an opportunity for networking, with 36 presentations in different sessions showing the breadth and diversity of Humanitarian Studies.

The Humanitarian Studies Centre will also partner with and host several other organisations, including KUNO (Platform for Knowledge Exchange in the Netherlands), the SSRi (Safety and Security for Researchers Initiative), and the IHSA (International Humanitarian Studies Association). In her opening speech, Thea Hilhorst, who directs the Humanitarian Studies Centre, raised the question what humanitarian studies is.


What is Humanitarian Studies?

“I would like to start with a word of thanks, to the Netherlands government that endowed me with the Spinoza price that enabled setting up the Humanitarian Studies Centre. A first question, then, is of course: what are humanitarian studies?

The field was originally thought of as ‘the study of (international) humanitarian action’. However, perhaps because of my background in development studies, I have always carefully situated humanitarian action in society. Humanitarian action, in my mind, is an autonomous field embedded in society, as I elaborated with Bram Jansen in the idea of the humanitarian arena.

Even so, through time I felt it was needed to broaden the definition of humanitarian studies, away from a focus on international humanitarian action to take societies undergoing humanitarian crises as the starting point. Humanitarian studies, in my mind is:

The study of societies and vulnerable communities experiencing humanitarian crisis originating from disaster, conflict, refugee situations, and/ or political collapse. It studies the causes and impact of crisis; how people, communities and authorities respond to them, including efforts for prevention and preparedness; how humanitarian action and other external interventions are organized and affect the recovery from crises; and the institutional changes that crises and crisis response engender.

This definition implies that there are lots of people that contribute to Humanitarian Studies, without necessarily identifying with the label of ‘Humanitarian Studies’.”


A broad field, open to dialogue

“There is a large range of other academic fields that can interact with, influence, and be in conversation within Humanitarian Studies. We are like siblings in a large family, looking alike yet all with our distinctive features. These include conflict and peace studies, development studies, feminist and post-colonial studies, international relations, disaster studies, and refugee studies. It’s not just academic efforts that contribute to the field either; practitioners are also included – hence the hosting of KUNO at the HSC. The launch of the HSC is also a call to build a network of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers that build collaboratively to have the most positive effect in Humanitarian Studies.”


Not limited to the actions of Humanitarians

“Centering society within Humanitarian Studies means looking at what happens to society during moments of crisis, in contrast to previous approaches. Scholars were mainly interested in the exceptionality of crisis, the violence characterizing crisis, or assumed societies lost their organizing principles to become tabula rasa or institutional voids altogether during a crisis. Few people asked themselves how families managed to feed children, sent them to school, how babies were born, what happened to couples falling in love, who would help people with nothing to eat?

While a plethora of research and lived experience showed that people help each other during crisis (everybody would have died when they had to wait for international humanitarian actors), this largely escaped the eye of the academic world just as much as the aid community. Today, we almost see the opposite happening, with the aid sector celebrating the resilience of local communities, the self-reliance of people on the move and the everyday care they extend to one another.

Whilst it is important to celebrate peoples’ resilience during crisis, and solidarity within societies, this doesn’t mean that the field of Humanitarian Studies takes a rose-tinted view of what happens during crises. Nor can the field ignore the politicization of crisis situations. Lots of research has testified to the politics of crisis, and the ways in which actors reconfigure themselves to benefit from the crisis interventions or change the existing order according to their own interests and views. This happens at international as much as national and the local level, where for example chiefs may ask for sexual favours in exchange for assistance, or local traders may profit from crises by doubling their prices.”


Disaster and crisis as opportunity

“Optimistic people view disaster as a window of opportunity to build back better, and more pessimistic people predominantly see how elites make themselves stronger and richer in times of crisis. Where they agree is that moments of crisis also typically open space for change within society, with existing structures of governance often entirely upheaved, or unable to operate in the same manner. Some of the richest, layered and interesting studies humanitarian scholars have done is to see how institutional landscapes change in crisis situations, whether these changes are permanent, and whether these changes can be affected by carefully crafted interventions.”


A value-laden field

“What I love about humanitarian studies as the title of this domain of work is that it carries a value-laden property. Humanitarian studies is about dignity and it is about humanity. The father of modern humanitarianism, Henri Dunant, proposed that the key idea of humanitarianism is the desire to save lives and restore human dignity.  He derived this notion from a tradition of Christian charity that did not seek to radically alter society. However, the notion of humanity has also inspired subsequent scholars. Last year I was in the beautiful city of Davos in Switzerland where a winter walkway is devoted to Thomas Mann, who wrote his ‘Zauberberg’ (the Magic Mountain) during a stay at Davos.

One of the quotes displayed on the walkway says: ‘What then, is humanism? It is the love of humanity, nothing else, and therefore it is political, and therefore it is a rebellion against everything that tarnishes and devalues humanity.’ That is for me the value that drives humanitarian studies.”

The Humanitarian Studies Centre aims to be a hive of activity around the field, with academic and applied research that will continue to centre both society and humanity in societies undergoing crisis or disaster. Along with Director Thea Hilhorst, Deputy Director Rodrigo Mena, and Senior Researcher Kaira Zoe Cañete, another Senior Researcher will also shortly be joining the team. Several PhD researchers are also affiliated to the centre. Non-academic staff include Coordinator Thomas Ansell, and Community Manager Gabriela Anderson Fernandez. An exciting programme of academic research, knowledge sharing, dialogue with practitioners, and much more is planned!

More information about the HSC is available on the ISS website. The HSC has been set up at ISS by Thea Hilhorst, following her Spinoza Prize in 2022.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

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How disasters can increase armed conflict risks, but also facilitate diplomacy

Disasters often have severe impacts on human security. But how do disasters impact armed conflict dynamics? When striking armed conflict zones, disasters indeed frequently trigger higher fighting intensity, confirming concerns about a climate-conflict nexus. However, this effect only occurs in a minority of cases, specifically in locations with a high disaster vulnerability. More importantly, disasters can also reduce civil war intensity, for instance by posing logistical challenges to armed groups. While such effects are often short term, they provide important windows of opportunity for relief provision and diplomacy, writes Tobias Ide.

Photo Credit: DFID (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

When disasters like droughts, earthquakes, floods, and storms strike vulnerable areas, the consequences can be devastating. This is particularly the case in places with active armed conflicts, as demonstrated by the recent floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, droughts in the Horn of Africa, and the massive earthquake in Syria (and Turkey). In armed conflict zones, several factors increase vulnerability to and complicate recovery from disasters. These include insufficient early warning systems, the battle-related destruction of important infrastructure (e.g., hospitals, power plants), a state incapable of or unwilling to implement prevention measures (e.g., building codes), and unsafe conditions for relief workers. According to some studies, disaster-related deaths are 40% higher in areas with a history of armed conflict.

While discussions such as the above have focused on the effect of armed conflicts on disaster recovery efforts, fewer have sought to ask how disasters impact conflict dynamics. What happens if disasters strike civil war-ridden areas? Does fighting become more intensive? Will the government or rebel forces back down to allow aid delivery? And what does this mean for aid workers and diplomats?

My recently published book titled Catastrophes, Confrontations, and Constraints: How Disasters Shape the Dynamics of Armed Conflicts seeks to address these questions. The book analyses 36 cases of disaster-conflict intersections from 21 countries based on desk-based case studies, expert interviews, and quantitative data. I focussed on countries and areas with an active civil war that were struck by a large-scale disaster to understand how disasters affect conflict risks. Choosing a medium number of cases provided me with the opportunity to combine in-depth qualitative insights with systematic statistical procedures — two approaches that are often kept separate in climate security and disaster conflict research. Below, I briefly detail two main lessons from the book: that the vulnerability of certain contexts to disasters can affect their vulnerability to conflict intensification, and that disasters don’t affect armed conflict dynamics in a unidirectional way, nor in the same ways in different countries.


Vulnerability matters for how armed conflict parties respond to disasters.

One of the key findings of the book is that vulnerability matters. This might not come as a big surprise because the cases analysed in the book all experienced major disasters, most of which caused more than 1,000 deaths. By definition, places suffering such disasters are quite vulnerable to the effects of extreme natural events.

However, vulnerability also matters for the behaviour of the armed conflict parties. Only in countries whose economies are highly dependent on agriculture and where poverty rates are very high, and where disaster impacts are hence often very severe, we can detect a disaster-related change in conflict intensity. The 2010 floods in Pakistan, for instance, affected almost 20% of the country’s territory, displaced around 20 million people, and caused a direct economic damage of USD 9.7 billion. The disaster impacts were so severe due to political instability and socio-economic underdevelopment, and posed enormous logistical challenges to both the state military and the insurgent forces. Put differently: Only if such vulnerability factors are present, the societal impacts of disasters are far-reaching enough to affect decision making by government militaries or rebel groups.


The impact of disasters on armed conflict dynamics is multifaceted.

Furthermore, the impact of disasters on armed conflict dynamics is multifaceted rather than unidirectional. For example, in around half of the countries I studied, disasters had no relevant impact on the armed conflict at all. For about one-quarter of the countries, fighting activities intensified after the disasters took place. This usually happens when the government troops are adversely affected by the disaster while the rebels remain largely unaffected or can even capitalise on the disaster. After the 1999 earthquake in Colombia, for instance, the government deployed 6,000 state security forces to the affected areas and cut down on social programs to win hearts and minds in contested regions – a situation the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) were happy to exploit. I observed similar dynamics after the 1998 floods in Assam (India), the 1999–2001 drought in Uganda, the 1990 Luzon earthquake in the Philippines, and the 1994 floods in Egypt, among others.

Yet, in another one-quarter of the cases I studied, disasters facilitated a de-escalation of the armed conflict. After the 1997 floods in Somalia, for instance, both competing United Somali Congress (USC) fractions faced problems paying and feeding (and moving around) their troops due to an agricultural collapse in the southern “breadbasket” regions. Rebel groups faced similar problems during COVID-19 lockdowns, for instance in Iraq or Thailand (the book has a separate chapter on the effect of COVID-19 on armed conflicts). Civil wars also de-escalated significantly after other disasters I studied, such as cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh (2007) or the 2005-2006 drought in Burundi.

These results are partially in line with claims that climate change and environmental stress increase armed conflict risks, for instance when disasters trigger more intense fighting during civil wars. However, this impact is not deterministic, but only happens in certain contexts: Most disasters had no impacts on armed conflict intensity. Neither is the disaster-conflict nexus unidirectional: In one out of four cases, the disaster facilitated a de-escalation of fighting. While this effect was often temporal and rarely lasted more than twelve months, it might open up important windows of opportunity to deliver aid and promote diplomacy.


Addressing the root causes of vulnerability first and foremost

Based on these insights, what can be done about disasters striking conflict zones? To start with, some of the factors that increase disaster vulnerability are the same that make armed conflict onset and disaster-related conflict intensification more likely: widespread poverty, persistent inequality, or dysfunctional state institutions. Addressing these factors can hence provide benefits on multiple fronts, including for disaster risk reduction, economic development, and security policies.


Protecting disaster relief workers

On a more pragmatic level (and in shorter time horizon), the safety of both national and international disaster relief providers is an important concern. In the past ten years, more than 1,200 aid workers have been killed and many more attacked in conflict areas, with a clear upward trend. If disasters weaken one conflict party and the other side cannot exploit it (because it is too weak, suffers from the disaster as well, or needs to restrain to avoid public backlash), conflict intensity is likely to decline. This provides a window of opportunity to negotiate the safe delivery of humanitarian aid and to upscale diplomatic efforts.

By contrast, if the rebels benefit relative to the government, the conflict is likely to escalate after the disaster. In such a situation, anyone involved in the delivery of relief or reconstruction in the respective area needs to be alerted. Negotiated agreements with the rebels and pro-government forces or increased public pressure on conflict parties to allow safe aid delivery are possible courses of action in such a situation.


Starting discussions on disaster-conflict intersections

Lastly, an informed discussion about disaster-conflict intersections is of utmost importance, particularly among growing concerns about climate security. Areas affected by both phenomena are most likely to need additional support (by local, national, and international actors), yet are also hardest to navigate for those seeking to provide this support.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Tobias Ide is Senior Lecturer at Murdoch University Perth and Specially Appointed Professor for Peace and Sustainability at Hiroshima University. He has published widely on the impacts of environmental change and security and consulted NATO, the World Bank, and the United Nations, among others.

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Home (in the world)

Home is where the heart is, the old adage goes. But home is also a space and a feeling of belonging created through our connections with each other, whether it’s by means of sharing daily experiences, values, hopes and dreams, a place on Earth, or all of these. In this post, Ruard Ganzevoort, who recently joined the ISS as its new rector, shares his thoughts on feeling at home at the ISS and why this feeling arises.

If I would try to describe my experience of joining the ISS community as its new rector, the first thing that comes to mind is how much I feel at home. That is not only caused by the warm welcome I received. It has to do with something much more fundamental. It has to do with where we can locate ourselves at the intersections of the personal, the local, and the global. Feeling at home to me means finding a place where we can be rooted as well as a place from where we move into the outside world. Let me explain.

