Date of Award

Fall 12-2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Erika Frydenlund

Committee Member

David Earnest

Committee Member

Matthew DiLorenzo


As instances of forced displacement arise and become increasingly large and prolonged around the world, large influxes of humanitarian aid have become critical in assisting host countries with crisis response. The funding required to meet the immediate, emergency needs presented by a refugee situation is filled primarily by governmental humanitarian contributions, and more specifically, by the United States. Typically, the U.S. is integral to the structure of the networks of humanitarian aid being directed towards a humanitarian response as it is the largest donor, in most cases. However, what does this reliance on U.S. funding mean for the structural integrity of these networks? What happens when the U.S. cannot or will not provide relief to humanitarian crises? I address these questions by drawing on the theory of cascading failure in social network analysis by applying it to four prominent cases of forced migration requiring large influxes of emergency humanitarian assistance. These regional cases represent increasing degrees of reliance on U.S. contributions to humanitarian response for displaced Venezuelans, Syrians, and Rohingyas, as well as the mixed-migration into Europe. Drawing on the results of the network analysis from these cases, I conclude two things. Firstly, I find, largely, humanitarian aid networks which receive a majority of their funding from the U.S. are extremely prone to collapse in the unlikely circumstance that the U.S. significantly reduces or withdraws funding. Secondly, networks which have more diversified sources of funding are less prone to collapse if a major donor “fails,” or reduces/withdraws funding. Overall, this study speaks to a larger conversation about the importance of humanitarian aid networks becoming more resilient to catastrophic shocks to the system that may come as a result of shifting sources of governmental humanitarian assistance. As the global community, and especially the United States, progress through a period of uncertainty and instability, insights on how to maintain the critical flow of aid to humanitarian crises have become all the more important.


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