|The Courier No. 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid Country Reports Sao Tomé-Principe-Senegal (European Community, 1992)|
Anyone who follows the press and the media - and, in too many poor or disaster-struck countries, anyone who merely looks around them - will have seen 1992 as a year when the call for humanitarian relief in many parts of the world has been particularly loud.
Millions of people are crying out for help, from the nations of Southern Africa ravaged by the worst drought this century to the innocent victims of war, disease and starvation in Somalia, from the refugees and internees driven out by 'ethnic cleansing' in former Yugoslavia to the homeless victims of cyclones in the Caribbean and the Pacific... the depressing list goes on.
All this has come on top of two years of already major crises which stressed human, physical and financial resources to the limit in different parts of the world. Prosperous countries and bilateral and international aid agencies have once again been urged to step up their efforts to help those in need by providing yet more humanitarian relief, refugee assistance and food aid.
The response to past emergencies from both the ordinary public and official bodies confirmed the existence of a worldwide fund of generosity and goodwill. The European Community's spending on emergency aid has gone up by a factor of ten in the last three years. But experience in getting help to the suffering has also exposed certain practical weaknesses in aid arrangements. Both the United Nations and the European Community have set up new departments to streamline their humanitarian relief work. Much thought is going into faster and more secure ways of tackling natural or man-made disasters.
New situations naturally call for new solutions. In two countries where no effective central authority has control, Somalia and former Yugoslavia, organisations which have always taken great care never to be associated with any side in a conflict situation have now had to accept armed protection in order to continue their humanitarian work in safety. Donors and relief experts are asking themselves searching questions about where this might lead. Is neutrality possible once soldiers are involved in getting aid supplies through ? Does the international community have a right of intervention or, as others prefer to call it, of humanitarian assistance? Would there be any point in sending aid to a country in chaos, where it might be misappropriated ?
Meanwhile most people's perceptions of the humanitarian situation in the world are formed by what is presented to them in the media. What responsibility do journalists bear when faced with a humanitarian crisis?
The Dossier in this issue of The Courier looks at these issues and sets out some of the philosophies which guide humanitarian aid efforts today. It also gives an account of the work being done by the European Community, not just at the Commission headguarters in Brussels or at the European Parliament in Strasbourg but in different parts of the field, and by some of the organisations with which the Community works.