From my early childhood until today, I have moved quite often. I lived in around 20 houses in 12 cities in two countries. I traveled and worked (even if briefly) in a dozen more countries, most regularly in Indonesia where my partner is from. In the recent past, I co-owned a small boutique hotel in a building that doubled as our private home, with only one sliding door between the lobby and our living room. Home, I can say, has always been a fluid and momentous concept to me — more a specific quality of life than a fixed location. I can feel completely at home in a new place or alienated in a place very familiar to me.

So where do I experience that sense of ‘being home’? And why at ISS? First, it has to do with the personal alignment of values, of what really matters to you. I feel truly at home when my fundamental personal values are shared with the people around me. That doesn’t mean we agree about everything. Far from it. But it does mean that there is a shared understanding of what is really important. It means that what I care about is not dismissed by the people around me.


Connected through our values

At the ISS, I sense this value alignment in the focus on social justice and global equity. There is a shared understanding that what matters to us is the search for pathways to a better world and that our academic endeavours are geared toward aim. And as a corollary of that social justice perspective, we are aware that diversity of positions, perspectives, and personalities should be acknowledged and appreciated. That is why I feel at home and that is what I want to nurture as rector of the ISS.


Connected in the here and now

The second aspect of being at home is allowing oneself to get rooted in a local community. This is not necessarily a permanent community, not one that will always remain the same. It means that we embrace the community as it exists here and now — a community that inhabits a space and is located in a certain environment. For me, the community of ISS feels like home insofar as we are willing to engage with one another, to be there with one another, to be willing to be part of each other’s life in the here and now. And, surely, part of that local community is in fact virtual, but there is a strong here-and-now dimension to a community. One of the striking features of ISS is this experience of a local community of learners, living and working together in that iconic building of ours, located in the specific context of The Hague, with all its unique qualities and possibilities.


Connected to the rest of the world

The third aspect of being at home is being aware that we are connected globally and part of a larger world. To be at home here and now implies that there is also a there and then. Sometimes this is played out antagonistically in an us–them scheme. Much more fruitful, however, is to see home as our base from where we engage with the world. Knowing where we are at home makes it possible to reach out and move to other places without getting lost. One of the beautiful characteristics of ISS is that this is precisely what is happening. Students, staff, and alumni are at home at ISS and travel into the world. And they are at home somewhere else in the world and travel to ISS.

That is why I immediately feel at home at ISS. As rector, I hope to contribute to profound conversations about our values-driven scholarship, to a caring and meaningful social community, and to an ever more intensive focus on the world outside. Let’s do this together!

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Prof.dr. (Ruard) RR Ganzevoort is the rector of the International Institute of Social Studies in Den Haag (part of Erasmus University Rotterdam) as well as professor of Lived Religion and Development.

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Dear Bliss community,

We appreciate your commitment to contributing and reading our blogs.

As the Summer 🌞 shines, we intend to take a break from today 17 July – 20 Aug to rejuvenate and serve you better.

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Migration Series | “Us Aymara have no borders”: Differentiated mobilities in the Chilean borderlands

In Chile, recent initiatives to manage migration have been based on nation-state and sedentary imaginaries. These approaches to migration are challenged by the traditionally mobile and trans-national lives of the Aymara indigenous population residing in Colchane and Pisiga Carpa. Focusing on the Aymara residents of these so-called transit communities and initial reception points for migrants and refugees upsets pre-supposed differences between ‘migrants’ and ‘non-migrants’ and invites us to reconsider approaches to mobility. 

Although ‘migration’ in all its guises is part and parcel of our human condition and world, there has been increasing surveillance of human mobility and normalization of difference between ‘citizens’ and (undocumented) ‘migrant others’ since the inception of nation-states.[1] The focus on difference not only justifies securitization and deterrence approaches to the governance of migration, but it also fails to acknowledge how ‘migrants’ and ‘non-migrants’ co-exist in societies characterized by everyday forms of violence, marginalization, and displacement. Following a de-migranticization approach,[2] my research that took place in 2022 and focused on the traditionally mobile lives of Aymara border residents of Colchane and Pisiga Carpa (villages located close to the Colchane-Pisiga border crossing between Bolivia and Chile) is particularly useful because Aymara narratives and cross-border practices challenge sedentary and nation-state assumptions that underpin mainstream approaches to migration. By juxtaposing a traditionally mobile indigenous population with discourses on the governance of migrants and refugees, this article invites us to reconsider approaches to mobility and the structures that render movement normal for some but ‘abnormal’ for others.


Trans-national mobilities in the borderlands

The Aymara are an indigenous community that has historically engaged in mobility practices that seek to take advantage of the variety of ecological floors present in the Andean space, which transcends rigid national borders and includes territories from northern Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. As Aymara communities were arbitrarily separated following the establishment of nation-state borders after the War of the Pacific (1879–1884), the Aymara in Chile have historical or familial ties with their neighbouring countries Bolivia and Peru.  Moreover, due to a history of cultural and social exclusion of Aymara indigenous identity and practices, their territorial marginalization from the centres of the Chilean State, and their neglect in terms of infrastructure and public services, Aymara border residents have traditionally been  dependent on their relationships across the border.

Thus, for them, instead of representing concrete and non-negotiable physical demarcations, borderlands are places of interaction and connection: “Us Aymara have no borders,” an Aymara woman working at the health centre of Colchane stated. An example of this dynamic is the bi-national market, which an Aymara woman from Pisiga Carpa described as follows:

“Every other week, here in the border with Bolivia, between Pisiga Bolívar (Bolivia) and Colchane, we have an ancestral market where we barter and exchange things. We also bring things from the Iquique Free Trade Zone, and things also arrive from Ururo that we buy, like pasta, rice, and things, to not have to go down to Iquique.”

Since the 1990s, Chilean central governments have acknowledged the historical and cultural practices of indigenous peoples (with varied ethnicities) and their right to self-determination and maintenance of cross-border practices. The approval of the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention No. 169 in 2008 demonstrates the acceptance of Aymara mobility, as the international system and its actors including the Chilean State recognize their responsibility to facilitate the economic, social, spiritual, and environmental contacts of indigenous groups across borders.[3] However, the lives and traditional practices of highly mobile Aymara residents of Colchane and Pisiga Carpa increasingly co-exist with different migrant populations from outside the Andean region and related Chilean securitization dynamics that create disruptions to indigenous livelihoods.


The arrival of increased migration and securitization dynamics

Ongoing displacement (particularly from Venezuela since the late 1990s) and amendments to Chilean legislation on visa policies in 2018 already gradually led to an increase in ‘irregular’ migrant entry, but with the closing of borders due to Covid-19 this reached a new height in 2020. The majority of the unauthorized paths of entry to northern Chile are concentrated near the villages Colchane and Pisiga Carpa, making these towns places of (interrupted) ‘transit’ for people crossing the Colchane-Pisiga border. In a context of local incapacity for reception and limited to no assistance from the central government, the increasing numbers of border crossers initially sparked empathy and acts of solidarity by border residents. However, they soon began to feel disappointment about the role that they felt forced to assume due to limited legal, logistical, and infrastructural preparation by the Chilean government, whom they considered ultimately responsible for border crossers’ fate.

On 18 October 2021, the government provided a response by merging migration and Covid-19 as one ‘crisis’ to be managed to protect the nation-state. The government’s health department moved groups of people camping in Colchane and Pisiga Carpa to a refuge located at the border. People who entered Chile through unauthorized paths were redirected by police officers to the refuge to self-report their ‘irregular’ entry to the Police of Investigations (PDI).[4] This meant that people could only access healthcare, shelter, food, and transportation services by self-reporting themselves as ‘irregular,’ a process that facilitates immediate expulsions that disregard the right to asylum established in international treaties (such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol) and Chilean Law (No. 20.430 of 2010). Moreover, expulsions were made legal by the government when it approved the new Migration Law No. 21.325, backed by a state of emergency in 2022 and increased militarization at the Colchane-Pisiga border. The government also financed the construction of a zanja (ditch) at the border to increase barriers for crossing.

This response coincides with the securitization of migration, which considers mobility as threatening.[5] The mobility (of some) becomes synonymous to criminality, and thus the migrant is criminalized due to difference – for being a ‘dangerous other’ in opposition to national citizens. This practice creates perverse consequences, which an NGO worker in migrant reception at Iquique described as follows:

“The focus is set on expulsions, delinquency, security, and at the end we know that [this response] does not deter mobility nor the root of migration. […] There is no commitment to the lives of people who are dying at the desert […]. The government needs to admit that we are allowing the death of women, children, newborns, elderly… Están dejando morir.”


Differentiated mobilities, interrupted livelihoods

While migrants are the group most visibly vulnerable to securitization measures, increased militarization and border control directly affect the dynamics and previous agreements of the Aymara living at the border. Several Aymara explained that especially initially, officials policing the border did not understand the traditional practices and exchanges that happen at events like the bi-national markets:

“We couldn’t do our markets, they didn’t let us cross to buy a kilo of rice, vegetables, meat… and nothing po, we have to tell complete stories to the officials and show our identification cards. And we began to think, how is it that Venezuelans are crossing with no documents, and we have Chilean nationality, but they start implementing rules for us?”

Coupled with poverty and exclusion, these controls on mobility exacerbated resentment and hostility particularly towards Venezuelan migrants. Border residents stopped previous acts of solidarity and often reproduced state concerns by portraying migrants as ‘others’ to protect their own belonging to the nation-state and sustain traditional border crossings. Moreover, with time, officials policing the border have become acquainted with Aymara culture and features that distinguish them from supposedly ‘dangerous migrant others,’ effectively creating a border that is marked by differentiated mobilities. While mobility is an essential aspect of human life, government actors define categories, infrastructures, and hierarchies that organize the practices and experiences of (im)mobilities at the borderlands.

Ultimately, while traditional Aymara mobility in the borderlands has been challenged by nation-state and sedentary approaches, enhanced border securitization leads residents to disassociate from other people on the move and subscribe to state and media narratives that criminalize mobility. These narratives reinforce the securitization logics that, paradoxically, disrupt the trans-national practices of Aymara border residents, making their lives, livelihoods, and mobilities less secure.

[1] Malkki, L. (1992) ‘National geographic: The rooting of peoples and the territorialization of national identity among scholars and refugees,’ Cultural Anthropology, 7(1), pp. 24–44. doi: 10.1525/can.1992.7.1.02a00030; Thanh-Dạm, T. and Gasper, D. (2011) ‘Transnational migration, development and human security,’ in Thanh-Dam, T. and Dasper, D. (eds.) Transnational migration and human security: The migration-development-security nexus. Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 3–22.  doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-12757-1.

[2] Dahinden, J. (2016) ‘A Plea for the ‘de-migranticization’ of Research on Migration and Integration,’ Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39(13), pp. 2207-2225. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1124129.

[3] Gundermann Kröll, H. (2018) ‘Los Pueblos Originarios Del Norte De Chile Y El Estado,’ Diálogo andino, 55(55), pp. 93–109.

[4] Leal, R. (2021) COVID-19, the migration crisis and Chile’s new immigration legislation: Chile’s powerful get richer and its poor more outraged. Penrith, N.S.W.: Western Sydney University. doi: 10.26183/0j4y-jy05.

[5] Glick Schiller, N. and Salazar, N.B. (2013) ‘Regimes of mobility across the globe,’ Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 39(2), pp. 183–200. doi: 10.1080/1369183X.2013.723253.

Read the other topics on the migration series:

How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering.

From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys.

From branding to bottom-up ‘sheltering’: How CSOs are helping to address migration governance gaps in the shelter city of Granada

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Mariela Miranda van Iersel is a social scientist, economist, and researcher dedicated to ethically responsible mixed-methods research and currently working as an Intern at the Division for Gender Affairs of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) in Santiago, Chile. She graduated in December 2022 from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), specializing in Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies: Social Justice Perspectives, where she received the Best Research Paper Award of the academic year 2021/2022.

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EADI Conference 2023 | From sunbathing to sunstroke: How should we personally respond to the risks of (severe) heat and heatwaves?

This summer, several weather records have been smashed, with the hottest week ever recorded occurring last week. The heat is becoming a serious problem; some may argue that climate change is on our doorstep and no longer an unimaginable future. But while heatwaves are particularly dangerous, leading to a loss of lives and health risks, above-average temperatures are also risky, even when a heatwave hasn’t been declared officially. In this article, ISS PhD researcher Lize Swartz asks whether we should also be taking action when there are no heatwaves and what role we can play in protecting ourselves—and those around us—from the heat.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

We watched as a young woman upend a jug of iced water over her head. “That’s the absolute worst thing you can do when you show signs of heat stroke,” my friend commented. It was a hot day, the temperatures reaching 32°C, and we were sitting at a beach restaurant. We’d been on the beach for a few hours but as it became progressively hotter, we decided to take a break, sitting in the shade at the restaurant until the sun would lose its sting. The woman had turned pale shortly before, moving to the shade after sitting in the full sun. She had been in the sun for too long and showed signs of heat exhaustion.

