Humanitarian Aid on an International Scope

By Peter Hansen. Peter Hansen is United Nations under-secretary-general . | The Christian Science Monitor, August 15, 1995 | Go to article overview

Humanitarian Aid on an International Scope


Peter Hansen. Peter Hansen is United Nations under-secretary-general ., The Christian Science Monitor


IN 1959 there were 10 active conflicts around the world; in 1995 there are close to 50. When violence flashes, communities dissolve as people attempt to move out of harm's way. In 1960, there were 1.4 million refugees in the world; today there are almost 20 million, and another 20 to 25 million persons are internally displaced within their own countries.

Unfortunately, in 1995 we in "humanitarian affairs" are in a growth business.

While both the size and frequency of emergency operations have increased, numbers alone do not explain the deteriorating environment in which humanitarian assistance operations are conducted today - "in the rockets' red glare." Both the recipients and providers of assistance are affected.

In the midst of conflict, military and humanitarian logistics often must operate in close proximity, at the sea and airports and along roads. Mass population movements occur spontaneously. Already inadequate communications and infrastructure are destroyed; and authority of any kind, governmental or otherwise, is often weakened or it dissolves.

Not surprisingly, a steady increase in both civilian and military (peacekeeper) United Nations casualties was reported from 1992 to 1994. In 1993, the place of maximum danger was Somalia. A total of 136 peacekeepers died during the UN military mission there. In 1994, 65 UN civilians were killed worldwide, most of them in relief operations in Rwanda.

Nongovernmental organizations, which deliver the bulk of the assistance in the field, and Red Cross organizations, are no less vulnerable than UN staff. Since 1985 the International Committee of the Red Cross has had nine expatriates and 39 local employees killed. Another 147 ICRC staff, local and expatriate, have "disappeared."

Insecure, dangerous conditions cause direct and indirect monetary losses, as well as loss of life. From the outset of a conflict emergency operation, there may be outlays for war-risk insurance, body armor, armored vehicles for convoys, extra communications equipment, and the like. The mix of transport brought in for the operation must include planes or helicopters for evacuation. Training field staff in security procedures and security-related skills is important - and expensive.

Once relief operations begin, delays caused by security concerns, or even temporary shutdowns following an "incident," are frequent. If evacuations are necessary, they add to the costs, as do special transport arrangements to avoid ground fire at aircraft or mined roads.

The World Food Program, for example, normally factors in a cost to donors of $30 to $80 per metric ton of food for internal transport, storage, and handling in most development projects. In conflict zones, however, these shipments must be made by circuitous land routes, by airlift, or both. In southern Sudan, this means total internal transport costs of $500 to $1,000 per metric ton; in Angola, $315 per metric ton.

Perhaps the monetary costs of conflict can best be seen in the depressing arithmetic of land-mine clearance. These mines can be produced for as little as $3, but it costs between $300 and $1,000 each to have them located, disarmed, and cleared. Last year, the international community allocated approximately $70 million to clear some 100,000 landmines. During the same period, however, more than 2 million landmines were deployed.

In the conflicts of the post-cold-war era, which have tended to be bitter internal conflicts generated by ethnic, religious, and other intractable differences, the population bases of opposing armies - civilians - have often become primary targets for attack.

In former Yugoslavia, for example, we have seen "pattern rapes" of women and girls, children forcibly recruited into combat, concerted shelling of hospitals, clinics, and markets, and calculated disruption of relief supply lines. When terrorism becomes an instrument of war, among the first casualties are humanitarian principles and norms. …

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