|Disaster Management Ethics (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 70 p.)|
|TOPIC 4 Disaster fundraising, appeals and the utilization of funding resources|
The response needed in disaster situations is a significant intervention to provide adequate safety for human lives and safeguards for livestock, shelter and other essential property. This is in itself a complex task that requires substantial financial resources. Since these resources are rarely available automatically and immediately, fund-raising for disaster relief and disaster prevention represents a complex task that requires its own type of skill and poses its own ethical dilemmas.
The resources mobilized in major disasters generally originate from four sources:
1. the local population in the host country or receiving community
2. the government in the affected country
3. donor governments elsewhere in the world
4. the population at large in the donor countries
The international debate on disaster relief tends to focus primarily on the two last sources, thereby overlooking the fact that the host and affected communities and countries often pay the highest price in disasters and relief efforts. The ethical dilemmas which arise as different funding sources are or are not recognized, considered and utilized are discussed here in relation to the funding source.
1. The local population in the host country or receiving community
It does not make sense, nor is it politically acceptable, to help the survivors without extending some form of assistance to the surrounding population.
Those who have observed first hand a natural or a human made disaster know what a devastating price it exacts from the local community. While it will come as no surprise to most observers that those directly affected often lose everything they own, it is less frequently recognized that the local population in neighboring areas often pay a very high price as well. First, they provide food and shelter to the victims for weeks or months (in some cases even years). Subsequently, the local economy may be seriously disrupted because the purchasing power of neighbors (and thus regional trade) is often destroyed, or at least significantly reduced, overnight. Such direct costs must be factored in for any medium-to-long-term disaster mitigation strategy to be adequate or complete.
While disaster aid from the outside may be significant at the time of the disaster itself, the worlds attention is soon diverted elsewhere. The local community is forced again to fend for itself with its own limited resources. In many situations, disaster relief agencies therefore find themselves faced with the dilemma that the local population surrounding the survivors is almost as exposed and deprived as the immediately affected population. It does not make sense, nor is it politically acceptable, to help the survivors without extending some form of assistance to the surrounding population. This is typically the case with the influx of refugees into areas with a very poor rural population (e.g., the Bhutanese refugees in southeastern Nepal or the Afghan refugees in certain parts of Pakistan and Iran) or when earthquakes occur in areas of endemic poverty.
2. The government in the affected country
The government of a country affected by a serious disaster typically mobilizes significant amounts of its own funds to relieve the suffering of its own people. This is obviously how it should be. But, unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples in modern history where governments have shown neglect of human suffering among their own people.
In some cases, the government in an affected country considers the affected population to be politically unimportant or of marginal significance to the economy of the country. This was clearly the calculation of Emperor Haile Selassie when the Ethiopian highlands were hit by pervasive droughts in 1973-1974. In other cases, the government does not want to divert funds from what it considers concerns of a higher priority, be it large infrastructure projects or military hardware. In either case, the ready availability of foreign aid for the survivors of disaster makes it possible for such a government to pursue a benign neglect policy and to avoid reassessing and revising its priorities.
Cases of malignant neglect are found particularly when the affected population is seen to be in direct opposition to those who control the reins of government. In such situations - exemplified in Southern Sudan or in the Kurdish provinces of northern Iraq - disaster relief becomes a central element of contention, if not an outright weapon of war.
3. Donor governments elsewhere
Every government has to strike a balance between what humanitarian impartiality requires and what is politically acceptable to its taxpaying constituencies.
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) includes virtually all the traditional donors of disaster relief and development assistance. Although they have a clearly expressed preference for development assistance of a long-term nature. they also have certain funds earmarked every year for disaster relief.
In a world of limited resources and seemingly unlimited needs, the allocation of donor government resources to specific disaster situations is inevitably based on a set of explicit or implicit criteria. In an ideal world, the volume of aid being provided in any given situation should be in direct proportion to the magnitude of the problem. However, it is well known that factors such as proximity and cultural affinity play an important role as well. For obvious reasons, the governments of Australia and New Zealand involve themselves more readily in disaster relief in the Pacific than in the Caribbean, just as the donor governments in North America are more likely than those in Europe to take a keen interest in disasters in Latin America.
Underlying this problem is the fact that, although governments in the donor nations do not have to raise funds for each and every disaster, they cannot ignore the general views of their taxpayers. Every government has to strike a balance between what humanitarian impartiality requires and what is politically acceptable to its taxpaying constituencies. This fact inevitably leads to compromises. The needs of the disaster survivors are not the sole factor determining what is being done - as exemplified by the dispatch with great fanfare from the capital of the donor nation, large aircraft with relief supplies, some of which were readily available (and at lesser cost) in the recipient country itself or in one of its neighboring countries.
4. The general population in the donor countries
The public display of an African child with a bloated stomach in advertisements is indecent because it exposes something in human life that is deeply personal: suffering.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in disaster relief can rarely afford to have large sums of money earmarked for future interventions. In most cases, they get involved immediately when a new disaster occurs using their reserve funds and then initiate specific fund-raising efforts to sustain and expand their involvement.
The main focus of such fund-raising efforts is normally on the plight of the disaster-stricken people. However, as information on any problems in remote parts of the world is often only part of a multitude of other information usually about matters more close by, any fund-raising NGO is under considerable pressure to dramatize its message in order to receive attention. Experience shows that the starving child image (which includes variations on the theme, such as despairing fathers and grieving mothers) is one of the most potent tools at the disposal of fund-raisers.
Many will argue that the starving child image is a necessity to ensure that sufficient funds will be mobilized, and the disaster relief agencies will remain in business. The public display of an African child with a bloated stomach in advertisements is indecent because it exposes something in human life that is deeply personal: suffering. What many consider ethically unacceptable is not that certain segments of reality are shown for what they are, but that repeated dissemination through the mass media of the starving child image (almost invariably emanating from the Third World) has a problematic long-term effect on the international psyche. It is not conducive to an atmosphere of mutual respect and solidarity.
Q. What are the four ethical fund-raising and resource utilization issues identified by the author and applied to the four populations involved in emergency disaster management?
1. Emergency disaster assistance must fairly respond to both immediately and secondarily affected populations.
2. Priority responsibility should target population needs.
3. Humanitarian assistance should be needs-driven, not resource driven.
4. Fund-raising appeals should present more complex and accurate disaster information.