Glossary

Note: The primary sources for the glossary below include the ReliefWeb Glossary of Humanitarian Terms, the International Committee of the Red Cross’ “Exploring Humanitarian Law Glossary”, the glossary included in the Sphere Standards, and other relevant sources.

Accountability: The means or process by which organizations and individuals are held accountable by different stakeholders, with the goal of ensuring their activities are conducted appropriately and resources are used responsibly.

Affected Population: People (individuals and groups) impacted by a disaster or crisis situation. May also be called “crisis-affected population” or “disaster-affected population.”

Complex Emergency: A humanitarian crisis in a country, region or society where there is total or considerable breakdown of authority resulting from internal or external conflict, and which requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency and/or the ongoing UN country program (IASC).

Conflict: A social, factual situation in which at least two parties are in serious, usually protracted, disagreement. In humanitarian contexts, “conflict” usually refers to violent or armed disagreement, or scenarios in which there is a threat of violence to certain populations.

Crisis Response Cycle: All activities pertaining to crisis preparedness and response, including pre-crisis preparedness, early crisis response, and long-term activities. These activities tend to be (but are not always) organized in a predictable, cyclical system.

Data: Information–either quantitative or qualitative–that is collected and analyzed for the purpose of decision-making. In the humanitarian context, “data” usually refers to information in an unprocessed or unorganized form that can be digitally stored and interpreted.

Data Controller: A party competent to make decisions about the contents and use of personal data, whether that data is collected, stored, or processed by that party or an agent or agents operating on its behalf.

Data Life-Cycle: The life-cycle that a datum or data set undergoes –usually including collection, storage, processing, transmission, and consumption as stages.

Data Minimization: The principle that a data controller should limit the amount of data collected and the length of time the data is stored to that which is strictly necessary for accomplishing a specified purpose. In the humanitarian context, the principle directly opposes the collection of as much data as possible in the service of unanticipated or currently unknown future needs.

Data Preparedness: The ability of organizations to be ready to responsibly and effectively deploy and manage data collection and analysis tools, techniques and strategies in a specific operational context before a disaster strikes.

Demographically Identifiable Information (DII): Data points that enable the identification, classification and tracking of individuals, groups, or multiple groups of individuals by demographically defining factors: these may include ethnicity, gender, age, occupation, and religion. May also be referred to as Community Identifiable Information, or “CII”.

Emergency: An event (usually unforeseen) in which it is necessary to immediately meet the needs of people at risk: can include natural and technological disasters, as well as armed conflict.

Experiment: To explore the effects of manipulating a variable. To test or implement a new invention or process based on untested theory, procedures, or techniques.

Humanitarian Actor(s): Organization(s) or individual(s) of a humanitarian and impartial nature involved in crisis response.

Humanitarian Information Activities (HIAs): Activities and programs that may include the collection, storage, processing, analysis, further use, transmission, and public release of data and other forms of information. HIAs also include the establishment and development of communications capacity and infrastructure by responders and/or populations. These activities occur as part of humanitarian action throughout the response cycle and include, but are not limited to, improving situational awareness; disaster preparedness and mitigation; intervention design and evaluation; connecting populations to response activities and to each other; and supporting ongoing operations, including the delivery of assistance.

Information Communication Technologies (ICTs): Devices, sensors, software, hardware, systems, and networks used for the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of information often, though not always, in a digital format.

Informed Consent: Informed consent is when subjects of data collection or interventions agree to participate in an experiment, intervention, or process after having achieved a full understanding of what the activity involves and its potential impact on them and their own welfare.

Informed Participation: A state in which populations participate in a given experiment or project with an understanding of how their data will be used, and with the knowledge that they can give input into the ongoing use of this data.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL): A set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict and include the Geneva Conventions. These laws govern what constitutes humanitarian action, the conduct of war, and protected persons.

Natural Disaster: Events brought about by natural hazards with catastrophic results, often including loss of life and damage to infrastructure and local economies.

Networked Age: Refers to the currently ongoing proliferation of information communication technologies and the commonplace use of digital data through online networks, including the impact these technologies have on humanitarian activity.

Personal Data Breach: A security breach that leads to the accidental or intentional release of secure data to untrusted or unknown sources: can include the loss, alteration, and destruction of data.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII): Information that can be used to identify a specific individual: this may include a name, a personal address, online accounts, and identifiers that are specific to a person’s “physical, physiological, mental, economic, cultural or social identity.”1

Preparedness: Actions and activities taken in advance of a disaster: intended to minimize the impact of either expected or unforeseen hazards on people and property.

Protection: Term describing all activities “aimed at ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the relevant bodies of law, i.e. human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law.”2 These activities include actions and programs to safeguard the human security and wellbeing of vulnerable populations.

Processing: Operations and theory concerned with gathering, describing, manipulating, storing, retrieving, and classifying data or information.

Rectification: The correction of inaccurate or incomplete personal data.

Redress: Satisfaction of some kind for damages or injury incurred by another’s actions.

Transparency: Refers to a state of honesty and openness about one’s actions and motivations: linked to accountability.

Vulnerable Populations: Refers to particular groups who are especially susceptible to certain difficulties and hazards, often due to specific factors.


Photo: Central Prisoners of War Agency

World War II. Geneva, Palais du Conseil Général. Central Prisoners of War Agency

(Español): Agencia Central de Prisioneros de Guerra – Segunda Guerra Mundial. Ginebra, Palacio del Consejo General. Agencia Central de Prisioneros de Guerra.

Credit: ICRC / www.icrc.org / CC BY-SA 2.0


1. European Parliament. “Directive 2016/680 of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.” Official Journal of the European Union 59, no. L119 (2016): 89–131. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32016L0680&from=EN.

2. International Committee of the Red Cross. “Strengthening Protection in War: A Search for Professional Standards.” Geneva, 2001. https://shop.icrc.org/strengthening-protection-in-war-a-search-for-professional-standards-2369.html.