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.
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,