Saturday, March 28, 2009

Humanitarian Action Summit: Part II

It has been fascinating to see how this tight-knit group of humanitarian aid workers (about 200 in all) interact and to see what are the primary topics of interest. The humanitarian professionals participating in the Summit are field workers and managers, leaders of huge United Nations operations and field workers from small NGOs. 

Some of the main themes and issues that I took away from the meeting yesterday were:

1. The challenge of neutrality
For example, in many countries where conflict is taking place and humanitarian aid (HA) workers are needed there is a balance and a neutrality that must be maintained in order to allow the HA organization to stay there. This can sometimes mean collecting minimal data on the population, their experiences, etc. 

2. The politics of data use
By remaining neutral, publishing and releasing information to the global media that might taint the image of either governmental leaders or their allies might be reason to expel hard-working HA NGOs from the country. This can mean a choice between using data for advocacy purposes (e.g., to provide the world with information about rape and gender-based violence being used by national police and security forces) versus remaining silent and using that information solely to improve programmatic efforts on the ground.

3. Human resources gap
As in most health professions there is a large unmet need for HA health professionals ranging from surgeons to community health workers. As a result there was a large discussion of how to move tasks from higher to lower skilled health workers and what those implications would be for changing compensation patterns. For example, if nurses are given diagnostic or prescriptive privileges how might that increase their workload and require increased pay?

Overall, this Summit brings together a community with common goals and a diversity of perspectives. Their aim is to improve and protect the health and lives of populations that are victims of humanitarian emergencies and post-conflict situations. 

Reviewing changes since last year's Summit showed that progress in HA has clearly been made. However, as humanitarian emergencies increase in light of climate change and changing ecosocial conditions globally the HA responses will also need to evolve. For example, as land and water runs dry and populations are forced to leave their agriculturally-based labors for economic alternatives what impact might this have on conflict escalation? There is evidence that we are already seeing these impacts develop.

What questions or interests do you have in humanitarian assistance and aid? 

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