All around us, we saw people lying or sitting in the full sun–on towels, on lounge chairs restaurants rented out, at the restaurants themselves. Irresponsible, I was telling myself, but these days not only because of the risk of getting skin cancer from enduring exposure to the sun. It was irresponsible because it was hot and because staying in the sun all day causes the body to heat up and not cool down unless measures are taken. Particularly in that kind of heat. You know, the one that’s not pleasant and that there seems to be no relief from. And it seemed that people were not taking these measures, staying in the sun until they were already starting to feel sick, relishing the heat, like lizards, without realizing that they were being scorched.

That got me thinking about whether the risks associated with heat and heatwaves are adequately understood. Granted, it wasn’t that hot, 32°C being a bit hotter than usual, but not the blistering 38°C we’d had in July last year when a heatwave swept across the country. Still, the body’s ability to cool itself down given the type of heat that we were exposed to that day was already reduced. I could feel myself struggling, with the sweat pooling up all over my body instead of evaporating. It wasn’t enjoyable. I needed to drink liters of water to rehydrate, and ultimately, only a lukewarm shower provided relief.

This heat, accompanied by humidity, is the worst type. It doesn’t cool down at night; the air remains hot and sticky. Houses stay warm. We wake up the next day and it would be a continuation of the previous day’s heat. Our bodies don’t regulate our temperatures as well, though they try to. There are only a few things we can do: stay in the shade, stay inside, cool ourselves down with water. Yet the people on the beach weren’t doing that, oblivious to the heat.

Local and national authorities have a mammoth task of creating awareness about the risks of heatwaves and heat in general, for example by issuing a heat warning in advance. A question that arises is when they should start taking action: When there’s an official heatwave? When it’s above 35°C? Clearly, longer exposure to the sun, even at 32°C, can make people ill. Should the government be circulating information on heat-related risks even when it’s a normal summer’s day when there’s a risk of the body not being able to cool itself due to the level of humidity and the lack of the circulation of air? Or should we have enough common sense to be doing it ourselves?

I think that when leaving ourselves to be the judge, we can make poor decisions based on a lack of relevant information to make an informed choice, or out of wilful ignorance. There are tons of people who don’t heed the warning to seek shelter when it’s hot, who still engage in normal activities without realizing that their bodies are overheating. Could it also be a matter of not being able to discern that our bodies are getting too hot? Do we need more education about that, so that we know that when we perspire heavily and remain sticky, it’s a sign that we need to cool ourselves down?

In a year that’s already marked the two hottest days on earth, ever (!), these questions are becoming urgent. The underlying question is, of course, who is responsible for ensuring that we are protected from the heat: the government, or us? It’s a combination, I believe–where we cannot do it ourselves, or do not do it, it should be taking steps to protect those who cannot or will not do it themselves. Through heat plans or awareness campaigns. And by ensuring that vulnerable groups have the necessary means to shade and cool themselves.

But it is also clear that we need to take action individually, and the first step could be to take responsibility for our own bodies—to self-govern our bodies in times of heat by understanding the risks of heat and how it can affect us, and by acting cautiously, especially if we don’t know how our bodies react to the heat. I don’t know how we can start doing this, but reading more about the risks of hot temperatures can be a start.

A second, related step could be to help each other understand the risks of exposure to heat by creating opportunities for social learning and acting on what we’ve learned, including helping each other understand or access information on the effects of heat. And we can act to assist those requiring help. In the U.S., for example, cooling centers are organized by the U.S. government and cooling stations by individuals or organizations acting together for others in their community who suffer from the heat and who don’t have the means to adequately cool themselves.

This remains a big issue among people who live in dwellings inadequately designed to remain cool or who don’t have the financial means to cool themselves, such as through a sun screen or aircon. Often, these are also more vulnerable segments of the population, in particular the sick, disabled, and/or elderly.

The inspiration for my post is the seed panel on urban resilience to heatwaves that THUAS and ISS researcher Sylvia Bergh and I are organizing at this year’s EADI Conference. We’ll be looking at citizen, government, and private sector responses to heatwaves, and I’ll probably want to discuss individual responses.

The panel takes place on Thursday July 13, 2023 at 10:00 CET. Topics range from integrated heat planning in the Netherlands to measuring the accessibility of cooling stations and urban heat hazard exposure in Kampala, Uganda. If you’re a registered conference participant, you can join in person or online. If you haven’t registered, we’re writing up the key takeaways and observations after the conference. Stay tuned!

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Lize Swartz is a PhD researcher studying how changes in urban water availability affect human-water relations. She has co-authored a book called Bron on how residents of Cape Town navigated the near-collapse of the city’s water system. She has been editor of Bliss since 2017.

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Migration Series | From branding to bottom-up ‘sheltering’: How CSOs are helping to address migration governance gaps in the shelter city of Granada

Granada is one of the few Spanish cities that established itself as a ‘shelter city’ for migrants, but despite the city administration’s pledge in 2015 to improve migration governance, bridge divides, and promote community building between migrant and non-migrant communities, selective indifference towards migrants persists. In light of several governance gaps caused by the failure of local authorities in Granada to go beyond the mere branding and enactment of the concept of shelter cities, various civil-society organizations (CSOs) have launched initiatives aimed at alleviating these tensions and are filling the gaps left by local authorities, writes former ISS MA student Christy Gamboa.

Government of Granada shelter city campaign “Granada, ciudad solidaria y de abrazos abiertos” (Granada, city of solidarity and open hugs).

During the ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, some cities in Spain declared themselves shelter cities, which are supposed to be places in which migrants and refugees can safely reside and receive assistance from the local government. They did so in a bid to counter the restrictive policies on migrants and refugees that the Spanish government had instituted in response to this ‘crisis’. These initiatives besides offering immediate housing and basic support were also aimed at improving the day-to-day governance of migration by addressing governance gaps at the national level and promoting community building between migrant and non-migrant communities at the local level.

Granada, a city in southern Spain with around 230,000 residents, became a ‘shelter city’ following pressure placed on the local government by RedGra (Red Granadina por el Refugio y la Acogida—Granada Network for Shelter and Reception), a network of around 40 CSOs advocating for migrant rights who identified the need to create a safety net for migrants. Because the city’s actions since it started to call itself a ‘shelter city’ have been focused merely on providing temporary support in some cases to migrants and on creating public campaigns focusing on the ‘shelter city’ brand, the various active CSOs in Granada forming part of RedGra provide bottom-up shelter to migrants in different ways.

Research I conducted last year as part of my master’s degree examined the extent of coexistence of solidarity, tensions, and conviviality within Granada as a shelter city, focusing on the actions of CSOs working with migrants. When conducting my fieldwork in Granada as part of my research, I interviewed several organizations within RedGra that help migrants and refugees from primarily Northern Africa. I identified persistent tensions within the city and witnessed bottom-up actions by CSOs to counteract them, such as by providing material support such as food and housing, promoting inclusive spaces, reporting discriminatory actions, and raising awareness among residents of Granada about the challenges that migrants face. These are described in more detail below.


Tensions in the ‘shelter city’

The city of Granada has a reputation for peaceful coexistence among people of diverse origins and religions, supposedly due to the harmonious living together of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities during the time of Al-Ándalus in medieval Spain. However, the CSO representatives I spoke to revealed that rising racism in the city is a major concern, and that the perceived reputation of enabling peaceful coexistence is nothing but an illusion. Particularly, my interviews with Dar Al Anwar and AMANI revealed that there is significant tension among residents of Granada due to unwelcoming attitudes local residents hold towards migrants who originate from Muslim-majority countries.

During the ‘crisis’, when the number of migrants surged, these tensions grew. Since then, several instances of open discrimination or harassment of migrants could be witnessed. The discontent of some Granadans has repeatedly been expressed publicly in the past few years, with women being kicked out of public swimming pools for wearing full bathing suits (burkinis). However, I was told that there are other examples of conflicts linked to the freedom of religious expression. For example, the respondents mentioned that local authorities resisted the celebration by Muslims of important religious festivities such as Eid Al Adha in public spaces by not granting them permission to do so. Catholic celebrations on the other hand are widely celebrated in public spaces without any issues.

Another issue in Granada is the inadequate support that has been provided by local authorities to migrants. The local government offers only temporary housing, leaving many people on the streets. Furthermore, tensions among migrants themselves are exacerbated by differential treatment based on their country of origin. A former public servant who volunteers at AMANI for example stated that “the public administration has a bureaucratic system that is a little bit racist that makes it difficult for some foreigners,” referring to the existence of differential treatment based on the migrants’ country of origin. This differential treatment is exemplified by the Municipal Council of Migration’s prompt response and activation of the Shelter City Protocol to accommodate asylum seekers from Ukraine, rapidly giving them access to accommodation and legal documentation to stay in the city. In contrast, people coming from conflict zones outside of Europe have been waiting for more than five years to obtain their documentation to reside legally in the city. These examples demonstrate how ongoing tensions—visible in hostile attitudes and inadequate policies alike—infringe on what a shelter city promises to be.


How CSOs are helping to alleviate tensions

In the midst of these widespread tensions in Granada, CSOs in Granada have come to play a crucial role in bringing together the local community, government, and newcomers or migrants. Their proximity to these communities gives these organizations first-hand knowledge of the respective needs of the different groups and allows them to facilitate initiatives that help to prevent disunity and foster understanding and tolerance.

All CSO representatives noted the importance of creating spaces where people can safely get to know each other. For example, the CSO Zona Norte facilitates the Verano Abierto Cartuja (Cartuja’s Open Summer) event, which is held each year in a neighbourhood with a high concentration of people with diverse migration backgrounds, with people coming from Morocco, Romania, Senegal, and Bolivia, amongst others. This event is part of an intercultural strategy to promote conviviality between neighbours in the north of Granada. It allows residents of all ages, origins, and religions to leisurely share knowledge through workshops on healthy drinks, dance, sports, and a language exchange.

Several organizations, including Zona Norte and ASPA, also emphasized the importance of listening to the needs and ideas of the people in the community in which they’re active. For example, ASPA’s community-building project involves young migrants serving as intercultural agents by sharing their migration journey experiences with non-migrants while also promoting intercultural dialogue through art therapy and classes on body language. Another initiative ASPA launched was the creation of a manifesto that was directed at the ombudsman of Granada through a rap song to claim their rights to the city.

The CSOs’ approach of facilitating bottom-up initiatives that involve migrants in the setting of agendas and development of activities offers a meaningful and holistic solution to the lack of support from the municipality. By giving migrants a voice in choosing the activities that they perceive would benefit them more, CSOs promote inclusion and reduce alienation. Their activities focus on building relationships based on shared interests, rather than highlighting differences in origin, thereby creating spaces for interaction between migrants and the host society.


How CSOs help contribute to improved migration governance

My study of Granada highlights the often-overlooked significance of civil society in addressing governance gaps, both in academic and policy debates. The presence of bottom-up initiatives showcases the essential role and positive impact that civil society can have in effectively addressing the existing gaps in migration governance. The establishment of Granada as a shelter city was a positive step, but tensions and prejudices towards migrants persist. CSOs take a holistic approach that listens to the diverse needs of migrants, promoting their well-being and strengthening their relationship with the host society. In contrast, the municipality’s commitment falls short as it merely labels the city as a shelter without taking further action to address the underlying issues and actively support migrant communities. Moreover, by creating spaces that encourage intercultural exchange and meaningful participation, CSOs aim to prevent conflicts and reduce social polarization. They promote autonomy, equity, and social inclusion for migrants, going beyond basic needs.

Read the other topics on the migration series:

How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering.

From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Christy Gamboa holds a MA in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies. She is a recent graduate from the Major in Governance of Migration and Diversity with a specialization in Public Policy and Management. She is currently a Junior Programme Officer in the Rights-Based Justice Team at the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.

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Humanitarian Observatories Series | Why it’s crucial for internally displaced persons to participate in the peace process following Ethiopia’s Oromia Conflict

Like the conflict in Tigray, one of the gravest consequences of the conflict in Ethiopia’s Oromia region has been the disastrous level of internal displacement it has given rise to. In this blog, Alemayehu B. Hordofa provides an overview of the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Oromia and shows why ensuring their rights should be at the heart of the peace process in the region. He contends that the peace process in Oromia should give adequate space to the viewpoints of at-risk populations, including IDPs, and that including their concerns in a peace agreement is critical for safeguarding sustainable peace and preventing future conflict-induced displacements.

Photo Source: Personal Collections

The political transition that occurred in Ethiopia in 2018 was hoped to bring peace to this deeply divided country; however, guns failed to be silenced, and Ethiopia continues to be ravaged by several conflicts that have uprooted millions of civilians from their homes. One such conflict is the one being waged in Oromia, the largest of the country’s eleven regions stretching across central, western, and southern Ethiopia.

The conflict has its roots in decades-old clashes between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a nationalist political party established in 1973 to struggle for the right to self-determination of the Oromo people. The party was proclaimed a terrorist organization under the country’s former draconian Anti-terrorism Proclamation, and its leaders lived in exile in Eritrea until their return following the political transition in 2018. After the transition, the Ethiopian parliament lifted the OLF’s terrorist label and subsequently made significant amendments to the previous repressive anti-terrorism law. The new administration also signed the Asmara Agreement with the OLF and released political prisoners.

