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Challenges Humanitarians Face in the Field

Humanitarian work is an incredible opportunity. But working in the field can also take its toll. There are many challenges that humanitarians face in the field daily. If you are considering a job in the humanitarian field, you should consider these issues and how you can cope with them.

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Poor infrastructure

Aid workers often find themselves in areas lacking in infrastructure. For example, after a natural disaster, communications systems, electricity, sanitation, and other systems may be down. Or, you might be working in a hard-to-reach area, which to begin with, often doesn’t have the proper infrastructure.

Poor conditions mean that humanitarians need to be easily adaptable. It is one of the key personality traits for aid workers and is essential for working in the field.

Lack of safety and security

Sadly, humanitarians also face a lack of safety and security while working in the field. This is particularly true for those who work in conflict zones. However, some areas also witness high levels of civil unrest, daily violence, or political insecurity.

For fieldwork in unsafe areas, humanitarians need to able to follow security protocols meticulously. It is also essential to ensure that the organization you are working for has the proper duty of care standards to protect its workers.

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Cultural differences

Intercultural work is an incredible experience. Learning about new cultures and people is one of the draws of humanitarian action. However, it can also be a challenge once you are in the thick of it. It can be challenging to reconcile cultural differences when an argument arises. Plus, intercultural communication can lead to misunderstandings.

As such, aid workers need to possess high emotional intelligence and excellent interpersonal skills. Besides, it’s a good idea to learn a few languages and work in regions where you have in-depth knowledge of the culture and traditions.

Lack of coordination

When large-scale disaster strike, dozens of organizations tend to deploy teams to help those in need. Besides international organizations, there are local actors and public offices providing humanitarian assistance. And sometimes, all of this can get out of hand, making coordination between the different actors extremely difficult.

Since this can negatively impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the aid work, actors need to improve coordination. As a humanitarian, you’ll need lots of patience and negotiation skills to navigate these types of situations.

Poor information flow

Similar to the lack of coordination, sometimes, there is also a lack of information. In a disaster setting, things can happen very quickly. That means the situation in the field is continually changing, but it can be difficult to coordinate these changes with the headquarters or other agencies.

Poor information flow can lead to mistakes, arguments, and even life-threatening events. So, it’s essential to always follow communications protocols while on the ground. And, of course, to be patient with the different stakeholders involved in the humanitarian response.


Another one of the challenges humanitarians face is underfunding. Persistent in almost all areas of non-for-profit work, underfunding can be a considerable challenge when you are in the field. As you see the needs on the ground, you are also aware of the limitations that your funding affords you. This can be challenging both in terms of implementation and psychologically.

Creativity and organizations are two skills that help aid workers deal with a lack of funds. By being creative, you can come up with alternative solutions on a small budget. And by being organized, you can ensure proper monitoring and evaluation to advocate for more funding in the future.


Of course, aid workers are human. On long missions, under challenging conditions, and under a lot of stress, you might become homesick. And this completely normal, but still one of the challenges that humanitarians face in the field.

Hence, it’s essential always to take the home-leave provided by your company. Not only is it an excellent way to spend some time with family, but it is critical for your mental health. And staying healthy is essential for proper project implementation.

The scale of humanitarian need

Last but not least, humanitarians see the sheer scale of humanitarian need daily when they are working in the field. This can be a challenging reality because it’s impossible to address all of these multiple scales of need and to help everyone.

However, this is also part of the beauty of humanitarian work. The fact that you can go out there every day and help others makes every challenge and inconvenience entirely worth it!

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