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close this bookDisaster Management Ethics (Department of Humanitarian Affairs/United Nations Disaster Relief Office - United Nations Development Programme , 1997, 70 p.)
close this folderTOPIC 2 Providing humanitarian assistance to displaced populations and refugees
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe nature of the working environment in contemporary emergencies
View the documentEthical dilemmas and humanitarian relief
View the documentStrategies for the negotiation of rights
View the documentIdentifying and understanding the limits to available policy instruments
View the documentLabeling and counting beneficiaries
View the documentProviding relief versus securing rights: ethical assistance strategies
View the documentDilemmas in participation
View the documentDisplaced people, refugees and local hosts
View the documentAddressing the needs of women
View the documentObligations to staff
View the documentConclusion
View the documentResponse by Phil Anderson
View the documentResponse by Jacques Cuenod
View the documentResponse by Arthur E. Dewey
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Dilemmas in participation

Top down planning is unethical as well as ineffective.

The appropriateness of interventions and the efficiency of their implementation is enhanced by the participation of beneficiaries. However, securing “participation” remains difficult because of bureaucratic pressures by donors on assistance agencies. Further, because of the timeliness required to meet emergency needs, it is difficult for outside institutions to identify representatives of different sectors of a displaced population, particularly in a chaotic or politically tense situation.

The greatest institutional pressures in emergencies involve coordinating the efforts of UN agencies, international and local NGOs, as well as the national government and its various ministerial and local governmental institutions. In contexts of conflict and confusion between the major actors, it is hardly surprising that little consideration is given to beneficiary perspectives. Information is collected through rapid field visits, often involving short-term consultants whose knowledge of aid delivery systems is often much greater than it is of refugee experiences, livelihood strategies, and the local context. This leads to the multiplication and persistence of relief system models conceived by technocrats generally unaware of the significance of local factors and the extent to which the knowledge and skills of the displaced people can be a major resource.

Such top down planning is unethical well as ineffective. It can be countered from the outset, through the involvement of local institutions and expertise, the posting of senior staff with appropriate social and linguistic skills at the real field level, the use of participatory research, and the prioritizing of early identification of leaders among the refugee population. The introduction or recognition of democratically elected and civil society institutions should also occur as quickly as possible and be included in the discussion of actual policies as well as in the arrangement of its implementation.