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close this book: Meeting the Humanitarian Challenge - UNV's Work Between Conflict and Development (United Nations Volunteers, 44 p.)
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View the documentForeword
open sub-section: Introduction
open sub-section: UNV humanitarian action in the field: Effort and impact
open sub-section: Current concerns and future perspectives
View the documentAcronyms

Foreword

This booklet is well named. It has indeed been a challenge to the UN Volunteers programme to involve itself in urgent humanitarian relief and rehabilitation work. For its first twenty years, the programme had been largely confined to offering technical assistance for the long haul of development.


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In the last four years or so, the frequency and the scale of emergency situations (mostly man-made, it has to be said) have been such that organisations existing to help the developing world could not credibly stand aside and claim that their role lay exclusively in the long-term development process. More than that, it has become clearer and clearer that there is in any case no real logical or practical dividing line between "relief and "development". Certainly not for the refugee or the cholera victim, there isn't - it's altogether too remote and irrelevant a distinction.

So, UNV has entered a new arena. It first set up a Humanitarian Relief Unit, to respond to the specialised set of recruitment, deployment and security considerations which are implied - different professions, rapid and single-status assignments, the need for enhanced health and even physical protection. Within two years, UNVs fielded by the Unit have come to number over 10% of the some 3,500 in all who serve in the average year. Food aid logisticians, medical personnel, camp administrators, human rights monitors and the like, they have served with the highest professionalism - and with great courage - in the most demanding of conditions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

Like the UNVs in agriculture, health and education, those on the humanitarian side seek too, wherever possible, to base their input on the structures, knowledge, solidarity and compassion which are to be found in every community - and which survive conflict and disaster. Facilitating what affected people themselves feel they need most, and involving them to the greatest extent possible in caring for each other, makes for the surest chance of success. And, since the community aspires to return as quickly as feasible to normality and to the daily concern of improving livelihood in the long term, this also is the surest way of once again getting back on the road to the sustainable human development which remains UNVs - and people's - paramount objective.

In closing, I would like publicly to thank the governments, UN and international agencies and others which have made generous donations to allow our humanitarian work to go forward. With those thanks I couple, too, our gratitude to the former Chief of the Humanitarian Relief Unit, Francis O'Donnell, for his energy and dedication in piloting our first years in this area; to Maria Keating for her work in updating and editing this booklet; and most especially, to all the UNVs who've been in the front line.

Brenda Gael McSweeney,
Executive Co-ordinator