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close this bookMeeting the Humanitarian Challenge - UNV's Work Between Conflict and Development (United Nations Volunteers, 44 p.)
close this folderCurrent concerns and future perspectives
View the documentDrawing from experience in the field
View the documentReducing scope for conflict: demobilisation
View the documentParticipatory peace-building dynamics
View the documentPromoting human rights and education for peace
View the documentDisaster prevention and preparedness at community level
View the documentPutting human development back on the agenda
View the documentAdministrative support to UNVs in humanitarian assignments
View the documentH... for Humanity: serving a purpose... for millions in need

Drawing from experience in the field

The humanitarian/peace/democratisation complex obviously constitutes a major present and future opportunity for constructive social development. The humanitarian relief and rehabilitation dimension offers great possibilities for UNV and UNDP, and provides strategic entry for subsequent graduation to longer-term sustainable development,

Once a major programme opportunity arises, rapid networking with the Country Offices and supportive organisations (including the traditional UNV Cooperating Organizations and newer theme-specific partners) can lead to greatly expanded UNV delivery capacity, as witnessed by the mobilisation for the Cambodia elections. Major programme opportunities for UNV can devolve from major UN agenda issues, especially arising out of Security Council preoccupations. Mention has already been made in this document of the human rights area in terms of the services which UNV is beginning to mobilise.

After a couple of years of increasingly intensive UNV involvement in humanitarian assistance, a number of issues merit further consideration. First and foremost is that the feedback received from the UNV specialists themselves is essential to any meaningful appreciation of the work they are actually doing. The feedback being received at present, as reflected in this document, gives only a partial idea of the extent to which the UNV specialists have in fact achieved considerable humanitarian results, as confirmed by visiting missions to the field and by the positive comments of user agencies. For a more detailed account it will be essential that UNV specialists (and their supervisors) systematically and regularly foreward periodic review reports.

Experience already gleaned from UNV involvement in various humanitarian assistance programmes demonstrates that capable and dedicated UNV specialists at local levels can:

• Provide support staff to local emergency relief coordinating units.

Examples: Rwanda, Lesotho, Kenya, Burundi, Somalia and Sudan

• Provide the necessary skills and local managerial capacity to support effective access to afflicted populations.

Examples: Iraq, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Somalia and ex-Yugoslavia

• Accelerate outreach to people in areas not presently receiving adequate assistance, through strengthened activities of the UN Agencies.

Examples: Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania

• Reduce mortality among young children, women, and the vulnerable; restore primary health care and other basic services (water, social, agricultural, veterinary, etc.), and accelerate return or resettlement of displaced communities.

Examples: Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda

• Develop income-generating and re-training activities for demobilised local militia/military and facilitate their reintegration into civil society, pre-empting risks of marginalisation and future destabilisation.

Examples: Eritrea, Somalia, Liberia and Mozambique,

• Assist in registration for return, and in logistical and technical arrangements for resettlement and repatriation of refugees, and internally displaced persons.

Examples: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia

• Monitor emerging human rights and humanitarian issues in major risk areas, and in areas of current strife, as they relate to possible UN and UNV roles.

Examples: Rwanda, Liberia and ex-Yugoslavia

There are two essential conditions for UNV specialists to be successful in these endeavours. One is that in addition to being carefully selected, the UNV specialists must be given a comprehensive cultural and country orientation at the beginning of their assignments; this should also entail an intensive local language training course, especially for those UNV specialists deployed in postings involving community interaction. Other training which may be required may include: participatory methods; recruitment and management of national staff; negotiation and mediation; security matters, personal safety, and communications. The other condition is that sustainable impact can only be brought about through association with local national co-workers, so that a dynamic of self-reliance is built in all UNV-supported activities.

During the past two years, a high percentage of UNV Specialists have undertaken assignments in war-zone areas such as Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia and the former Yugoslavia. What has emerged from their periodic field reports is the need to incorporate personal stress and trauma management into pre - departure orientation/training. To date one group has availed of this type of pre-departure orientation through a special course organised in Geneva by the Humanitarian Relief Unit, for UNVs undertaking missions in various parts of the former Yugoslavia. The course proved to be highly successful and of immeasurable value to the volunteers when they reached the field.

