Cover Image
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

Obligations to staff

Relief institutions have special ethical obligations to their staff during humanitarian emergencies. In particular they must protect them from the negative effects of psycho-social stress resulting from exposure to extreme suffering. Many humanitarian emergencies also expose relief workers to physical risks such as mines and military attacks. Such stress leads to immediate declines in professional standards and often to longer-term psychological damage. Adequate preparation and training beforehand, and effective counseling and support during and after operations are strongly advised.

The main institutional dilemmas are how to assess and respond to such risks. On one hand, it is difficult for agencies to rely on local officials to assess risk and decide when to withdraw operations. On the other hand, senior officials in distant offices may have little data upon which to base their judgments. The use of military forces or armed guards may or may not prove effective in the short and long-term, and it may affect the perception of the humanitarian operations. Furthermore, the employment of guards can institutionalize protection rackets. Finally, humanitarian agencies who withdraw assistance from populations because of threats to their staff risk being manipulated by the actors in a conflict situation, and of precipitating catastrophic suffering and mortality.