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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 3 Disaster response and its relationship to on-going participatory development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentThe dilemmas
View the documentApproaches to addressing these dilemmas
View the documentClosing
View the documentResponse by Tony Beck
View the documentResponse by Solomon Gidada
View the documentResponse by Arthur E. Dewey

Response by Solomon Gidada


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Dependency is not created by receivers, it is created by donors and relief workers.

There are four primary issues raised by the author which require response: whether to help in a given situation; who should benefit and agency accountability for assistance; questions of cause, responsibility, prevention and early warning; and concerns for dependency creation.

First of all, if there is a disaster, people in the disaster area must be helped. Representatives from humanitarian organizations have to find the means to fulfill agency obligations and respond to human suffering. The division of labor among organizations should be evaluated rather than whether or not assistance should be given. One organization may be more experienced in transportation, another may be more expert in the area of health care. Again, others may be more experienced in providing water. The bottom line is, there is a disaster in an area and the international community must get together and devise a means of tackling the problem.

At this stage of a united effort, the second ethical question arises: “Who should be the beneficiaries?” How do we isolate the needy from those who take advantage of the situation to fill their own pockets? Organizations often use the existing disaster situation to build up their own images rather than focusing on the problem. Funds are often used for purposes other than those for which they were secured, including diversion to administration and the building of organizational structures. Responding to the needs of the suffering population must remain the primary focus.

Thirdly, what is the nature of the problem? Was it a natural disaster or a human creation? Was the disaster avoidable? Was enough warning and information given prior to the disaster? Did the government of the country behave in a responsible manner or was the government itself the cause of the worsening situation? What about the world community? Are those countries that have the means to help, willing to help or are they bound by their political ideology, responding only after the death of thousands of people? The root causes of disasters need to be addressed in order to prevent disasters from occurring and early warning indicators must be taken seriously in order to avert or minimize disaster impacts. A very high government official of a donor country once said “we just wanted to teach your President a lesson.” When disaster strikes it does not strike the President of a nation or their family, the disaster strikes the common people.

The fourth problem is the possible creation of dependency. Dependency is not created by receivers, it is created by donors and relief workers. If help is given, it should be given together with the means for people to overcome their problems in the future. Too often agencies say that their responsibility is to “feed them.” What happens after people have been fed and made strong? Should they be abandoned so that they have to revert to the same situation and the agencies have to be requested to come back to feed them again and again and again? It would be even more appropriate and meaningful if relief was combined with long range development, call it integrated rural or urban development. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the community and the NGOs to arrive at a better format to coordinate their combined efforts.