All these actions seemed to mark the start of a period of peace and stability for people whose livelihoods had been disrupted because of the decades-long conflict. But despite efforts to peacefully end the conflict, it flared up again shortly after the OLF leadership’s return to Ethiopia. This happened as the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the military wing of the OLF, accused the Ethiopian government of failing to address major political demands made by the Oromo people. It subsequently refused to lay down arms, severed its relationship with the OLF, and continued its insurgencies, first in western and southern Oromia and then also in its central and northern parts following the military void created by the Tigray conflict.

This led to the short lifespan of the Asmara Agreement, as the government soon reverted to verbal clashes with the OLF and open military confrontation with the OLA. Below, I argue that durable peace can be ensured only by heeding the demands of the millions of IDPs that have not been met by the warring parties in their previous agreement, which has failed to truly resolve anything, and which does not seem to be at the center of the two parties’ ongoing negotiation.


How peace was sought—and why it proved ineffective

According to the 2023 Global Report on Internal Displacement, Ethiopia is the country in Africa with the second-highest number of IDPs after the DRC, with some 3.8 million people displaced. Conflict is the main driver of displacement, both at the national level and in the Oromia region. The latest data from OCHA show that over 800,000 people have been displaced in Western Oromia alone due to conflict. The number of people displaced because of conflict in the whole of Oromia is much larger, but displacement data is difficult to access.

The devastating impact of the ongoing conflict in Oromia compelled personalities, both inside and outside the government, to advocate for a peaceful solution of the Oromia conflict in a bid to stop displacement. In December last year, MPs from Oromia called on the Ethiopian Prime Minister to reach a peaceful settlement with the rebels, and opposition parties and independent civil society organizations made the same demands. The conflict in Oromia became such an important human rights and security issue that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need to end the “ongoing instability in the Oromia region” in his talks with the Ethiopian prime minister earlier this year.

Despite these internal and external pressures, the need to repair the crippled economy, and the increasing intensity threshold of the conflict, efforts to enter into a peace agreement remain futile. The first round of negotiations, mediated by Kenya and Norway, took place between April 24 and May 2 this year in Zanzibar and ended with no agreement having been reached to cease the hostilities. The two parties subsequently released similar statements describing the ‘unfortunate’ situation, claiming that “it was not possible to reach an agreement on some issues” during the first round of negotiations, and vowing to continue the negotiations to resolve the conflict “permanently and peacefully.”


No peace is possible without heeding the demands of IDPs

One of the main reasons for the failure of the Asmara agreement is its top-down orientation and failure to adequately engage the vast number of people who became victims of the impacts of the conflict, including the IDPs.[1] The agreement brought the political leaders of the two warring parties to the negotiation table without heeding the victims’ demands. The current peace process should learn from the failure of its predecessor and take practical measures to address the rights of IDPs, including the right to obtain sustainable solutions in the form of return, resettlement, or local integration; restoration of their damaged properties and livelihoods; and reinstatement of the provisions of social services in displacement or resettlement areas. These measures would break the conflict cycle, realize inclusiveness, ensure local ownership, and address vulnerability that could otherwise led to long-lasting instability and undermine the success of the process.

For example, the conflict between the government forces and OLA in the Horo Guduru Wollega Zone of the Oromia region was intersected with cross-border attacks against civilians by militias and armed vigilante groups from the neighbouring Amhara region, causing the large-scale displacement of civilians and the destruction of civilian properties. Likewise, many IDPs from western Oromia have crossed regional administrative borders to seek protection and assistance in other regions out of the fear of being targeted along ethnic lines. Other IDPs were forced to flee their homes out of fear of human rights violations by the government’s security forces.

The peace process should address the root causes that triggered these cross-border attacks on civilians, ethnic targeting, and human rights violations. It should comprehensively respond to these issues; not integrating the interests and rights of these IDPs in the peace process would detrimentally affect its success and durability.

Indeed, conversations I had with IDPs confirmed the importance of the peace process for the millions of Ethiopians living in or displaced from conflict areas in Oromia. For example, Muluneh (name changed)[2], who used to lead an independent life as a local businessperson and has now become an IDP because of the conflict in Oromia, explained:

“If the peace process is to become a reality, it must provide for some tangible mechanisms to address our [IDPs’] needs and interests. We [IDPs] endure the brunt of conflict in the region, having lost all our belongings and fled to save our lives. Any viable peace process in the region should address the root causes of the problems that made us vulnerable in the first place. We need compensation for our property looted, burned, and destroyed.”

Similar demands were made by other IDPs and human rights organizations to prevent arbitrary displacement, provide protection for IDPs and peacefully end the conflict in Oromia. The Ethiopian Humanitarian Observatory organized its second workshop on the topic of ‘Effective Governance Architecture for Managing Responses to Internal Displacement: The Role of Displacement Affected Communities and Humanitarian Organizations’ in March this year, during which workshop participants confirmed the low level of IDPs’ participation in humanitarian, development, and peace processes and underscored the positive correlation between IDPs’ participation, the effectiveness of humanitarian aid, and the sustainability of peace. Yet, these victims have not been consulted at any stage of the peace process in Oromia, their right to a remedy for their destroyed livelihoods has not been acknowledged, and the restoration of their property rights has not been prioritized.

Thus, it becomes clear that the participation of IDPs in the peace process is a cornerstone in ensuring its sustainability, warranting local ownership, and improving the implementation of its terms. The peace process must involve IDPs at all stages, and any potential peace agreement must include measures to ensure the specific human rights of IDPs and must reflect their interests. It must give a mandate for CSOs’ following up and monitoring of its enforcement.

Lastly, accountability is another cornerstone for lasting peace in the region. Peace becomes durable when it is combined with accountability and reparations. Accountability for causing, contributing to, or failing to address internal displacement should be an integral part of the peace process in Oromia.

[1] The other reasons include a lack of transparency in the negotiation process, as the terms of the agreement remain opaque until today and due to the absence of spaces for CSOs’ engagement in its implementation and monitoring.

[2] I spoke to Muluneh (name changed) in the town of Burayu in the last week of February as part of my efforts to define the focus of the Ethiopian Humanitarian Observatory that forms part of the ISS-hosted ‘Humanitarian Governance: Accountability, Advocacy, Alternatives’ project. Just a few days prior, the president of Oromia at a regional council meeting revealed, for the first time, the government’s intention to make peace with the OLA.

The post is part of the humanitarian observatories series that received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme [Advance grant number 884139].”

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:


Alemayehu B. Hordofa is a Ph.D. researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). He obtained his LLM in International Human Rights Law from the Irish Center for Human Rights (ICHR), University of Galway, Ireland. He is currently working on the role of Civil Society Organizations and Crisis-affected People to shape humanitarian governance ‘from below’ in the context of the humanitarian response to IDPs in Ethiopia. His research interests lie in forced displacement, localization of humanitarian aid, transitional justice, and the development of CSOs in Ethiopia.



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Migration Series | From caminantes to community builders: how migrants in Ecuador support each other in their journeys

With the deep political and socio-economic crisis, a large number of Venezuelans have fled to other countries, including Ecuador. Many people have journeyed on foot, earning them the name caminantes (walkers/hikers), and have encountered various challenges but also forms of solidarity along the way. This blog centres on the experiences of different actors who have provided aid to caminantes as they traverse Ecuador, turning the one-dimensional idea of migrants and refugees as victims on its head.

Picture of a family arriving the shelter in August 2022.

Since 2014, Venezuela has been grappling with a deepening political and socio-economic crisis. The situation has quickly deteriorated to the point where poverty, food, and medicine shortages, violence, and political oppression have caused thousands of Venezuelans to flee the country and seek refuge in other Latin American countries, as well as in the United States and Spain. However, due to the challenging economic circumstances, many migrants cannot afford traditional modes of transportation or access the documents needed to travel. Consequently, walking has become a viable option for low-income families, giving rise to the term ‘caminantes’ to describe them.1

During my fieldwork,2 I had the privilege of meeting both solidarity actors and migrants who were still on their journey. What surprised me the most was the high level of organisation and knowledge-sharing among the solidarity actors, many of whom are migrants themselves, which challenges the commonly held belief that migrants are solely aid recipients. By sharing legal information, food, shelter, and emotional support, they created a safe space for those navigating the uncertainties associated with migration.


Venezuelan migration dynamics in Ecuador

Ecuador has become a significant destination for the Venezuelan diaspora, with nearly half a million Venezuelans settling in the country. At the same time, families continue to walk along Ecuadorian roads, seeking a new home in Ecuador or further south. Despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and a weakening economy, migration has persisted – in 2022 alone, more than 250,000 people crossed through Ecuador to reach countries like Peru or Chile, according to the United Nations.3

Notwithstanding Ecuador’s own sizable diaspora in the United States and Europe, the country presents various challenges for and levels of hostility towards migrants. Since 2017, Ecuador has implemented stricter migration policies, which has contributed to the limiting of access to public services and the formal labour market. Moreover, criminal violence in Ecuador has sharply risen by 82.5% since 2021, exacerbating inequalities and instability migrant groups face and contributing to xenophobic acts and attitudes towards Venezuelans.4 Following national protests in June 2022, when Venezuelan citizens were associated with violent criminal activities, xenophobic messaging increased by over 343%.5 These hostilities are not only directed at migrants but also those supporting them, including former migrants themselves. Consequently, approximately 110,000 Venezuelan migrants have left Ecuador in the past two years in search of better opportunities in neighbouring countries.6


Exploring solidarity networks among caminantes and solidarity actors in Ecuador

Caminantes played a crucial role in my research, which sought to understand the impact of solidarity initiatives on their journeys. During my fieldwork in four towns in the summer of 2022, I met the Gomez family*, whose members migrated as caminantes in 2017 and settled in a small rural coastal town in Ecuador. They established a shelter to provide food, legal advice, and medical aid to fellow caminantes despite facing extortion, discrimination, and economic instability themselves. Roberto, a member of the Gomez family, emphasised their commitment to helping other migrants, drawing from his own experiences: “I know how it feels to be an emigrant because it is not easy to live that life, to live a life where you do not have a fixed journey or a point of arrival. And that is an intense experience. It really is.”

Although they have limited resources and face numerous challenges, Venezuelan migrants in this part of Ecuador have formed community networks. Eight solidarity actors I encountered during my fieldwork have established foundations that offer legal advice, support for informal businesses and job-seeking efforts, and support accessing social benefits through international organisations. They assist migrants of various nationalities, including Venezuelans, Colombians, Cubans, and Haitians. These actors face physical and legal threats but demonstrate solidarity with those who defy borders in search of a better life, just as they do. Their journey continues as they provide support to countless unknown people, offering shelter and seeking opportunities and safety for their own families. Other migrants with stable jobs or access to services now contribute significantly to the activities of actors like the Gomez family.

Solidarity is also practised among migrants who are walking to reach their new destination. Andres, a 22-year-old Venezuelan migrant, stressed that “we would also help each other on the road. We would sit in a place, a little park to rest … we would share – if I had and you did not, mine was yours. So, we all helped each other”. The interactions that occur during the journey also provide a sense of community and belonging to a network that can be sustained in time, as Martha recalls about her experience with a family they met on the journey: “I met the boy and the family I told you [about]. The man came in a wheelchair. He came with his wife and his child. In fact, my husband was a beacon of light to them. And they were a beacon of light to us. We became a family”.


Solidarity and resilience: a common factor in migrant communities

Despite facing significant challenges, the Gomez family and other interviewees dedicate their limited resources to helping others. Their resilience and determination serve as a powerful example of how migrants can come together and support each other to overcome obstacles such as a lack of access to services and high levels of violence. Their strength and resourcefulness allow them to provide crucial assistance to others in similar situations while also trying to start their new life in a different country, creating new opportunities for themselves and their families but also being an essential source of support for thousands who are still on their journey.

*A pseudonym.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Fernanda González Ronquillo is a graduate of ISS, specialising in Human Rights within the Social Justice Perspectives major. Currently, she is interning at a local scale-up that supports women with a migrant background to enter the Dutch labour market.

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Humanitarian Observatories Series | Humanitarian observatories – seeking change from below

In the past few months, several humanitarian observatories have been set up in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia as part of a project on humanitarian governance and advocacy. These observatories review humanitarian action in the countries they’re located in and aim to contribute to humanitarian reform from below. In this post, Dorothea Hilhorst introduces this exciting new development and the Bliss blog series that will show what’s happening at the different observatories.

Launch DRC observatory 30 October 2022

Humanitarian governance is associated with many challenges related to the effectiveness of aid, accountability and trust, and the huge power imbalance between large humanitarian agencies and national aid providers, for example. Questions abound. How is the effectiveness of aid perceived by affected communities? How are funds allocated? Who are the people most in need? What is the role of the state in service provision? How is aid politicized, and whose interests are at stake? What is the role of national NGOs and civil society, and how are their voices heard?

Whereas many of these questions are addressed in international policies and debates, the influence of actors from the countries that are mostly affected by crisis – recipients of aid, national aid providers and others – on these policies and debates is wanting. As part of a humanitarian governance project hosted at the ISS, we have launched a series of humanitarian observatories for such actors to help monitor humanitarian governance processes in locales of humanitarian aid interventions with the aim of improving effectiveness and accountability. The project is briefly introduced below.