Furthermore, the need for UNV specialists to have access to post-trauma counselling, should they be involved in a security incident, is one which is very much acknowledged by the HRU, and it is a policy which UNV is endeavouring to implement whenever and wherever possible. In fact, many UNV specialists who spend more than 3-6 monthsin an environment of continuous conflict and instability have reported that they would have benefited greatly from access to a qualified post-trauma counsellor after their assignment finished.

As UNV further develops its humanitarian capacity, new programmes are being continually developed. Many uncertainties remain, of which security concerns are of special importance. UNV is developing a security assessment methodology for determining the risks inherent in deployment in some areas, so that candidates and their co-sponsoring organisations can be better informed and prepared.

As UNV further develops its humanitarian capacity, new programmes are being continually developed. Many uncertainties remain, of which security concerns are of special importance

Reducing scope for conflict: demobilisation

UNV could also consider downstream linkages to highly localised initiatives of preventive "diplomacy", mediation or conflict pre-emption. Another area relates to demobilisation of the military/militia, and the issues that emerge in the relationship between the military and civil society in developing countries undergoing democratisation and structural adjustment.

As the military disengage from government and hand over to civilian administration or fragment factionally under societal collapse, a challenge is posed, more especially if the forces of micro-nationalism appear on the scene. If and when peace can be restored, how can the military return to barracks, and at the same time be given a constructive role to play in the nation's welfare? How can it be seen to play a positive and productive role, beyond the domain of national security, but sufficient in scope and responsibility to obviate the temptation to usurp civil government? And in the context of demobilisation, how can discharged military personnel be re-integrated meaningfully into civilian life, rather than becoming a destabilising force? These are the challenges UNV specialists are facing in new programmes in this context, underway or beginning in Liberia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Eritrea and Somalia.

To respond effectively requires a new dialogue between governments, military leaders and relief and development agencies, Innovative programmes can be considered to take advantage of the highly organised and disciplined ranks of military manpower to implement infrastructural projects. Donors and military could combine to carry out programmes to repair deteriorating urban infrastructure, renew services, and to extend them to the urban poor (low-cost housing, roads, water and sanitation services, garbage collection, etc.). Army engineering and health personnel could similarly fill gaps being felt as a result of cutbacks on sectoral ministries. A transition phase could witness the military budget compensating for structural adjustment austerity on sectoral programmes, until a gradual re-equilibrium could be restored through the shift of resources from defence spending to socio-economic sectors,

Military personnel may represent an organised work-force, and the potential to capitalise on inculcated discipline (if it remains) for carrying out reconstruction or environmental programmes can be a major advantage. The military usually also contain a range of skills and training (medical, engineering, logistical, catering, etc.) which can be relatively easily converted into civilian use. On the other hand, failure to deal satisfactorily with the conversion of demobilised troops will not only accentuate unemployment, but also shift the burden of family income-generating responsibility increasingly to women. In the short-term it is likely to contribute to family breakdown, female-headed single-parent households, and various social problems.

UNVs have also been involved in labour-intensive public works programmes, in small-scale enterprise development at community-level; and in community-based participatory environmental programmes that could be pulled together to dovetail with relief/rehabilitation programmes involving those demobilised.

Since the military are most often barracked in urban areas, the brunt of demobilisation may fall unevenly on already over-stretched urban infrastructure and services, even if, as is often the case in LDCs, the soldiers have been recruited from rural areas (and may contain a large percentage of women, as in Ethiopia, or children, as in Liberia). If they have rural backgrounds, there may be obvious advantages for post-encampment facilitation of their return to rural areas, with e.g. farming start-up packages in lieu of weapons under a disarmament trade-off. Only in more advanced economies could one envisage making use of such labour reserves in urban areas for industrialisation strategies.

It is worthwhile to note the success of food-for-work programmes in Eritrea, since the end of the war, in contributing to the overall rehabilitation of the country. Presently there are two major programmes being implemented which UNDP along with other agencies has been supporting. The first is a programme which employs several thousand demobilised soldiers on infrastructural projects, concentrating-on road and bridge building. The second is a national tree planting programme which also involves ex-fighters, to help combat the serious environmental problems Eritrea has in this area.

UNVs have also been involved in labour-intensive public works programmes, in small-scale enterprise development at community-level; and in community-based participatory environmental programmes that could be pulled together to dovetail with relief/rehabilitation programmes involving those demobilised. Given these and related concerns, UNV has assisting with the demobilisation of military personnel through camp management and other services such as vocational training, under ONUMOZ in Mozambique, and UNOMIL in Liberia.

