|Humanitarian Assistance in Disaster Situations:A Guide for Effective Aid (PAHO-OPS, 1999, 20 p.)|
Agencies providing outside humanitarian assistance in emergencies fall into several categories - foreign governments, international organizations, and non governmental organizations. Authorities in disaster-affected countries should be aware of the resources, channels of communication, and constraints of these agencies. Following are some guiding principles for obtaining international assistance.
Ö Agencies can make cash grants, donate supplies, provide technical assistance, furnish food, or make loans. Some specialize in only one of these areas, while others have a more general mandate. It is essential to understand these resources to avoid requesting cash from an agency that provides only in-kind assistance, or supplies from an agency that specializes in technical cooperation.
Ö Non governmental organizations vary considerably in their approaches to humanitarian assistance and the health contributions they can make. Larger, experienced agencies and those already engaged in development work in the affected country tend to have a better understanding of the nature of the problems encountered. Agencies without a prior commitment to the country concerned generally have less knowledge of local problems and sometimes harbor misconceptions about the needs created by a disaster. They can thus increase the pressure on the local government by demanding operational support (for example, for transportation) that would be better allocated to another agency.
Ö Proper communication channels are important. Some agencies may only accept requests for assistance from one specific source within the affected country, or will only disseminate assistance through a specific agency or ministry. For example, PAHO/WHO accepts requests for assistance from health ministries, while the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies distributes its aid exclusively through its national members. However, despite these preferential channels, the Ministry of Health, through its Health Disaster Coordinator, should remain the ultimate public health authority in the affected country, and must be informed of, and monitor the type and quantity of health assistance arriving in the country.
Ö Donor agencies may require the declaration of a state of emergency by the affected country or their own representative or a formal request from the government before they can respond. A request made to the U.N./OCHA is regarded as a request to the entire U.N. system.
Ö Agencies may require first-hand or conclusive evidence of the need for relief before making expenditures or conducting fund raising. Donors are increasingly better informed through their local experts, NGOs, or others of the validity of needs and are less likely to blindly accept official information. For instance, blaming the natural disaster for long-standing development problems and requesting emergency humanitarian funds for their solutions is detrimental.
Ö Some foreign governments and agencies will commit funds for specific projects in the early stage of an emergency, before a thorough assessment of health sector priorities has even been initiated. The health sector must, therefore, prepare and submit preliminary cost estimates for short-term emergency humanitarian assistance needs as soon as possible before all emergency funds are committed by donors. These estimates of immediate humanitarian needs are distinct from the estimated cost of the disaster to the health sector. Presenting to the donor community the total or conglomerate cost of the health impact (immediate needs, reconstruction cost, and indirect economic impact) is confusing, as many humanitarian donors - by statute - must refrain from development or reconstruction activities.