Creating networks, enhancing dialogue and collaboration

In an era of growing humanitarian needs, international advocacy has been focused on improving the effectiveness of aid, accountability, and the role of national actors. But these initiatives usually take place at the global level. We want to turn this around and reform humanitarianism by creating spaces for actors affected by aid interventions to monitor these in the places where they are enacted.

The project ‘Humanitarian governance. Accountability, advocacy, alternatives’ that seeks to do this is a five-year programme funded by the European Research Council. The programme is hosted at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague and is organized as a network with the following partners: the Universidad de los Andes in Colombia, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and KUTAFITI and the CREGED in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a culmination of aspirations and activities of my previous work where I have always aimed to enhance dialogue and create networks of people across different parts of the humanitarian field, especially with people living through and working on humanitarian crises in their own setting.

The project hopes to create a space where people from those countries can meet and reflect on the challenges facing humanitarian governance in their country. For this reason, and following several exploratory discussions in the team, our partners have set up humanitarian observatories, which can be broadly defined as networks of a variety of actors that observe trends and processes in humanitarian governance and propose changes when needed. They can be imagined as spaces in which these actors keep an eye on how the humanitarian aid system functions in a specific context, providing an impression of the overall functioning of the system while also functioning amid all the humanitarian activities taking place. The observatories include representatives of affected communities, civil servants, members of civil society, and researchers from within and outside of academia.


Why focus on national or regional contexts?

There are several reasons why it is important to focus observatories on national or regional contexts:

  • National or regional observatories help observe humanitarian governance in its context. Due to reforms in the humanitarian sector, its organization is moving away from being centred on international actors and toward becoming more embedded in the countries of implementation. It is therefore important to observe humanitarian governance in its context, as it is affected by contextual issues such as the histories of governance development in a country, the relative strength of state and non-state institutions, and the level of economic development.
  • National or regional observatories amplify the voices of a variety of actors. International policy fora typically include voices of actors from different countries, but these are usually the same handful of humanitarian actors. By organizing the observatories locally, a larger range of actors can be involved and can make themselves heard, including actors from affected communities, researchers, and journalists.
  • National or regional observatories can become effective vehicles for promoting change on humanitarian governance in their context. Humanitarian advocacy can be defined as the activities of affected communities and their advocates to articulate, advance, and protect their rights (i.e. entitlements to assistance and citizenship rights more broadly), needs, views, and interests. This can be advocacy targeted at different actors and levels, including the humanitarian community. This works best when advocacy messages are context-specific, concrete, and implementable.


Spaces for learning and dialoguing

The observatories have further added value beyond monitoring the state of the humanitarian aid sector. For the members, they are a space for learning. Interestingly, the desire is also to learn beyond the context. The South Asia observatory, for example, is currently organizing a session about the situation in Sudan.

The observatories are a space for exchange. In meetings of the observatory, members can exchange their experiences and insights and can learn from each other. This was for example paramount in the sessions held in the DRC about sexual abuse in the sector – participants shared their personal observations and ideas.

The observatories can also be a space for strategic thinking to consider what the changes are that people wish to see in humanitarian governance. With this purpose in mind, the Ethiopian observatory has had several sessions to review a new piece of legislation on internally displaced persons and make recommendations on how this can include more accountability to affected people.

And, finally, the observatories can be a space for action and influence. To some extent, this is built into the observatory, as participants can take the recommendations back to their own organizations. And the observatory meetings usually end in agreeing on points of action, such as entering into conversation with authorities on a certain topic or seeking exposure by writing a blog post.


From conceptualization to implementation

There are currently four observatories: in the DRC, Ethiopia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia. A fifth observatory will be launched in The Philippines coming September. Each of the current observatories has held initial meetings. The agenda of the meetings is determined by the participants; hence, they all have a different agenda that is relevant to the context. In the DRC, the observatory is currently dealing with the role of the state and the issue of sexual abuse in the humanitarian sector. In Latin America, the focus is on the role of civil society and affected communities, in Ethiopia on accountability towards Internally Displaced Persons, and in South Asia on heatwaves.

While activities are planned in the context, insights will also be shared internationally. They will, amongst others, be discussed at conferences and events of the International Humanitarian Studies Association, and they will be shared in this series of blog posts. The series will consist of blogs of members of the observatories about the issues of their concern and the reforms they wish to see. The observatories are a young initiative, and their development is open-ended. So far, the experiences have been very promising, and I very much look forward to seeing how the observatories evolve and what we will learn from them through the future contributions to BLISS.

The Humanitarian Governance project has received funding from the European Research council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No 884139).

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.

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Why are we blocking a highway as scientists? It is a justified response to the violence of climate change

How can scientists help engender societal change, and when is it effective to take the road of activism? This question has become increasingly relevant in the face of the urgent need to  address the implications of climate change. In this blog (that first appeared on 1 June 2023 as an op-ed in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant), Professors Thea Hilhorst and Klaas Landsman – both recipients of the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands in 2022 – gave a speech during the occupation of the A12 by Extinction Rebellion. Why did they choose to participate in this action as scientists?

On 27 May, an estimated 8,500 activists blocked the A12 highway in The Hague. There was no misunderstanding about the illegal nature of the action. Right from the start, the police shouted through megaphones to demonstrators that there was no legal permission for this demonstration and that those who stayed ran the risk of being arrested. Water cannons were already spraying large quantities of water over the crowd from four military vehicles placed at the head and the rear of the mass of people. Indeed, the demonstration took place without a permit, and blocking a highway is against the law. Nevertheless, we then considered and still consider the action to be legitimate.

The effects of climate change are already being felt all over the world. Rich countries emit most of the greenhouse gases inducing climate change. Poor countries, and in turn the poorest and most vulnerable people in these countries, bear most of the consequences – those people who can hardly afford to eat meat or to buy new clothes at every turn of fashion, who don’t own a car, let alone ever take a plane. They pay the highest price for climate change. They pay with their health, their residence, their livelihoods, their safety, and increasingly with their lives.

Heat waves make places in India reach temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius. People with fragile health in an urban poor area living under a corrugated iron roof may not survive. The shepherd in Kenya who loses his goats due to drought has lost everything; he has no savings to buy new goats. Last summer, large parts of Pakistan flooded, destroying 8,000 kilometers of roads and 105 bridges. Even before these can be repaired, there is likely to be another flood. Increasingly, people lose their land to the river, the sea, or excessive drought. We – residents of rich countries- owe a debt of honor to these vulnerable people in poor countries.

A basic principle of civilization is to take responsibility for harm inflicted on one another. The polluter pays. Rich countries must compensate poor countries. But that is not happening. There are no concrete agreements on compensation yet. The USD 100 billion per year that rich countries have pledged for climate adaptation has not been fully delivered. What is paid partly flows back as profit to Western companies that offer technologies for climate adaptation to poor countries.

Even the most immediate humanitarian aid to mitigate the worst consequences of climate change falls short. On 24 May, a UN summit on the drought in the Sahel failed. Rich countries pledged only USD 2,4 billion of the USD 7 billion needed to address starvation. That is a stark contrast to the estimated USD 30 billion with which Netherlands subsidizes the fossil industry annually, mainly through tax benefits.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres equates climate change to ecocide. This is his statement on Twitter of 5 April 2022: “Climate activists are sometimes depicted as dangerous radicals. But the truly dangerous radicals are the countries that are increasing the production of fossil fuels. Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” The occupation of the A12 was aimed at protesting fossil fuel subsidies.

Extinction Rebellion stands for nonviolent civil disobedience in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Bertrand Russell. A non-violent blockade of a highway, with a demand consistent with UN appeals, represents in our eyes a legitimate response to the violence of climate change exerted on defenseless people, animals, and ecosystems. Politicians linger, listen to the lobbying of the fossil industry, and hope for innovation to solve all our problems. But there’s no time to waste anymore.

Listen to science. Listen to the IPCC, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . More and more scientists are joining Scientist Rebellion – a group of academics linked to Extinction Rebellion. We, too, will join again next time.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Dorothea Hilhorst is professor of Humanitarian Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University.




Klaas Landsman is the Chair of Mathematical Physics, Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics, and Particle Physics at Radboud University Nijmegen.

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Migration Series | How does a place become (less) hostile? Looking at everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants as acts and processes of bordering

What happens if people on the move encounter others who by means of their everyday actions and interactions can render environments hostile or who actively try to prevent this? What are the effects of these encounters on the places migrants inhabit and traverse? This article introduces a blog series that highlights a diversity of encounters between migrants and non-migrants[1] to put the reader in the shoes of those who are migrating, crossing borders and/or settling in. Through the series, we aim to show how both migrants and non-migrants navigate terrain that becomes hostile through modern manifestations and practices of nation-state borders amidst so-called ‘migration crises’.

Photo Credit: Ain't no Border by Calais Migrant Solidarity

Everyday encounters between migrants and non-migrants in host communities can contribute to or challenge the exclusion and marginalization of people on the move in places they come to inhabit, for instance when both groups simultaneously attempt to access limited social services. Such encounters not only have productive power in terms of reinforcing or resisting the exclusionary mechanisms of migration management – they also expose the different mechanisms that can turn places into hostile terrain through (a lack of) policies, existing marginalizations, and xenophobia.

Moreover, studying these everyday encounters provides insight into experiences of both migrants and non-migrants, how they diverge or may be similar, and what implications their shared experiences may have for taking action on behalf of and/or together with people on the move. A group of recently graduated ISS MA students we supervised looked at such (dis)similar experiences and will share their insights in a series of forthcoming blog articles. In this article, we focus on everyday encounters and bordering to reflect on key links between imaginaries of human mobility, the role of host communities and local implications of migrant presence.


How human mobility is imagined affects how migrants are received and places are reconfigured

The productive power of human mobility and attempts to curtail, manage, or stop people from migrating have been at the center of critical migration and border studies that think and write against a supposed or desired “national order of things”[2]. Such national order imaginaries emphasize the prominence of rootedness or staying put and the fixed nature of state borders, and approach migration and migrants as a problem. Acknowledging both the centrality of (cross-border) human mobility for our societies and the inequalities surrounding it, this blog series comprises several reflections by former ISS MA students who have researched multiple forms of mobility and encounters between migrants and other actors, including acts of support and instances of anxiety. In turn, such encounters can make the terrain more, or less, hostile for both residents and those passing through.

They conducted research in various places that are located differently in the ‘geo-bodies’[3] of respective states and emerge as ‘zones of contact’[4] for both local communities and people on the move. While border towns are rather obvious sites for such encounters, involving actors such as INGOs (Aristizábal-Saldarriaga) or mobile border communities (Miranda van Iersel), these field reflections also look at encounters in small rural towns that may be out of sight from a migration management perspective but are situated along key roads for caminantes (González Ronquillo), or in a relatively renowned tourist city that hosts different types of newcomers – including migrants with irregular legal status (Gamboa Bastarrachea). But why do we think these different places and actors should be looked at together? How are they related?


Capturing a diversity of border sites, actors, and processes

As part of our ongoing project titled Revisiting the Migration-Development Nexus from a Cross-Border Perspective[5], we are interested in looking closely at encounters that have productive power in terms of reinforcing or resisting the exclusionary mechanisms of migration management. We do so by building on critical scholarship that acknowledges acts and processes of bordering beyond state borders (through concepts such as urban borderscapes[6] or border internalization[7]). This requires us to acknowledge actors beyond those identified as migrants or refugees, as the experiences of migrants and non-migrants are intimately connected[8]. This way, we seek to contribute to the de-migranticization of migration research[9], by questioning a priori categorization of people on the move and nationalist research interests and by reorienting the unit of analysis away from the migrant population to (parts of) the overall population affected.

Previous research we conducted in Greece, Turkey, and Central America shows that everyday encounters in spaces with a bordering function, i.e. spaces that prevent or challenge migrants’ entry and presence physically, legally and/or socially, are instrumental to understanding, on the one hand, how migrant trajectories[10] and translocal livelihoods[11] become illegalized by changing dynamics of border control, and on the other hand, how the geographical location of places where migrants are hosted[12] and the historical and geographical entanglements of neighboring states and communities[13] shape migrant trajectories, translocal livelihoods, and life at the border.

Following this perspective, we suggest turning our gaze to these divisive and connecting aspects of bordering in places beyond territorial nation-state borders. In this series of blog articles, the research of our students illustrates the value of such an approach as they shed light on how particular actors can be instrumental for people on the move as they navigate a diversity of hostile terrains.

These actors are local collectives that are outright supportive of migrants’ rights, as manifested in the CSOs fulfilling the sheltering role that the municipality has formally committed to but is unable to implement in Granada (Spain). They are former migrants taking on the role of hosts for people on the move whereas their own situation remains precarious and their journey unfinished (Ecuador). They can also be the staff of INGOs who need to balance the needs of those on the move with the needs of a local population suffering from chronic disregard by the state (Colombia). Finally, they can be a historically marginalized, mobile indigenous population whose position may shift from solidarity with migrants to suspicion and collaboration with the state as their own mobility and livelihoods are hampered by new migrations and the subsequent militarization of the border (Chile).