A Japanese "Blue Beret" and UNV's Program Manager Joao Kol, confer in Mozambique

Participatory peace-building dynamics

UNV humanitarian activities with UN operational agencies and NGOs in complex protracted emergencies often require comprehensive security cover, and the success of such relief/rehabilitation programmes will often depend on parallel conflict resolution approaches at various levels of the affected communities, and the deployment of UN peace-keeping forces.

UNV's participatory development activities could be expanded to link into a network of community-oriented micro-conflict resolution resources. This is important since the rapid expansion of demand for UNV specialists for humanitarian programmes has come, not so much from emergencies arising out of sudden-onset natural disasters, but from complex/compound emergencies of societies in turmoil.

Urgently erecting a camp for Rwandan refugees

David Costanza from the US, as part of his UNV Electoral/Civic Education portfolio in Cambodia, lectured Cambodian police and soldiers on womens' rights. His team produced brochures on aids and on rehydration, and recommended follow-up projects in health care and adult literacy.

UNVs' work in humanitarian relief can also be complemented by parallel peace-building efforts. There are many ways in which UNVs have been supporting conflict resolution dynamics:

• in helping local communities overcome confrontation
• in breaching barriers and taboos to communication and broader participation
• in promoting civic education, especially for democratisation
• in training local leaders in mediation and negotiation
• in providing opportunities for collective reconstruction which bring people together in achieving common goals

Work along these lines has been undertaken by UNV specialists and field workers in, for example, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, and the former-Yugoslavia.

Promoting human rights and education for peace

Much humanitarian assistance undertaken with the support of UN volunteer specialists today relates to consequences of conflicts within states, between parties engaged in warfare against the state or other parties. These conflicts where one or more of the parties is not a member of the international community are increasingly prosecuted with complete disregard for human life and for humanitarian law. There is nothing "civil" about today's civil wars.

The dramatic increase in belligerence towards third parties with humanitarian motives is of great concern. The denial or restriction of access to non-combatant populations under siege or otherwise suffering from the effects of non-international conflict is already a serious enough constraint to deal with, especially for volunteers. Actual harassment, hostility, or physical assault on humanitarian aid workers or convoys is profoundly contemptuous of humanity as a whole. UNV specialists have been occasionally intercepted or detained by armed militia, albeit later released.

Education on the principles of humanitarian law must become part of a wider education-for-peace endeavour inculcating humanitarian values from kindergarten upwards. Ignorance of humanitarian principles, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention (and Protocol II, 1977) on the protection of civilians, cannot be allowed as an excuse for abuses or atrocities conducted in time of conflict by non-state parties.

Wherever rising social, ethnic, or other tensions increase the likelihood of conflict emerging, intensive publicity and special educational programmes should be systematically promoted. In fact dissemination of the principles is an obligation contained in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Protocols. The international community should dedicate resources to a stand-by fund to co-finance special programmes in such cases.

At the local level, neutral international volunteers could be brought-in to work with local volunteers in mixed UNV teams to proselytise for peace and respect for human rights and humanitarian principles. The result should be an overwhelming social reprobation for inhumane, behaviour and practices. Parties to disputes must recognise that the application of humanitarian principles in the prosecution of their campaigns does not in itself advance or compromise the legitimacy of their cause. If conflict does break-out, at least social intolerance of inhumanity should serve to render human rights abuses less likely.

The initially incidental but pioneering work in which some UNVs have been involved at the grassroots in participatory programmes at community level, and requiring e.g. mediating between opposing groups, becomes increasingly relevant in a world of depleting resources faced with demographic pressures. Competition over environmental assets and resources is bound to add to social tensions. The advocacy and monitoring of human rights observance, combined with the promotion of inter-communal solutions to joint problems, will play an important part in maintaining the social harmony necessary for sustainable human development in situations of latent conflict.

Education on the principles of humanitarian law must become part of a wider education-for-peace endeavour inculcating humanitarian values from kindergarten upwards.

Disaster prevention and preparedness at community level

On the natural disaster preparedness and mitigation side, UNV is exploring the scope for joint programmes with regional, sub-regional and national disaster management centers, as well as support to National Committees established for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), in collaboration with UNDP and UN/DHA, Whether complex or natural, disasters strike hardest at the poorest: poverty alleviation is a major factor in reducing vulnerability to the effects of disasters. Equally however, experience shows that human and financial investment in disaster prevention, preparedness and mitigation is extremely cost-effective compared to the damage and destruction which otherwise ensue.

