Building and busting trust in humanitarian action

Several years ago in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp I witnessed a refugee official glad-handing Syrian refugees as he went about his daily rounds, the very picture, to me at least, of a trusting relationship. Later, back in Amman, I described the scene to a Syrian refugee friend. Talking is good, she told me, but it’s not enough. Amidst the skewed power dynamics in the humanitarian space, there’s more to relations between aid providers and recipients than meets the eye.

The Zaartari episode came to mind when we were asked to prepare a background paper on the drivers of trust in humanitarian action for last December’s International Conference of the Red Cross / Red Crescent. My colleagues Emma Pritchard and Louise Maranda found some clues in interviews conducted with 7,000 people across seven countries in Ground Truth Solutions’ Humanitarian Voice Index.

When affected people were asked whether they trusted aid providers to act in their best interests, the response was positive. Across our multi-country sample, some 70 percent of respondents consistently said they trusted aid providers (see Fig. 1).