Acknowledging all those who dwell in a border site

These insights show that while places with very limited resources are fertile grounds for hostilities, exclusion, or indifference towards migrants with irregular legal status, attempts to pass through or stay in these places are experienced quite differently in the presence of people and organizations willing to support newcomers or those on the move. Paying attention to these local encounters and interactions, particularly in spaces with a bordering function, allows us to capture the similarities and convergences between the experiences of migrants and non-migrants. It also invites us to appreciate and learn from these interconnected experiences and take this into account in any further action pertaining to human mobility, be it academia, in policy making processes, or through societal engagement.

[1] We chose these terms for readability though we are aware that this dichotomy does not do justice to the complexity we try to represent here.

[2] Malkki, Liisa. 1992. “National Geographic: The Rooting of Peoples and the Territorialization of National Identity among Scholars and Refugees.” Cultural Anthropology 7 (1) Space, Identity, and the Politics of Difference:  24-44.

[3] Winichakul Thongchai. 1997. Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press.

[4] Pratt, Mary Louise (1991). Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession, 33-40. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from

[5] This project is supported by the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam (RIF-5/ 18202010.041, year 2020 grant) and runs from January 2021-December 2023. It involves research by both authors, in the Eastern Mediterranean and Central America.

[6] Fauser, Margit. (2019) The Emergence of Urban Border Spaces in Europe, Journal of Borderlands Studies, 34:4, 605-622. doi: 10.1080/08865655.2017.1402195.

[7] Menjívar, Cecilia. (2014). Immigration law beyond borders: Externalizing and internalizing border controls in an era of securitization. Annual Review of Law and Social Science10, 353-369. Doi:

[8] Çağlar, Ayşe & Glick Schiller, Nina (2018) Migrants and City-Making. Dispossession, Displacement, and Urban Regeneration. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

[9] Dahinden, Janine. 2016. A plea for the ‘de-migranticization’ of research on migration and integration, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 39:13, 2207-2225. doi: 10.1080/01419870.2015.1124129.

[10] Winters, Nanneke. (2023b). Making a Living While on the Move: Migrant Trajectories, Hierarchized Mobilities and Local Labour Landscapes in Central America, in Ilse van Liempt, Joris Schapendonk and Amalia Campos-Delgado (eds), Research Handbook on Irregular Migration. Cheltenham: Elgar, pp. 250–260; Winters, Nanneke. (2021). Following, Othering, Taking Over. Research Participants Redefining the Field through Mobile Communication Technology, Social Analysis, 65:1, 133-142. doi: 10.3167/sa.2020.650109.

[11] Winters, Nanneke. (2023a). Everyday Politics of Mobility: Translocal Livelihoods and Illegalisation in the Global South. Journal of Latin American Studies, 55(1), 77-101. doi: 10.1017/S0022216X23000020.

[12] Ikizoglu Erensu, Aslı, & Kaşlı, Zeynep. (2016). A Tale of Two Cities: Multiple Practices of Bordering and Degrees of ‘Transit’ in and through Turkey, Journal of Refugee Studies29(4), 528–548. doi:10.1093/jrs/few037.

[13] Kaşlı, Zeynep. (2023). Migration control entangled with local histories: The case of Greek–Turkish regime of bordering, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space41(1), 14–32. doi:

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Zeynep Kaşlı is Assistant Professor in Migration and Development at ISS, affiliated with the Governance, Law and Social Justice Research Group. Her research interests include mobility, citizenship, borders, transnationalism, power and sovereignty with regional expertise in Turkey, Middle East and Europe.



Nanneke Winters is an assistant professor in Migration and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research interests include im/mobility, migrant trajectories, and translocal livelihoods in Central America and beyond.

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Grappling with unease – together: collective reflections on Migration Studies and Colonialism by Mayblin and Turner

How can scholars tackle the legacy of colonialism in migration studies? Last year, a small group of critical development studies scholars at ISS sought to reflect on this challenge by collectively reading and discussing the book Migration Studies and Colonialism that explores exactly this issue. In this article, we share our observations and discuss two things that we consider vital in meaningful discussions on the  topic: the need to move beyond simplistic notions of European colonialism and the importance of meaningful engagement with scholars from the ‘Global South’.

Photo Credit: Authors.

While it is difficult to make generalizing claims about the broad field of migration studies that attracts scholars from various disciplines, one can confidently state that we have not yet adequately addressed the colonial legacies that continue to colour research and discussions on migration. It is in light of this that a group of scholars from the ISS got together in November last year to discuss a book that critically explores the issue. We hoped that in discussing colonial histories and migration studies, we could better understand our collective unease with the way in which we may reproduce colonialist harms through our work.

The book we discussed, ‘Migration Studies and Colonialism’ by Lucy Mayblin and Joe Turner (2021), is written as an intervention that is meant to place colonialism and its critique at the centre of discussions in migration studies. Moving beyond a critique of migration studies, the authors echo the call for action to dismantle the field’s contribution to the reproduction of coloniality – one that has been growing louder thanks to contributions by migration scholars engaging with postcolonial and decolonial thought.[1]

Instead of reviewing the book,[2] we chose to highlight our collective reflections on the unease many of us face in trying to engage with decolonial ideals, aspirations, and/or commitments as early-career researchers working on highly polarizing topics. Most of us identify as women of colour who come from the so-called ‘Global South’; we research migration, child sex tourism, or humanitarian intervention within academic institutional structures in the Global North. Coming from these diverse backgrounds, we offer input for the discussion on how to grapple with colonial legacies at the university and beyond through deep, collective, and horizontally organized reading, which is important in itself as a counter-current against fast academia.

These are our insights stemming from our discussions:


  1. We need to acknowledge non-European experiences and legacies of colonialism

 Mayblin and Turner argue in their book that colonial histories should be central to understanding migration praxis. They warn against what they call “sanctioned ignorance of histories of colonialism”, which leaves scholars and practitioners with theories that are inadequate in explaining the present state of migration regimes and moreover normalize the use of dehumanizing terms (such as ‘illegals’) that appear to be objective rather than historically and culturally emergent (p.3).

As they attempt to frame their discussions[3]  in a global manner, the authors rely on intellectual legacies from the Americas (North and South) and engagement with scholars from Asian and African traditions (p.4). They acknowledge that as ‘white’ academics working in British higher education institutions, they write from particular perspectives that may result in readers spotting limitations and omissions.

And we did. In our discussions, the tension between appreciating the thematic discussion of colonial histories and the wide brush used to portray international migration studies was consistently present. As we delved into each chapter, we found that the telling of specific colonial histories still placed Europe at the centre of the discussion. One participant for instance remarked during our conversation about Chapter 3 that “[the authors] make a solid case for why race and colonialism are intertwined with and shape migration. I do, however, feel the perspective adopted is still Eurocentric. It’s important to note that colonialism is not only European.”

We concluded that by emphasizing their critique of Eurocentrism reproduced through coloniality, the book showcased not only a tendency to limit and equate colonialism to Europe but also a limited take on Europe as a monolith. Another participant observed, “One Europe – as if there is one Europe, one type of colonialism, no differentiation.”

While we acknowledged the inclusion of geographical contexts and topics that are not commonly discussed in the historicizing of colonialism and migration, such as the mentioning of former colonized nations in the construction of international refugee regimes (Ch. 5), Mayblin and Turner’s focus on Europe’s colonial history reinforces a lack of acknowledgement of non-European experiences and legacies of colonialism.

To offer a more balanced picture, we feel the need to highlight topics important to the diverse contexts we come from or work with. These include South-South migration, indentured labour, and transnational solidarities that were instrumental in the independence of many formerly colonized nations. Otherwise, by limiting ourselves to a critique on a seemingly monolithic Europe and its (lasting) systems of categorization, the ‘Global South’ continues to be present as an ‘object’ in the retelling of the colonial histories (Quijano 2007). Interestingly, this discussion forced participants to reflect on our roles and commitment as researchers to actively unlearn and challenge the ‘subject-object’ relations between the ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ prevalent in knowledge production. By centring colonial histories within migration studies, both the authors and the readers should reflect on their positionality, roles, and choices in the retelling of histories.


  1. We need to be transparent about our inclusion of ‘voices from the Global South’

 Mayblin and Turner acknowledge that literatures problematizing mainstream migration studies exist but are often still inaccessible or unaccounted for, partly due to structural inequalities within higher academic institutions. They write on pages 4 and 5: “This book seeks to showcase some of this work for people who research migration yet never encounter such perspectives… Our aim is not that you cite this book, but that in the future you cite some of the scholars discussed within it.”

We followed their sound advice. The references to perspectives, approaches, and concepts developed mainly by scholars from the Global South required the reading group participants to read and reflect beyond what was presented in the book. For example, in Chapter 5, Mayblin and Turner’s critical discussion on forced migration brought readers’ attention to Vergara-Figueroa’s (2018) elaboration to the notion of ‘deracination’. While the concept of ‘deracination’ has been widely adopted by scholars and activists in the Latin American and the Caribbean contexts, particularly in Colombia in relation to land dispossession, forced migration, violence, and rupture of communal ties caused by the prolonged armed conflict, it was still unfamiliar to most of the participants.

As an Ecuadorian researcher who was very familiar with the Colombian context was able discuss ‘deracination’ in more detail, the collective reading evolved into a space where thought processes and conversations moved from Mayblin and Turner to concepts and ideas developed in particular localities and historical contexts and their potential applicability elsewhere to reflections by participants on their own identities, voices, and research.  Reflecting on these discussions, one participant said: “I’m not doing research at the moment, but this book and discussion has made me more aware about my own internalized Eurocentric ideas, being more conscious about the spaces I am in and realize how we represent ‘the Global South’.”

However, one question remained after completing the collective reading: how did Mayblin and Turner choose what to include and exclude in the book? While the referencing of scholars from the Global South is important and welcomed by group participants, there is a lack of explanation on how they chose whose work to include.

In addition, Mayblin and Turner’s choice to reference these scholars as opposed to inviting them to contribute directly through an edited volume is also worth noting. While they state early on that they hope the book will lead migration researchers to reference some of the work they included, these decisions still positioned them as gatekeepers of knowledge production. Being more transparent about these choices would have allowed more open accountability towards the power hierarchies in knowledge production that they are critical of.


A way forward: the value of collective reading and reflections

We (try to) engage with ‘decoloniality’ and the responsibility to acknowledge the legacies of colonialism in our research to different degrees and in different ways. Most participants are used to applying a critical and historical lens towards the themes raised in the book but are less certain about taking up the responsibility of ‘doing decoloniality’. One participant for example stated that “I often encounter this question [of centring colonialism] in my field when working on development aid. I think we are aware of many of the problems mentioned, such as the topic of race, inequality, etc., but we don’t necessarily know what to do.”

This tension between recognizing ‘problems’ and feeling unsure of what to do and how to position ourselves as researchers from diverse backgrounds is at the heart of our ambivalence and unease when engaging with the book. This tension is also recognized by Mayblin and Turner, who decided against calling their book “Decolonizing Migration Studies”. Instead, they positioned it more broadly to support decolonization agendas within academic institutions. But as we show, tension, ambivalence, and unease can drive critical reflection and prompt change in practice.

While we did not start or end with a common commitment to decolonizing knowledges, there was a general agreement among us, as one participant stated, “… to actively participate and also to allow yourself to listen with discomfort.” Grappling with unease was the starting point for our collective reflections, and we left with concrete clues for conscious historicization and contextualization to avoid the broad brushstrokes that overlook other experiences and legacies.

[1] E.g. Mains et al. 2013; Achiumi 2019; Samaddar 2020; Fiddien-Qasmiyeh 2020

[2] For reviews, see e.g. Favell 2021; Stallone 2022

[3] Mayblin and Turner’s historizing of colonialism provides the starting point to their discussion of migration studies and the thematic exploration of modernity and development (Chapter 2), race and racism (Chapter 3), state sovereignty and citizenship (Chapter 4), asylum seekers and refugee regimes (Chapter 5), national and border security (Chapter 6), and gender and sexuality (Chapter 7).

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Mahardhika Sjamsoe’oed Sadjad is an interdisciplinary scholar in the field of international development and migration. Her research focuses on discursive and affective constructions of identities and belonging in The Netherlands, Indonesia, and broader region of Southeast Asia.


Zeynep Kaşlı is Assistant Professor in Migration and Development at ISS, affiliated with the Governance, Law and Social Justice Research Group. Her research interests include mobility, citizenship, borders, transnationalism, power and sovereignty with regional expertise in Turkey, Middle East and Europe.


Nanneke Winters is an assistant professor in Migration and Development at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her research interests include im/mobility, migrant trajectories, and translocal livelihoods in Central America and beyond.



Haya Alfarra is a PhD researcher at ISS-EUR. Her research explores the role of diaspora as non-traditional humanitarian actors in protracted humanitarian situations, looking specifically at the role of Palestinian-German diaspora in humanitarian responses in the Gaza Strip, occupied Palestinian territory.





Mausumi Chetia is a PhD researcher at ISS-EUR. She researches on meanings of home and lived human (in)securities in context of disaster-related displacements in India. Her research is part of the Erasmus Initiative called Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC), under the theme of Resilient Cities.