For several years UNVs have been directly involved in Disaster prevention and preparedness programmes. For example, in Kenya, UNV specialists are part of the UN Disaster Management Team in Nairobi which provides a vital link between humanitarian relief assistance and development.

UNV specialists are also working in various aspects of disaster preparedness and mitigation programmes to support institutions developing and implementing data-gathering and analysis programmes, e.g. epidemiological surveys, in early warning systems, or introducing new methods of construction for low-cost earthquake-resistant homes in Uganda, or storm-resistant housing in the Cook Islands.

Working out of such institutions, UNV specialists help draw attention to the needs for low-cost disaster prevention/mitigation (DPM) measures at municipal and community level in disaster-prone countries, using appropriate technologies and focusing on the most vulnerable low-income communities,

Similarly, UNV specialists and UNV field workers work to strengthen the technical and managerial capacity of local NGOs and community-based organisations in many countries, particularly under UNVs Participatory Development Programme ("DDS") for strengthening community-based organisations. This is active in a number of African and Asian countries and facilitates sub-regional exchange between experienced grassroots volunteer development workers.

Increasingly, UNVs could generate data on disaster preparedness at country and municipal level for the IDNDR, and in the same or at a subsequent stage, support the percolation of disaster management training (DMT) to sub-national level and community level.

Putting human development back on the agenda

As already mentioned, UNV specialists working in humanitarian assistance programmes are by and large working in complex emergency situations. The relief-to-rehabilitation-to-development "continuum" is especially intricate in these cases, with no clear dividing line between one phase and another, but rather many situations of parallel or overlapping dimensions.

The recent rise in the incidence of such complex emergencies, along with other factors relating to the end of the Cold War and the emergence of vast areas of Eurasia in economic and political transition, as well as global recession, have sapped resources that hitherto underpinned many development efforts in low-income countries. This fact adds urgency to the need to aggressively ensure that humanitarian assistance rapidly achieves its goals at minimum cost, and that the method and nature of aid delivery neither aggravates an emergency situation nor perpetuates dependency,

Insofar as UNV specialists most often work in an outreach mode, in direct contact with beneficiary populations and working with them if not also living amongst them, they offer the UN system a unique network of antennae that can listen to local needs and observe local capacities. UNV specialists very frequently go "beyond the call of duty", as recently attested to by the development impact of the after-hours activities of over 400 UNV district electoral supervisors in Cambodia (they helped in village reconstruction, community education, etc.). They can therefore play an important role in generating project ideas and stimulating new initiatives for the reintegration of uprooted populations into the social and economic development of the community and of the country.

Tracking the resources for resettlement of refugees in Guatemala

A multi-dimensional approach to the programming of UNV support to humanitarian relief and rehabilitation activities could induce a triple impact on local aspects of complex emergencies: UNV relief specialists could be teamed-up with two other kinds of UNV partners: participatory development (UNV/'DDS") specialists/field workers, and national UNVs. The twinning with UNV/DDS field workers would serve to ensure that even as early as during the delivery of emergency relief assistance, opportunities for restoring communities' coping mechanisms, and for igniting participatory development initiatives, would be identified and promoted. If participatory methods training (e.g. for rapid appraisal techniques) can be shared with UNV humanitarian relief specialists, they too can endeavour to integrate nationals (i.e. those who are members of assisted beneficiary communities) in leading the design, implementation and management of relief programmes.

There is no substitute for national leadership of the rehabilitation and development process. By proactively co-opting national partners (individuals for example as National UNVs, community-based organisations, and national NGOs) into the work undertaken by UNV specialists for UN system agencies' humanitarian programmes, one is also laying the foundations for national capacity and leadership to (re-) emerge in these fields. This kind of approach would also help better attune the currently rather interventionist nature of some international emergency programmes, and ensure greater acceptability and accountability to the local beneficiary communities. It would also concretely facilitate the forward drive towards sustainable development.

Guatemalan refugee women tend seedlings in a project run by refugees in Chiapas, Mexico.

