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Crises in a new world order. Challenging the humanitarian project
by Oxfam International
Feb 2012
International humanitarian system will not cope with increased case load without going local.
The international humanitarian response system will fail to cope with the expected rise in the number of people exposed to crises unless there are more resources closer to where disasters happen and there is more investment in preventing and reducing the risk of disasters, warned international agency Oxfam today.
In a new report, Crises in a New World Order, Oxfam said that while governments’ and agencies’ response to emergencies has greatly improved it still remains ‘too little, too late’ and is often determined by the vagaries of media and political interest rather than level of human need.
“Coping with the expected strains on the humanitarian system will mean a shift from global to local. We are already seeing the center of humanitarian action moving away from the Western world to the local and the national but this move needs to accelerate.
International aid agencies cannot just pitch up, patch up and push-off, they also have to ensure that people and countries are better prepared to withstand future shocks. Having local organizations already on the ground are primed to go will increase both the speed and the efficiency of the aid effort and ultimately will save more lives,” said Jane Cocking OxfamGB’s Humanitarian Director.
This shift is vital as significant demands will be placed on the humanitarian system through the expected rise in the number of people exposed to disasters, the rising number of weather-related disasters and the failure to resolve conflicts adequately and turn round failed states.
Humanitarian work is effective in an emergency but more emphasis should be placed on preventing crises escalating. Not only would it save lives, but it would also save money. The UN estimated that in Niger in 2005 it cost $1 to save a malnourished child’s life. Once Niger’s food crisis was in full swing it cost $80.
Too little has been done to prevent and reduce the risk of disaster. Aid to programs that reduce the risk of disaster stood at only 0.5 per cent of total aid spending in 2009. National governments have committed themselves to this work by signing up to the international agreements on disaster risk reduction. While many have developed policies and legislation too little effective action has happened.
Bangladesh is an example of the importance of this work. In 1991 a cyclone struck Bangladesh killing an estimated 140,000 people. A similar sized cyclone hit the country in 2007 killing 3,406 people, still a high death toll but much reduced due in part to the government’s efforts at implementing early warnings and evacuating people to safety.
“Shifting more money to preventing and reducing the risk of disaster makes eminent sense but it does not mean taking it away from urgent humanitarian response. It is not the case of either or. We will still need the funds to immediately respond to dire human crises,” said Cocking.
This vision of a new humanitarian world is fraught with challenges. Ensuring the quality of aid and the principles that guide humanitarian action will not be easy.
Over the last two decades a great deal of effort has been done to lay down minimum standards and quality of humanitarian aid. National governments and local organisations will need a great deal of support, and in some cases encouragement, to adhere to these standards.
The more fundamental challenge will be upholding the principles of impartiality – aid based on need - and independence – aid free of political interest. Many Western donors tend to focus on their spheres of influence and interest which may not coincide always with meeting human need. Non-Western donors are now becoming more important funders of humanitarian operations. But they too have their own particular interests.
For example the Arab and Muslim countries in 2011 gave generously to Somalia, Libya and Yemen. These decisions reflect political and cultural affinities but also raise questions of how aid is to be targeted to human need.
New entrants into the operations of humanitarian aid will pose challenges to impartiality and independence. The increased involvement of the private sector in supporting the aid effort is welcome and has many benefits but running aid programs themselves will challenge humanitarian principles given that commercial interest sits uncomfortably with putting human need first and foremost.
* Access the report via the link below.

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Get an Afghan development strategy
by InterAction & agencies
Marking 10 years since U.S. began military operations in Afghanistan, Samuel A. Worthington, president of InterAction said there have been very few details on what a civilian-led development strategy in Afghanistan would look like.
InterAction is the largest alliance of U.S.-based international NGOs and many members have been working in Afghanistan for decades, on projects ranging from health to education.
“The United States must devise a thoughtful development strategy for Afghanistan that will benefit Afghans for years to come,” added Worthington.
The past three decades of war and instability have had a devastating impact on Afghan civilians. Hundreds of thousands have been killed; millions forced from their homes and the country’s infrastructure and state institutions are weak. Afghanistan is one of the world’s poorest countries; life expectancy is 45 and one in five Afghan children dies before their fifth birthday.
Currently, a drought across the north, northeastern and western parts of Afghanistan has affected nearly 2.7 million people, according to the World Food Program.
