|The Courier N° 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)|
by Debarati Guha Sapir
Wilton Park conferences 'have gained a reputation in the UK as a useful forum for high-level participants wishing to engage in a free exchange of views on foreign policy issues. The Courier was privileged to attend the recent conference on 'Aid under fire' with permission to report in genera/ terms on the key elements of the discussion (see previous article). Below, we supplement this with an abridged extract of one of the conference presentations kindly supplied to us by Debarati Guha Sapir who is a Professor at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium! In a world where humanitarian crises are now more likely to result from human conflicts than natural disasters, Professor Sapir argues that the international community needs to rethink its approach end come up with a new global policy in the field of relief and development activity.
The developmental and long-term implications of disasters and relief have been an international concern since the famines of the early 1970s. A small but persistent group within international and national agencies have pushed for disaster preparednesss and prevention. Their activities implicitly included development issues. However, their focus remained largely on natural disasters, with some awareness of the complexity of causes in the case of famine. By the 1980s, conflicts had taken centre stage in relief programmes, and discussion shifted to the complexities involved in this area. The militarisation of these crises, with the emergence of humanitarian interventions involving armed forces, has resulted in an increase in the number of key players in the decision-making structures of national and international agencies. Responsibilities have become divided between various government ministries (defence, development, foreign affairs), and international agency departments. This is a situation which is conducive, overall, to increased ideological polarisation between non-militarists and militarists, and between pragmatic developmentalists and action-oriented relief practitioners. As in most cases, all sides have valid arguments. The problem now is to find the right mix of arguments, sad transform these into a concrete and applicable policy.
That relief is increasingly being provided at the cost of development is undeniable. Arguments include the one that humanitarian aid offers a 'way round' finding difficult political solutions to thorny problems, or that relief is quicker, easier and much more visually appealing than development programmes. Today, the main actors in the international community concur, to a greater or lesser degree, on some of the parameters of the current humanitarian situation. Notwithstanding this, they have had difficulties in coming up with a response, especially in terms of programme planning, budget allocations and overall policy. Many practical problems confront field agencies as a result of ambiguities at the donor level and contradictions in this context.
The difficulties in introducing any long-term perspectives in relief arise chiefly from two factors:
-the very hard-to-change traditional views of relief as defined
by the historical 'fire-brigade' approach, namely a short, sharp input to save
lives (an approach which has long-dominated the relief scene), and;
-the rigidity of existing administrative structures within and among many donor institutions.
Responsibilities are sharply divided between those involved in development cooperation, and those operating in the field of emergency relief. As a result, all activities that ensure the transition between emergency and development action fall between two stools. Field-level ambiguities resulting from the current situation are readily illustrated in the Somali context. Was the reconstruction of the Mogadishu sewerage system an emergency action or part of the development programme ? Dithering over such mundane questions led to a delay in funding and resulted in a cholera epidemic. Serious consequences, both human and financial followed the mistakes made in efforts to disarm and demobilise the population. Emergency programmes began demobilisation in Somalia without the necessary concurrent investment in providing alternative means of livelihood or education. The result was that a costly effort failed lamentably; within days of handing over their arms, nearly everybody had succeeded in regaining them.
Of the many questions and lessons emerging from these examples, I would like to point out what is, in my opinion, the key underlying issue. Given our awareness of the magnitude of current crises, and agreement that strategic planning, (which includes developmental/technical as well as political aspects) is the key to successful international response, do we not need to explore where and how we should establish structural and institutional links between relief and development? Should disaster preparedness fall under development cooperation or emergency assistance ? Should the policies be rethought in the post Cold-War period where the nature of humanitarian crises changed ?
A global policy, spelling out institutional links between development programmes and relief operations in the light of new realities, needs to be devised. Inter-agency (or service) coordination, while critical, is rarely useful in the absence of policy or long-term strategic plans. More often than not, emphasis on coordination only becomes an alibi for inaction. Countries such as Liberia, Angola, Somalia, Sudan, Cambodia and Myanmar demonstrate the difficulties facing development and relief workers in deciding which 'hat to wear' when asking for funds.
In conclusion, international agenCies involved in countries with protracted emergencies or chronic unstable conditions need urgently to review their strategies both for relief and development.