This year’s #HCBerlin 2023

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Unveiling Attention and Neglect in Humanitarian Action and Global Health

In our interconnected and media-driven world, attention has emerged as a powerful force shaping humanitarian action. The allocation of attention and the control over narratives, whether driven by media, public, economic, or political influences, holds profound implications for crises response and humanitarian habits. Consequently, the in parts unjustifiably attention-based prioritization perpetuates systemic inequalities and often neglects protracted challenges or slow-onset crises. Given the systemic power imbalances and biases inherent in attention, it seems essential to explore appropriate opportunities for impartial humanitarian assistance. The upcoming Humanitarian Congress Berlin 2023 aims to unpack the complexities, drivers and consequences of multifaceted attention and shed light on potential solutions.

Understanding shifting spotlights, narratives and systemic neglect and its consequences for humanitarian action and global health

In the digital age, attention has become the currency driving media and advertising in what is commonly known as attention economy. This raises new challenges for understanding the dynamics of attention as well as the underlying narratives and the factors influencing society’s engagement in humanitarian crises. Moreover, economic and political but also humanitarian actors’ interests often shape news framing and narratives, leading to the neglect of certain issues or angles such as protracted crises, neglected diseases and gender-based violence. The attention given by home societies also influences donor governments’ humanitarian funding or crucial foreign policy decisions, impacting resource allocation, political engagement and readiness to act in complex or emotionally charged contexts.

Structural barriers in resource-scarce settings, including for instance inadequate access to medical care, are often influenced by competing domestic interests of donor governments or relevant policy actors. NGOs, too, are not immune to the influence of attention and public preferences as well as dearly held beliefs and identity narratives not apt to present day realities, showcased i.a. in their communications or fundraising practices. Understanding the interplay of attention, power, neglect, and their impact on (in)action or inappropriate action is crucial for upholding the principled nature of humanitarian assistance.

Charting transformative paths forward:

The Humanitarian Congress Berlin aims to unpack the intricate relationship between attention and humanitarian action as well as global health. By drawing on past experiences, current challenges and interdisciplinary perspectives, the conference seeks to identify patterns and showcase promising practices to find ways to overcome biases, preset narratives, systemic neglect, ignorance and attention spirals.

Amongst the questions to be raised and reflected upon by expert contributors and participants will be:

  • What are the implications of media and public attention on neglected, protracted or hypercomplex crises, and who holds the power to determine what is considered important?
  • How does attention, Global North as well as colonial biases and humanitarian donor and practitioner policies perpetuate inequalities and insinuate interests beyond pure humanity in the prioritization and programming of humanitarian assistance?
  • What approaches have shown promising in overcoming humanitarian and global health neglect, and which practices and habits need to be changed?
  • What lessons can we learn from neglected diseases and the Covid pandemic regarding the direction of attention towards health crises policies? How to successfully shift systemic determinants to neglect?
  • How can the humanitarian system and its central protagonists overcome or at least weaken attention spirals and deep seated patterns to refocus on overlooked or neglected issues?

More information about our agenda as well as speakers and experts to be encountered at the Humanitarian Congress Berlin will be announced in the coming weeks.

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