There needs to be long-term solutions to help the Afghan population cope with future food and other crises, including natural disasters that often afflict the country, InterAction said.
“Only by developing Afghanistan’s economic infrastructure and long-term capacity to deal with such crises, will the country be able to withstand these environmental shocks,” Worthington said.
There have been some improvements over the past decade and these gains must be sustained. For example, a “Back to School” campaign increased school enrollment from 900,000 under Taliban rule to 6.7 million today, including 2.4 million girls. Access to health services has expanded from nine to 64 percent of the population and over 90 percent of children under five have been vaccinated against polio.
Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation process is fragile and civil society groups, including those representing women, must be included in this process.
“The hard-fought gains of many women and other vulnerable groups must be preserved and extended, particularly when the spotlight is no longer on Afghanistan,” said Worthington.
More than half of Afghanistan’s families live in extreme poverty, by Sarah Jacobs. (The Independent)
Leila is watching her baby intently, as his mouth moves trying to swallow the small blob of yellow peanut paste Dr Tayab has spooned gently into his mouth.
She sits on the floor of her one-room mud house and rocks his tiny, malnourished body on her lap. After a tense pause, the baby’s neck strains and he’s sick into a cloth the doctor holds up to his chin.
Leila holds her bundled son, Mohammed, to her face and begins to cry. Her voice is desperate. “Every time he has food he is sick. I’m so scared he’s going to die.”
She hides her face in the blankets wrapped around her son’s body, as Dr Tayab calmly prepares the next spoon of therapeutic food and begins the process again.
Leila’s fear is well-founded. Last winter, she and her husband lost their last baby – she says because the winter was so cold. The year before, her other son fell ill with pneumonia and died within a few days.
Her story is one you hear repeated across Afghanistan. More than half of the country’s families here live in extreme poverty, and this year a severe drought and high food prices have made it even harder for parents to afford enough food to feed their children properly.
The destruction is shockingly visible. Driving through Balkh province in the north, frozen rocky ground has replaced last year’s cotton and wheat fields. In the homes, most families have little to give their children except for bread and tea. For as with Leila’s husband, any chance of finding work has disappeared with the crops.
Food prices have also rocketed. The cost of wheat – the basic staple for most families – has increased by 60% since last year. Vegetables, pulses, milk or meat – foods that would give children the nutrients they need – are way out of reach for most.
Huge progress has been made in Afghanistan over the past ten years, as the international community has pumped aid into the country. Child mortality has halved, with one in ten children now dying before the age of five, compared to one in five in 2001. Maternal mortality has also plummeted, from one mum in 11 dying from issues relating to pregnancy or childbirth, to one in 50.
But these successes are under threat from the damage caused by malnutrition. More than 30,000 children already die every year in Afghanistan because they don’t get the nutritious food they need to survive. Weakened by relentless hunger, their immune systems collapse and they are unable to survive the basic diseases that finally kill them, like pneumonia or diarrhoea.
Thankfully many malnourished children will survive – and get healthy again – especially if they’ve been able to get help from local health workers and doctors.
But there is a crucial window to get help. If a child is malnourished before the age of two or in the womb – a result of pregnant women not eating enough nutritious food – the resulting damage is likely to last their whole lives. Their bodies and brains won’t develop properly, resulting in a condition called stunting. This leaves children physically shorter, with lower IQs, more likely to drop out of school early, and more likely to die. In Afghanistan, this is the case for a staggering three million children.
According to Save the Children, nearly half a billion children’s lives will be blighted by malnutrition over the next 15 years if world leaders don’t act to tackle hunger. The good news, it says, is that the solutions are known, proven, and not expensive. Basic things like fortifying food – as we do routinely in rich countries, and making sure mums are breastfeeding properly, will save millions of lives. Now we need the political will to make it happen.
Here in Afghanistan, much of the hope comes with a growing army of volunteer health workers, who are teaching mums the importance of breastfeeding, nutrition, family planning and safe childbirth.
The challenges could seem overwhelming in a place where food is so scarce. But enter a smoky mud room in Balkh, and all that changes. Around the edge of the room sit 20 women and their children, listening to Masuri, an exuberant health worker trained by Save the Children, talk to them about cooking. Individually, each woman struggles to feed her family. But here each has brought one ingredient – carrots, rice, potatoes, egg, oil or salt – to the shared pot.
In this village, under the beady eye of Masuri, the mums are able to cook regular, nutritious meals for themselves and their kids.

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