Xander Creed is a PhD researcher at the ISS. Their work explores migration and asylum governance with a particular focus on the human dimension of (im)mobility, for instance through the lens of human security and feminisms.




Vanessa Ntinu is the Jr. Executive Manager of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Governance of Migration and Diversity. She is interested in notions surrounding race, anti-Blackness, diversity, and migration laws and institutions.





Gabriela Villacis Izquierdo is a Ph.D researcher at the International Institute of Social Studies of the Erasmus University Rotterdam in the field of development and humanitarian studies. Her current research is based in Colombia and focuses on the contributions of feminism(s) to humanitarian governance, with an emphasis on the potential of collective action and humanitarian advocacy.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.

Contract farming is everywhere, but how does it affect agrarian relations in the Global South?

Contemporary debates in agrarian studies have been predominantly focused on land and property issues, at times to the detriment of questions about production and exchange. The large and expanding footprint of contract farming is one example of a relatively neglected – yet significant – dimension of contemporary agricultural systems in the Global South. Farming contracts are one of many forms of coordinating production and exchange that seek to avoid the uncertainty for producers and buyers of finding each other more spontaneously in open markets. Contract farming involves a non-transferable agreement between farmers and buyers that specifies the terms of production and marketing, typically relating to the price, quantity, quality and delivery of the product.

Decades of research and case studies suggest that contract farming is widespread in local, domestic and export-oriented agricultural commodity markets, both linked to large multinational corporate buyers, as well as within the informal networks of small-scale traders. Research on contract farming in the Global South consistently attributes this expansion to two intertwined effects: one is the liberalization of agriculture due to structural adjustments that stripped states from their coordinating roles in production. The other is the active promotion of contract farming by multilateral development agencies, who proposed it as a win-win alternative after the demise of state-led coordination.

International organizations, governments and agribusinesses have promoted contract farming as key tool to integrate smallholders into markets and modernize agricultural sectors. Contract farming is hailed as a source of jobs, income and stable markets for smallholders, and for providing a stable supply base and profits to agribusiness. However, whether contract farming actually does lead to win-win outcomes remains highly contested. Political economy studies reveal that unequal power relationships are inherent to contract farming arrangements, demonstrating that (i) buyers tend to benefit more than smallholders, (ii) not all producers benefit equally (small producers are highly differentiated and many hire labor), and (iii) many smallholders actually lose out from these schemes as they bear the brunt of production risks and enter vicious cycles of indebtedness. As a result, we often see a mosaic of winners and losers.


Contract farming, an avenue for rural development?

Since the 1990s, international organizations such as the FAO and the World Bank have been promoting contract farming as a tool for inclusive growth in rural areas. Responding to criticisms that these arrangements tend to disproportionately benefit buyers and may expose small producers to indebtedness and impoverishment, international organizations have put their weight behind the promotion of “fair contracts” and better governance and transparency in contractual arrangements.    However, political economy studies still question this rebranding of contract farming as an inclusive business model by showing how “fair contracts” focus solely on the unequal power relations between small producers and agribusinesses, while missing the range of inequalities that exist among and between farmers, agricultural workers, unpaid household labor and those who provide ancillary services to small-scale producers. Moreover, many contract farming schemes rely on monopsony power, often leaving producers unable to renegotiate or withdraw from contracts, let alone benefit from price spikes. The monopsony position of the contracting firm refers to a situation where it is the only buyer of the crops produced by the contract farmers. This gives the contracting company exclusive access to the crops of the contract farmers.


Supermarkets, food multinationals and small traders: the new cast of actors in contract farming

With the ongoing restructuring of the global food system, contract farming and a cast of new actors have come to the fore. On the one hand, corporate buyers are expanding their customer base and sourcing geographies. For these actors, contract farming arrangements are a way to ensure standardized and steady supply of agricultural commodities in globalized markets. Most notably, supermarkets make use of contract farming arrangements to supply high quality and standardized vegetables and fruits to consumers around the world. Even though smallholders who are able to comply with the standards set by supermarkets tend to benefit from supermarket contracts, poorer farming households tend to benefit less and may even be excluded from such arrangements altogether.

On the other hand, specialist traders and local procurers increasingly use contract farming (both formally and informally, i.e. with and without written contracts) to source directly from smallholders or act on commission as intermediaries between smallholders and agribusinesses. In the absence of government support, these intermediaries may take on a seemingly developmental role by offering informal extension services, providing road infrastructure and loading necessary materials and machineries to smallholders.


Agency and resistance

Despite the uneven contribution of contract farming to rural development and productive upgrading for small scale producers and agricultural sectors of the Global South, political economy studies highlight that smallholders are not passive victims of corporate buyers and merchants (whether large or small), but often resist and challenge the contract farming relation. This may take the form of overt resistance through protests and strikes, but also of informal and often hidden strategies that take the form of everyday struggles. For example, oil palm contract farmers in the Philippines have reacted to a lopsided contract, unsustainable levels of indebtedness, and the risk of losing their land by side-selling their produce to other agribusinesses, refusing to harvest, or burning oil palm trees. Tobacco contract farmers in Zimbabwe have responded by switching to other crops or diversifying their sources of finance. However, both cases show that contract farmers’ agency and resistance is limited by available resources and alternatives.


Towards a new research agenda

Over the past three decades, political economy studies have contributed to a much better understanding of the differentiated impact of contract farming in the Global South. Yet, important questions remain. For example about the interface of contract farming and changes in land tenure; the prevalence of unpaid household labor and the exploitation of hired labor among small-scale producers; contract farming as a form of extractivism (of the resources and labor contained in the commodity); and the ecological burden of the expansion and intensification of agriculture associated with contract farming. To move towards this new contract farming research agenda, we have founded the Contract Farming Initiative, a network that brings together a diverse group of critical contract farming scholars and activists. The initiative is geared to support cross-country analyses of contract farming schemes. As one of our first tasks, we are mapping contract farming arrangements in the Global South to get an overview of where contract farming scholarship is concentrated and where more research is needed. We warmly invite other scholars to contribute to this project.

As part of our activities this year, we will host a panel at the EADI CEsA General Conference 2023 to bring together scholars from different geographies and critical perspectives to discuss contract farming’s potential for rural development by focusing on dynamics of financialization, resistance from smallholders, social differentiation as both a cause and outcome, and labor exploitation dynamics.

This article was first published on EADI’s blog, Debating Development Research.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:

Caroline Hambloch (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Mark Vicol (Assistant Professor, Rural Sociology Group, Wageningen University) and Helena Pérez Niño (Assistant Professor, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague) are co-editors of the recent special issue in the Journal of Agrarian Change The Political Economy of Contract Farming: Emerging Insights and Changing Dynamics (January, 2022), and co-founders of the Contract Farming Initiative research network.

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The dangerously optimistic global climate finance agenda: why blended financing and domestic resource mobilization won’t help close the climate finance gap

The global climate finance agenda in its current form is insufficient for tackling climate change and fostering a green transition across the globe. Calls to close the massive climate finance gap that prevents developing countries from accessing much-needed funds often rely on the expectation that domestic resource mobilization and blended finance can help close the gap. In this article, we demonstrate why this expectation seems wildly optimistic and argue that instead of relying on insecure trends, global policy makers should take action by developing policies that grant a bigger role for public money and innovative monetary solutions.

Source: Asian Development Bank is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Source: Asian Development Bank is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many emerging economies are having a tough time – they are still struggling to recover from the pandemic and simultaneously suffer from unprecedented debt levels and cost-of-living crises. What’s more, the climate crisis is manifesting itself more than ever, and international financial promises to enable a just energy transition across the globe continue to be broken. Meanwhile, the costs of climate mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are soaring, which makes it even less likely that these countries will get the climate funding needed to respond adequately to the crisis. As a result, the climate financing gap is widening.

In a response to these developments, the COP26 and COP27 presidencies some months before last year’s November COP27 summit launched an Independent High-Level Expert Group equipped with the task of “scaling up investment and finance to deliver on climate ambition and development goals”. This distinguished group of experts launched their report in November, calling for a “rapid and sustained investment push […] to drive a strong and sustainable recovery out of current and recent crises […] and to deliver on shared development and climate goals.”

The investment push that’s needed relies on domestic resource mobilization and blended finance that together with other financial levers form part of the so-called Grand Match financing strategy. This strategy was proposed by Amar Bhattacharya, Meagan Dooley, Homi Kharas, Charlotte Taylor and Nicholas Stern in a bid to foster a big investment push for emerging markets and developing economies. However, both the total amounts assumed for blended finance (USD 395 billion) and domestic resource mobilization (USD 653 billion) are unlikely to materialize and are unlikely to close the climate finance gap, as we will show.


Blended financing and domestic resource mobilization failing to deliver

As early as 2016, the rising popularity of blended finance as a way to close the global climate finance gap could be observed; in April that year, British weekly newspaper The Economist ran an article called “Trending: blending” that examined “[t]he fad for mixing public, charitable and private money”. In the past few years, the concept of blended finance has gained further traction; key global financial institutions such as the World Bank, IMF, and the G20 have pointed to blended finance as a solution to close the global climate investment gap. For example, during its last spring meeting, the IMF emphasized that its members should “recognize the importance of stepping up climate finance from all sources, including by mobilizing private investment”. Similarly, domestic resource mobilization (DRM), whereby governments channel their own resources towards public goods and services, such as by raising taxes or by improving auditing processes, is viewed as an important climate financing tool.

However, blended finance has not delivered on its promise. Back then, The Economist observed that “few data exist on the scale and success of blended finance”. Now, with more data available, it’s becoming clear that private investments made in low- and middle-income countries through blended finance actually have decreased from USD 150 billion to 100 billion, and between 2019 and 2021, only USD 14 billion was pledged  to poor countries through private channels. Similarly, the mobilization of domestic resources has not held up to its promises — its potential has been overestimated.

These tools are therefore unlikely to sufficiently help close the finance gap that has arisen. And with the current grim global economic outlook, an increasing number of low-income countries are already in debt distress and are increasingly impacted by the loss and damage of climate change itself, thus decreasing their ability to use these tools even more.

In fact, the reliance on these financing mechanisms is dangerously optimistic, as this prevents us from considering the additional sources of finance that are needed to provide climate investments at the scale and time needed. Here’s why:


1.    There is a huge climate finance gap, especially in low-income countries, and it’s becoming bigger, not smaller.

By 2025, if no measures to increase climate funds are taken, the amount of money needed by emerging economies (excluding China) to address the effects of climate change – generally referred to as the climate finance gap – would amount to USD 1 trillion (as estimated in 2022). Lower-income regions such as South Asia and Africa have the largest investment needs (7-14 times and 5-12 times more investment, respectively), but these are not being met. While most of the money needed to close the gap is supposed to be sourced through domestic resource mobilization (USD 653 billion) and private investment, supported by public funding through blended finance (USD 395 billion), in reality, this is not happening.

And the finance gap might be even bigger than we think. For example, in a recent report Oxfam estimates that the annual shortfall for necessary investments in health, education, social protection and tackling climate change in low- and middle-income countries could be as high as USD 3.9 trillion.


  1. Advanced economies are not keeping their promises

Meanwhile, public finance is not contributing sufficiently. In 2009, high-income countries pledged to help fund the energy transition in developing countries by promising to commit USD 100 billion annually. But in 2020, only USD 83 billion had been pledged. What’s worse, to get to this figure, existing development assistance (ODA) money was relabelled as climate finance for developing countries. And only one-third of the funds that have been committed are in the form of grants, which means that debts continue to accumulate due to loans.


  1. Blended finance should be helping funnel private funds to low-income countries, but it’s still mostly public money

 Blended finance[1] has gained the status of a silver bullet. The assumption underlying the belief in the effectiveness of this tool is that public capital investments would lever private investments according to a certain ratio of the ‘blend’. If done properly, investing by blending different financial sources indeed could result in a multiplied number of private investments that could be used to finance climate action.

However, the amount of private money available to match each public dollar is overestimated  – in reality, much less private money is invested, while public funds continue to form the largest share of the total amount. In one report, the IMF for instance expects the ratio of private to public money to be 9:1. In 2020 however, private finance constituted only around 50% of global climate finance, with the rest being public finance. And in low-income regions where climate investments need to increase most strongly, even a public-private ratio of 1:1 is often not tenable. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, around 90% of climate finance comes from public sources.


  1. Mobilizing domestic resources requires challenging reforms

The IMF anticipated that emerging economies could raise as much as USD 236 billion in additional taxes by 2025 through domestic resource mobilization. To do this, they would have to implement relevant tax and administrative reforms to tackle their sometimes very low tax rates and high levels of tax exemptions.[2] However, implementing and enforcing these kinds of reforms is challenging. Emerging economies are renowned for administrative capacity constraints that prevent them from addressing tax evasion and keeping avoidance under control. Studies on the projected development of tax-to-GDP ratios in emerging economies show that their tax revenues are expected to only slightly, but not significantly, increase.

Moreover, some international support initiatives have already been in place, such as the Tax Inspectors Without Borders (TIWB) assistance programmes between 2012 and 2020. This has helped raise the tax revenues of these countries by a mere USD 537 million – a figure far below the necessary additional USD 417 billion in domestic resource mobilization estimated in the IHLEG’s report.


