Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Blurred Responsibilities of Disaster Governance: The American Red Cross in the US and Haiti


  • Eija Meriläinen Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, UK / Institute for Global Health, University College London, UK / Hanken School of Economics, Finland
  • Jukka Mäkinen Department of Marketing and Communication, Estonian Business School, Estonia / Department of Management Studies, Aalto University School of Business, Finland
  • Nikodemus Solitander Hanken School of Economics, Finland


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Abstract:  The influence of private actors, such as non-profit organizations (NPOs) and firms, has been increasing in disaster governance. Previous literature has interrogated the responsibilities of states towards citizens in disasters, but the roles of private actors have been insufficiently challenged. The article politicizes the entangled relations between NPOs, states, and disaster-affected people. It proposes the Rawlsian division of moral labor as a useful, normative framework for interrogating the justice of disaster governance arrangements in which ‘liberal’ states are involved. Liberal states have two types of responsibilities in disasters: humanitarian and political. The humanitarian responsibilities imply provision of basic resources needed for the capacity to make autonomous choices (domestically and abroad), while the political responsibilities imply provision of the institutions needed for the liberal democratic citizenship (domestically). Through this analytical lens and building on the wealth of existing scholarship, we illustrate the disaster governance role of the American Red Cross in the United States (a 2005 hurricane) and in Haiti (the 2010 earthquake). Where, in Rawlsian terms, United States is interpreted as a ‘liberal’ society, Haiti is framed as a ‘burdened’ society. The article proposes five points to consider in analyzing disaster governance arrangements under neoliberal regimes, structured around the division of humanitarian and political responsibilities. The article illustrates how NPOS are instrumental in blurring the boundaries between humanitarian and political responsibilities. This might result ultimately in actual vulnerabilities remaining unaddressed. While the Rawlsian approach challenges the privatization and lack of coordination in disaster governance, it is limited in analyzing the political construction of ‘burdened’ societies.

Keywords:  American Red Cross; disaster governance; disaster politics; division of moral labor

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v8i4.3094


© Eija Susanna Meriläinen, Jukka Mäkinen, Nikodemus Solitander. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.