Human Security and Crisis: A Snapshot

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Trilateral Research |

Date: 13 June 2019

Across the globe, countless government, private and third sector organisations are working to promote and sustain the security of vulnerable populations. During acute or protracted crises, the protection of individuals and local populations is a key requirement for those charged with crisis preparedness, response and risk reduction. From natural disasters, such as the earthquake that ravaged Nepal in 2015, to numerous instances of political violence and protracted civil conflicts, such crises not only result in the immediate loss of lives and destruction of property and infrastructure, but can also produce a wider cascade of negative effects that inflict long-term harm on the security and wellbeing of affected populations, including their livelihood, dignity and, ultimately, their survival. Increasingly, various actors and organisations are employing the concept of human security to inform a more comprehensive approach to building the resilience of civilian populations and working towards the promotion of security before, during and after a crisis.

This post provides a brief snapshot of what human security means. It does not provide an in-depth analysis of human security in crisis – we’ll come back to this! Rather, it seeks to outline some of its fundamental components to support wider thinking.

What Is Human Security?

As defined by the United Nations Human Security Unit, human security is a:

“… comprehensive framework for addressing widespread and cross-cutting threats. Recognizing that threats to individuals and communities vary considerably across and within countries, and at different points in time, the application of human security calls for an assessment of human insecurities that is people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented.”

United Nations, Human Security Unit: Strategic Plan 2014-2017, 2014.

Human security

What Does ‘People-Centred’ Mean?

One way (although not the only way)of thinking about ‘people’ is to take a more sociological perspective, including but not limited to considerations around gender, age, ethnicity, religion, cultural values, and social groups. As the United Nations Human Security Unit explain in their Human Security Handbook (2017), a people-centred approach focuses on attributing “equal importance to civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of individuals and communities”.

Human security
Civil-military activities led by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Force during Operation Frelena. These activities include free medical consultations, mine risk, improvised explosive device risk awareness activities, and the distribution of drinking water to the populations of the riparian villages.

What Are Human Insecurities?

When we think about insecurity, we think about those factors that affect a person’s vulnerability to something. The UN Human Security Unit places these insecurity factors within seven macro-categories: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political. However, these macro-categories require further expansion, including crime (from low-scale to serious organised crime), education, and corruption, among others.

Human security
Women in Sharga village, in North Darfur, prepare food during the visit of a delegation of ambassadors of the European Union countries into the SAFE centre.

Assessing Human Security Risks

Promoting and sustaining human security requires an ability to identify, understand and assess the risks posed to it. This means comprehensively identifying and mapping the multitude of threats and vulnerabilities in a given environment and context, maintaining a focus that is, once again, very-much people-centred. In turn, this requires a granular understanding of the various types of threats to which people may be exposed, the various vulnerabilities that raise their susceptibility to be harmed by those threats, and an altogether deeper understanding of the human landscape in a given location.

Human security

Case In Point: Assessing The Risk Of Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking In A Given Location

In supporting the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) to understand and assess the risks of modern slavery and human trafficking – this being just one of many potential inter-related human security risk areas – we developed a risk assessment methodology focusing on an assessment that captures the baseline prevalence of modern slavery and human trafficking and the threats and vulnerabilities in a target location, in order to understand the wider inter-relations between modern slavery & human trafficking and other related vulnerabilities (e.g., governance, criminality, corruption, demographic characteristics of the population, socio-economic conditions, migration, environment and health). The risk assessment methodology also incorporates a scenario-based impact assessment. Combined, the methodology inspires its users to think more carefully and systematically about the risks related to modern slavery and human trafficking in-situ of wider human security preparedness and planning.


For Trilateral Research’s perspective, in order to comprehensively map and understand the human security landscape to inform MOD decision-making around human security and stabilisation activities, it is necessary to break down, or disaggregate, these inter-related components. We take an interdisciplinary socio-technical approach in pursuing this goal – as seen with Project Solebay – thereby contributing evidence-based data-driven insights to human security planners and practitioners. Going a step further, our STRIAD solutions enable users to optimise this interdisciplinary approach within a cloud environment, harnessing the benefits of data-driven insights to support assessment, evaluation and decision-making across time.

For more information about our work in this research area, contact our team.

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