The science of humanitarian response in crisis settings

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Humanitarian needs around the globe have risen dramatically over the past decades and today we are arguably witnessing the greatest level of human suffering that the world has experienced in the past 70 years. Although the humanitarian response system is saving more lives, preventing more illness, caring for more wounded, and feeding more people than ever, we are struggling to keep pace with the growing demands of more complex crises and the changing nature of conflict. The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) estimated that more than 172 million people were affected by armed conflict in 2012. UNHCR estimates that there are currently 65.6 million forcibly displaced people, of which 22.5 are refugees, who have crossed an international border. Moreover, CRED estimated that from 1994 to 2013, 218 million people on average each year were affected by destructive natural disasters around the world.

The medical journal Lancet published a special series of articles in 2017 to draw attention to the gaps in knowledge for addressing health needs in humanitarian crises. We summarize a few of these articles here and conclude that more implementation science and improved data systems will both be important for filling the knowledge gaps.