Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Strategy of Humanitarian Assistance

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Strategy of Humanitarian Assistance

Article excerpt

The Strategy of Humanitarian Assistance

RECENT studies on emergencyand disaster relief have pointed to the need to further strengthen and improve the emergency-related capacities of the United Nations system and for arrangements for more effective use of those capacities.

Nearly 40 per cent of the totalUnited Nations resources during 1984 and 1985 were allocated to humanitarian activities, surpassing the percentage resources--some 34 per cent-- for operational activities and other programmes in the economic and social sectors. Furthermore, in the past few years there has been a marked increase in resource allocation for humanitarian assistance around the world.

In his book, The Quality of Mercy,William Shawcross says: "Humanitarian aid is often required because of abject political failure. It is neither intended, nor is it able, to resolve political crises that Governments have created or at least failed to address.' Referring to the Kampuchean operation, he states that one effect of such aid has been "to reinforce the political stalemate'. Thus humanitarian aid does have political implications, with both pitfalls and constructive potential for facilitating a solution to an impasse. Because of ever-increasing humanitarian problems and such political implications, there is definite need for a new policy science of humanitarian assistance in the world today.

Four "partners'

Conceptually speaking, there arefour main partners in any international humanitarian operation, namely: the host government whose co-operation is essential; international organizations which establish the framework and standards; donor governments which support and guide the operation; and NGOs who deliver relief assistance and expert services in the field.

The efficiency and effectiveness ofthis quadrilateral partnership largely depend on a delicate balance in the interactions between the four partners. It may not always be easy to establish and maintain such balance because each element is naturally guided by its own interests and values. In case of difficulties, however, consideration of the human rights of the recipients of humanitarian assistance should provide an ultimate unifying force in the partnership.

Sometimes the host government iswrongly regarded as the recipient of humanitarian assistance, and as a result, an entire operation may be made subservient to what the government calls "national security' or "national interest'. When the United Nations provides the framework, however, its universal character gives it advantages in terms of moral authority, and the humanitarian right of access which no other political entity possesses.

Common recognition and acceptanceby all parties concerned of basic humanitarian principles is essential for the effective and efficient functioning of international humanitarian operations, which often concern protection, security, human rights and social well-being of the refugees and displaced persons.

NGOs should be invited to participatefrom an early stage to determine needs and suitable projects to meet these needs. The grass-root contacts, human involvement and devotion of NGO workers should be appreciated. These workers should also be aware of criticisms sometimes voiced: compassion alone is not enough.

Humanitarian aid strategy

Conceptual issues: When dealingwith potentially dynamic situations, which humanitarian problems often are, it is important to identify and address conceptual issues aimed at ultimately formulating appropriate strategies: how to best use limited resources, avoid rivalry and duplication and promote specialization; how to make short- and long-term humanitarian objectives mutuallv compatible; how to avoid being drawn into the perpetuation of humanitarian aid; how to devise a general guideline which would include such elements as provision of bare essentials for physical survival, human resource development and promotion of social and cultural programmes; can there be a case for a "gradualist approach' towards a solution of political impasse through a humanitarian pathway; and what role the United Nations Secretary-General should play in the dynamic political economy of humanitarian operation. …

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