Administrative support to UNVs in humanitarian assignments

When UNV specialists are introduced into a UN Agency's humanitarian programme or field administration for the first time, it greatly helps their integration if the Agency Headquarters concerned communicates to its field management personnel, that:

(a) UNV specialists are seasoned professionals in their own right (on average in mid-career), whose unique characteristic is a blend of altruistic motivation with a willingness to serve on non-salaried terms for a limited duration;

(b) UNV specialists seek to provide support complementary to the roles of other UN agency personnel, with a special niche to service the outreach of the programme to beneficiaries;

(c) UNV specialists are contracted for specific assignments with detailed job descriptions and duty stations: if circumstances warrant important modifications, these should be discussed between the UNV specialist and his/her supervisor, on arrival or later, and referred to UNV/HQ for approval before alteration (except in situations where extenuating emergency or security conditions warrant otherwise - where in any event UNV/HQ should be immediately informed);

(d) upon arrival at the duty station, supervisors and UNV specialists should draw-up a work-plan for the UNV specialist, which should be regularly revised;

(e) a comprehensive period of orientation should be arranged for each newly-arrived UNV specialist, if necessary including a period of local language training;

(f) a schedule of UNV periodic reports is established for each UNV specialist, and the cooperation of the UN Agency supervisor is essential in maintaining the frequency and timeliness of reporting.

Levels of overall support to UNV specialists must be ascertained before deployment: including for supervision, accommodation, equipment, transport, and the volunteer should be advised of the level of support to expect from the start of the assignment. Obviously, UNV specialist assignments need verifiable objectives and realistic expectations of success - they must also be sufficiently resourced. All UNVs going to the field need comprehensive country orientation material.

Adequacy and frequency of communication with outposted UNVs is an important factor in maintaining morale and facilitating success Communication facilities (radios, etc.) and guidelines on procedures should be provided systematically to UNV specialists in isolated postings. Additionally where security is concerned UNVs in high risk duty stations, should only be deployed with protective clothing and equipment (flak-jackets, helmets, radios).

In the course of their assignments, some UNVs may be delegated as agency authorities for petty cash, issuance of Travel Authorisations for other staff, procurement, inventory, management of sub-offices, organisation of convoys, etc. Such delegations of authority should be clearly specified and detailed in revised job descriptions.

Low-cost housing for refugees returning from Mexico to Guatemala

H... for Humanity: serving a purpose... for millions in need

The prevention/mitigation of complex emergencies entails the development of social/political early warning systems -country-based collection and analysis of information on emerging threats to social/national stability, along the lines of the Secretary-General's "Agenda for Peace". UNV, through human rights monitoring, as currently with UNHCR in Bosnia-Hercegovina or the UN Centre for Human Rights in Rwanda, can usefully promote a new understanding, definition, and structures for recognition and protection of minority rights. The efforts currently under way in Somalia, Rwanda, Central America, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina may herald some lessons for consideration, when analysed in due course. Other programme development work is focusing on UNV responses to needs for various kinds of logistic, food distribution, information management and other technical roles to address the effects of protracted complex emergencies.

UNV specialists and field workers may also help to:

• Identify and implement risk-reduction measures for humanitarian relief in hazardous zones

• Promote effective containment, settlement, and resolution of minor, local disputes impeding humanitarian efforts, through training of local relief committees and community leaders in community participation and conflict resolution techniques

• Promote democracy at the level of local communities, and provide impartial observation and verification

• Act as focal points for facilitating local integrated inter-agency and cross-mandate approaches to relief/rehabilitation efforts, whilst promoting direct local initiative and leadership in advancing the agenda toward longer-term sustainable recovery

• Initiate institutional recovery and strengthening of local capacities for project identification and implementation

The expansion of UNV support to humanitarian assistance has been phenomenal in the last three years: the total number of serving UNV specialists in this area is around 300, with funds now available for another 320 additional assignments. However over another 400 assignments are still on the drawing board, lacking funds. The full portfolio, including unfunded pipeline, now exceeds a potential 1,200 assignments. The number of humanitarian projects assisted has doubled in the last 12 months alone, with over 100 humanitarian projects being implemented at present and receiving the support of UNV specialists, and a further 40 in the pipeline.

It is perhaps the moment to recall the plight of the intended beneficiaries of such humanitarian activities: spread over 36 countries, the total population affected by UN system humanitarian programmes which avail of the dedication and services of UNV specialists is, estimated to exceed 45 million people.

UNV is working to translate its strategic approach into practice and weave its various themes (humanitarian assistance, community-focused initiatives, democratisation support, and technical co-operation) together into a fabric of support for more sustainable efforts that advance local agendas away from relief and dependency towards recovery, self-reliance: in short, lasting, people-centred development.