  1. Countries are holding on to their money – tightly

Lastly, in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent spike in inflation levels, a global monetary tightening cycle has begun. This has resulted in capital outflows by the private sector from emerging economies, which is bound to substantially hinder these countries’ economic growth. It has already been shown that the simultaneous monetary and fiscal tightening policies across the globe impact developing countries and emerging economies disproportionately.

This makes efforts to close the climate finance gap seem even more unrealistic, especially given the high value of the dollar and the outstanding dollar-denominated debt in the Global South. Of the low-income countries eligible for special IMF support, as of 2023, nine are currently in debt distress, while 27 are at a high risk, 26 countries at a moderate risk, and seven countries at low risk of debt distress.


More realism needed if we want to close the gap

The global climate finance gap (excluding China) currently amounts to a stunning 1 trillion until 2025 under the business-as-usual scenario. Promises of the past have not been lived up to while the climate crisis and green energy transition are becoming more urgent every day. Global policy makers seem to rely on domestic resource mobilization and blended finance to close the gap.

However, as this blog post has shown, the empirical success of blended finance remains very limited, while the challenges to boost domestic resource mobilization remain huge. Time is, however, very limited. Instead of relying on insecure trends, global policy makers should act by developing policies that grant a bigger role for public money and innovative monetary solutions.


Abdel-Kader, K. & De Mooij, R. (2020). Tax Policy and Inclusive Growth. IMF Working Paper.

ADB (2022). African Economic Outlook 2022. African Development Bank Group.

Attridge, S. (2022). The potentials and limitations of blended finance. In D. Schoenmaker & U. Volz (Eds.), Scaling Up Sustainable Finance and Investment in the Global South. CEPR Press. scaling_up_sustainable_finance_and_investment_in_the_global_south.pdf

Benedek, D., Gemayel, E., Senhadji, A., Tieman, A. (2021). A Post-Pandemic Assessment of the Sustainable Development Goals. IMF Staff Discussion Note.

Bhattacharya, A., Dooley, M., & Kharas, H. (2022). Financing a Big Investment Push in Emerging Markets and Developing Countries for Sustainable, Resilient and Inclusive Recovery and Growth. London: Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

Fenocchietto, R. & Pessino, C. (2013). Understanding Countries’ Tax Effort. IMF Working Paper.

Gallagher, K. P., & Kozul-Wright, R. (2021). The case for a new Bretton-Woods. John Wiley & Sons.

Global Infrastructure Facility. (2023). Global Infrastructure Facility.

G20 (2019). G20 Osaka Leaders’ Declaration. G20.

Hill, S., Jinjarak, Y., Park, D. (2022). How do Tax Revenues Respond to GDP Growth? Evidence from Developing Asia, 1998–2020. Asian Development Bank.

IFC (2023). Blended Concessional Finance. International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group.

IMF (2023a). Chair’s Statement of Forty-Seventh Meeting of the IMFC.

IMF (2023b). Nigeria’s Tax Revenue Mobilization: Lessons from Successful Revenue Reform Episodes. IMF Country Report No. 23/94.

IMF (2023c). List of LIC DSAs for PRGT-Eligible Countries As of February 28, 2023

IMF (2022). Mobilizing Private Climate Financing in Emerging Market and Developing Economies. IMF Staff Climate Notes.

Neil McCulloch (2019). What Nigerians really think about tax. International Centre for Tax and Development – ICTD.

OECD (2018). OECD DAC Blended Finance Principles for Unlocking Commercial Finance for the Sustainable Development Goals. OECD.

OECD/UNDP (2020). Tax Inspectors Without Borders Annual Report 2020. OECD/UNDP.

OECD (2022). Statement by the OECD Secretary-General on climate finance trends to 2020. OECD.,increase%20from%202018%20to%202019.

Oxfam (2020). Climate Finance Shadow Report 2020. Assessing progress towards the $100 billion commitment. Oxfam.

Oxfam (2023). False Economy: Financial wizardry won’t pay the bill for a fair and sustainable future. Oxfam.

Songwe, V., Stern, N., & Bhattacharya, A. (2022). Finance for climate action: Scaling up investment for climate and development. London: Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics and Political Science.

Tett, G. (2022). The flood of green finance must be diverted from the west. Financial Times.

The Economist (2016). Trending: blending. The Economist.

UNCTAD (2022). Trade and Development Report 2022. Development prospects in a fractured world. UNCTAD.

World Bank (2023). Global Economic Prospects. The World Bank Group.

[1] According to the OECD, blended finance is “‘the strategic use of development finance for the mobilization of additional finance towards sustainable development in developing countries’, with ‘additional finance’ referring primarily to commercial finance’” (OECD 2018).

[2] In this context, the IHLEG recommends an incremental tax effort of at least 2.7% of EMDEs’ GDP, equal to USD 650 billion, so an additional USD 417 billion by 2025 on top of IMF projections (Bhattacharya et al., 2022).

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the authors:


Sara Murawski is a policy advisor and researcher in the field of international trade and investment, finance and European integration. She has worked in the world of journalism, think tanks, NGOs, the Dutch and European Parliament as well as with many activist groups. At Sustainable Finance Lab, Sara is project leader on the project “Changing ‘Fiscal Rules’ and reforming the EU fiscal framework” that tries to shift the debate in the Netherlands from frugal to forward looking. The continuous dialogue with experts, policy officials and local actors in developing her thoughts, output and activities is crucial for her.



Rens van Tilburg is director of the Sustainable Finance Lab at Utrecht University. Rens has experience working in the European and Dutch parliament and as an advisor on innovation policies for the Dutch government.  With the academic think tank the Sustainable Finance Lab Rens has worked extensively on banking, asset management, supervision, public finance and monetary policies. Focusing on financial stability issues and the impact of climate change and biodiversity loss. 




Anna Ghilardi is a research intern at Sustainable Finance Lab. She attained her bachelor’s degree in Economics and Business Economics at Utrecht University, where she wrote her thesis about the impact of previous monetary policy on European house price growth before and during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is now completing a double degree master’s programme in European Governance, a two-year curriculum attended both at University College Dublin, Ireland and Utrecht University. Therefore, she is currently writing her master’s thesis at Sustainable Finance Lab on Poland and Bulgaria’s capacity to single-handedly fund their climate finance gap in view of the European Union’s climate neutrality ambitions.

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Development Studies cannot become an apology for the status quo

Development Studies must always be critical, or it becomes just an apology for the status quo, for exploitation, for the reproduction of inequality within and between nations, and for the destruction of the conditions of life on Earth.

We live in times of converging crises, across the economy, democracy, health, the environment and more, with sprawling implications for ways of living around the globe. These crises and their mutual relationships offer the opportunity for new understandings of the problems of development and possible ways forward, which will inevitably be contested. These debates can be examined historically, focusing on the implications for our discipline.

An overview can start from the period before the Washington Consensus. Politically, it was marked by a strong anti-communism, with the Soviet model offering a plausible alternative to developing countries going through a rapid process of decolonisation and intense left activity. Economically, the dominant notion of development in the West was related to the idea of modernisation as the pathway to an ideal-type advanced capitalism, illustrated by the USA. In turn, economic policy referred to state intervention to provide the economic infrastructure for industrialisation, including public ownership of key industries, substantial aid distributed according to Western policy imperatives and commercial interests, and support for authoritarian regimes aligned with the West. Although the pre-Washington Consensus would now appear extraordinarily progressive, it was heavily contested by scholarship, with Latin American structuralism and dependency theory figuring prominently, and highlighting the inequitable economic structures, social relations and processes that systematically disadvantaged countries in the Global South.

The Washington Consensus emerged in the late 1970s as a dramatic right-wing reaction against the perceived economic and political weaknesses of the previous Keynesian-developmentalist consensus. The Washington Consensus included three main elements. First, the hegemony of mainstream economics within development theory. Second, the hegemony of the World Bank and the IMF setting the agenda for the study of development and the implementation of development policy and, third, ideologically, the attachment of the Washington Consensus to neoliberalism, including the commitment to a notion of ‘free markets’ standing inconsistently between Hayek and Friedman, but unified in claiming that governments were the source of both inefficiency and corruption. While the Washington Consensus claimed to be leaving as much as possible to the market, what it really did was to rebuild the state to intervene on a discretionary basis to promote a globalising and financialised capitalism.

The Washington Consensus was followed, in the 1990s, by the post-Washington Consensus, which was more sensitive to the non-economic domain, and rationalised the ongoing transitions to political democracy in the Global South through appeals to institution-building and the imperative of good governance to limit corruption. Presumably, these goals would be better achieved in a democracy, leading to the conclusion that democracy was good for growth. The promotion of democracy in the South was supported by a development industry parasitic on the poor countries which, suddenly, found reasons to support the World Bank and the IMF, instead of criticising them from financially parched margins.


Financialisation and the degradation of state capacity

Retrospectively, it appears that, from a mainstream perspective, the Washington institutions had stumbled upon the best of all possible worlds: the neoliberal reforms transferred the power to allocate resources to a globalised financial market, while political democracy legitimised the neoliberal state. At the same time, the neoliberal reforms degraded state capacity; multiparty legislatures weakened the Executive; and a supposedly independent judiciary ensured that the neoliberal reforms, an independent central bank, inflation targeting regimes and the conditionalities imposed in return for aid were locked in – all in the name of “democracy” and the “rule of law”.

This arrangement was criticised heavily within Development Studies. The first criticism came through the notion of the developmental state, that was shown to have violated Washington’s prescriptions across the board, for example, through protectionism, directed finance, price and wage controls, and so on. The second criticism focused on the notion of adjustment with a human face, and the impact of the neoliberal reforms on the poor. The third criticism came through the notion of post-development, which highlighted the value and agency of the subaltern.

The field of development has now been transformed again, by the ongoing slowdown in the advanced economies, with global repercussions: even former star performers have been affected, especially since their own transitions to neoliberalism. In parallel, we notice the degradation of neoliberal democracies. They were already circumscribed by an institutional apparatus to insulate economic policy from any form of “interference” by the majority, which dramatically reduced the policy space available to nominally democratic states. The consequence in practice was that those who lost out the most under neoliberalism also tended to be ignored by its institutions.

With the destruction of the left in the previous period, these tensions opened spaces for anti-systemic forces polarised by what may be called ‘spectacular’ authoritarian leaders. These are supposedly ‘strong’ people, that cultivate a politics of resentment, appeal to common sense, claim to be able to ‘get things done’ by force of will, and promise to confront the outsiders who undermine ‘our’ nation and harm ‘our’ people. But, when they reach power, those spectacular leaders always impose policies intensifying neoliberalism, under the veil of nationalism and a more or less explicit racism, and they are often shadowed by the rise of neo-fascist movements. This was the situation until early 2020, and the pandemic only intensified those tensions. Economies imploded, and authoritarian neoliberal systems became catastrophically perverse, often imposing health policies that killed millions and entrenched Covid-19 so it will never be eliminated.


Authoritarianism and Environmental Collapse call for a Transformation of Development Studies

Contemporary economic and political systems are being slowly but relentlessly overwhelmed by the environmental crisis. This crisis relates, fundamentally, to the contradiction between the limitless search for profits and the limited capacity of the Earth to sustain a climate compatible with the continuation of life as we know it. In turn, the search for solutions is limited by tensions between the accumulated emissions by leading Western economies and the rising emissions in developing countries claiming the right to development today, and by the structure of the global economy, in which several countries are invested in the production of fossil fuels even though this is unsustainable, but they refuse to exit. These tensions have been intensified by financialisation, that tends to raise emissions and block mitigation because financialisation feeds procyclical behaviours that reinforce existing economic structures, increase volatility, and concentrate income, wealth and power. This is incompatible with climate adaptation, strategic industrial policy, or redistribution.

Development Studies must always be critical, or it becomes just an apology for the status quo, for exploitation, for the reproduction of inequality within and between nations, and for the destruction of the conditions of life on Earth. Today, Development Studies faces a neoliberal modality of capitalism whose prosperity relies on speculation, despoliation, extraction and fraud, and which may be sliding into permanent economic underperformance, new forms of fascism and environmental collapse. It is urgent to advance a transformative agenda from within Development Studies. These crises ought to be confronted together for reasons of practicality and legitimacy, through a democratic economic strategy, including political democracy, focusing on the restoration of a collective sphere of citizenship, the expansion of rights, the distribution of income, wealth and power (focusing on the decommodification and definancialisation of social reproduction, starting with universal public services), and a green transition in the economy.

The difficulty is that those alternatives must be underpinned by new social movements and new structures of representation, from political parties to trade unions to community associations, corresponding to the current mode of existence of a society that has been extensively decomposed domestically, imperfectly integrated globally, that has distinct cultures but is connected through internet-based tools. There is nothing more important for Development Studies, today, than to support these critiques of neoliberalism, and support the new movements to reshape our mode of existence.

This blog was first published by EADI.

Opinions expressed in Bliss posts reflect solely the views of the author of the post in question.

About the author:

Alfredo Saad-Filho is Professor of Political Economy and International Development at the Department of International Development, King’s College London.

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