|Humanitarian Assistance in Disaster Situations:A Guide for Effective Aid (PAHO-OPS, 1999, 20 p.)|
Humanitarian assistance is beneficial to disaster victims and can play an important role in the development of the country if it is properly coordinated and responds to real needs. Both donors and authorities in disaster-prone countries should keep in mind the following principles for effective humanitarian assistance.
Ö Don't stereotype disasters. The effects of disasters on the health sector differ according to the type of disaster, the economic and political situation in the affected country, and degree to which its infrastructure is developed.
Ö Health relief assistance should be made in consultation with officials designated by the Ministry of Health to coordinate health-related humanitarian assistance. The Health Disaster Coordinator is a senior health official who serves as a focal point for emergency preparedness and coordinates health-related humanitarian activities.
Ö Observe procedures for communication, coordination, and supervision established by authorities in disaster-affected countries. This is best accomplished through regular meetings as part of the disaster-planning process between national authorities and representatives of donor agencies, NGOs, and other organizations involved in humanitarian assistance.
Ö Needs assessment must be carried out promptly by national health authorities in the affected country. Donors should be informed immediately of the specific type of assistance that is or is not needed. Delays between the identification of needs and the actual arrival of assistance from the outside are unavoidable and sometimes prolonged, resulting in assistance that arrives after needs have been met.
Ö Inform donors of what is not wanted or needed. This is as critical as giving specifications for requirements. Guidelines should be circulated to all potential suppliers of assistance and diplomatic and consular representatives abroad to prevent ineffective contributions.
Ö Donors should not compete with each other to meet the most visible needs of an affected country. The quality and appropriateness of the assistance is more important that its size, monetary value or the speed with which it arrives.
Ö Emergency assistance should complement, not duplicate, measures applied by the affected country. While some duplication is unavoidable as many countries and agencies worldwide hasten to meet the same needs, real or presumed, much of this duplication can be avoided by making use of the clearing-house functions of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and PAHO/WHO regarding health needs. There are well-organized consortia of NGOs and voluntary organizations that coordinate humanitarian assistance (see Box 3 for a description of some of the major agencies).
Ö It is unlikely that medical personnel will be required from abroad. The immediate needs of disaster victims must be met within hours of disaster impact. Unsolicited foreign medical teams and volunteers arrive unprepared or too late to be of real assistance to disaster victims. On the other hand, teams from neighboring countries or regions that share a common culture and language can provide valuable assistance.
Ö The need for search and rescue, life-saving first aid and other immediate medical procedures is short-lived. Special caution is necessary when considering international assistance that is useless once the acute emergency phase has passed. This type of assistance includes personnel, specialized rescue equipment, mobile hospitals, and perishable items.
Ö Use of the Internet has become a necessity before and during emergencies. Electronic communications reduce delays in making pledges and contributions in disaster situations. NGOs and other partners should participate in and encourage the open sharing of information on the Internet.
Ö Information must be circulated openly and subjected to review to ensure accountability in the management of humanitarian supplies. Donors and national authorities must be provided accurate reports on the status of shipments and distribution of supplies. Supply management systems such as SUMA (see Box 4) assist in maintaining inventories, categorize, and sort incoming supplies, and provide donors and national authorities with accurate reports on the status of shipments and deliveries.
Ö National, and increasingly, foreign military forces play an important role in humanitarian assistance, particularly in the area of logistics (transportation, communication, and aerial surveys). Continuous dialogue between civilian and military authorities and participation in joint exercises will help to ensure that military involvement enhances rather than displaces the influence of national health authorities in emergency situations.
Ö Don't overreact to media reports for urgent international assistance. Despite the tragic images we are shown, get the complete picture and wait until pleas for aid have been formally issued.
PAHO/WHO, A. Waak