Cooperation from Crisis? Regional Responses to Humanitarian Emergencies

As the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, could the humanitarian crisis afflicting the country and its neighbors provide an entryway for regional cooperation? This policy paper examines how regional responses to humanitarian crises have succeeded or failed to meet humanitarian objectives in order to inform approaches to contemporary crises. It also assesses whether such regional responses contributed to strengthening regional integration and cooperation, paving the way for increased regional stability and an improved capacity to respond to emergencies.


The report explores two different humanitarian crises: the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008. Examining the ways in which countries in each region and regional organizations addressed humanitarian needs, it draws a number of lessons that could be applied in contemporary crises:

  • Regional ownership over the response is crucial, but not necessarily spontaneous. External actors can usefully contribute through a balanced mix of pressure and technical support.
  • Preexisting regional organizations can provide a valuable institutional framework on which to build the response.
  • An approach that focuses on the specific needs of the most vulnerable individuals can help to depoliticize discussions while strengthening trust among regional stakeholders.
  • Complementary policy-level and expert-level processes can equip the response with both political commitment and regular working relationships for addressing tangible needs.