The humanitarian system has grown organically over the course of a generation to become a complex system bound by a common primary mandate. Its guiding principles provide it with a unique identity and separate humanitarian actors from other aid-related stakeholders. However, all of the evidence suggests that humanitarian actors will extend their reach and engage in new and unprecedented ways with an expanded mandate in years to come. Now, more than ever, they are challenged to retain the moral high ground and to put disaster-affected people at the centre of humanitarian action. Consequently, this paper proposes that the humanitarian system introduce a new principle: humanitarian subsidiarity. It moves the conception of subsidiarity beyond meanings ascribed by the Catholic Church and the European Union and links it instead to the attributes of agency, accountability, and trust to find accommodation with the core humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.
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