By November 17, 2012 Read More →

IASC-OCHA meeting report (2010 floods in Pakistan)

IASC-OCHA meeting report

(2010 floods in Pakistan)

This week, at the IASC-OCHA meetings in New York, Manuel Bessemer, OCHA’s Head of Office in Pakistan over the past two years, briefed us on the challenges of helping the Government of Pakistan to coordinate the emergency response to last year’s massive floods.

The magnitude of the floods was remarkable as Mr Bessemer reported it was impossible in some places to see where the land stopped and the Arabian Sea began. Although there were only 2000 deaths (although this is, of course 2000 too many), around 18 million people were affected, and their lives changed, as a result of the flood.

Some of the resulting concerns were land issues: who owns what when everything is under water and there is no access. Access was another. The humanitarian aid was there, but the roads were impassable. Garnering permission from the Pakistan military to use the air space for relief was a lengthy process. Coordinating multiple UN agencies and NGOs and responsible organisations within Pakistan, such as the National and Provincial Disaster Management Authorities, was another trial. Secondary disasters such as water borne diseases in the south of Pakistan where water was unable to drain away, was a serious health issue.

As is usually the case in disasters, coordinating the different humanitarian actors to ensure the best service delivery is a challenge and, Bessemer explained, the personalities of those directly in the field made an enormous impact. An affirmation, in seems, of the importance of offering proper support to humanitarian actors. In the UN network, we spend oceans (pun intended) of money on logistics. And critical it is. However, there is another area, just as critical, that often is positioned as an afterthought or a tangential issue. Consider the character, strength, resolve, inner vulnerabilities and strengths of those who are on the field, and of those within the communities we enter.

The recent OCHA report ‘Stay and Deliver: Good practice for humanitarians in complex security environments (Policy and Study Series, 2011)‘ identifies one of the core reasons for conflict in complex emergencies, as the perceived lack of adherence to the core principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality. This perception is by people within the local community, often towards humanitarian aid workers and the organisations they represent. “Humanitarian organisations must become more professional, more disciplined and more principled in how they act and how they enforce principles and standards in high risk circumstances” (p viii).

The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University/ Organisation is a new actor in the area of disaster preparedness, response and relief. However, considering the close ties Brahma Kumaris centres have with their local communities, the teachers and practitioners within the organisation may have something unique to offer. They are commonly known for a broad expertise in non-sectarian, non-denominational peace-building, meditation, inner empowerment, and creating methods to effectively strengthen the more subtle aspects of ones character, with substantial and tangible results.

There is necessarily no simple solution. It is as complex as the problem, I suggest. However the subject of our humanitarian principles and properly and holistically supporting our staff who are dealing with these complex emergencies, is one that must be addressed. Being in the field, as a humanitarian actor, requires a unique combination of internal flexibility and strength of character to deal with the broad cultural perspectives, political leanings of the field environment, as well as the individual personalities and intimate situations one invariably finds oneself in. And all stakeholders and interested parties need to participate in this discussion: managers, field-workers, community representatives. Everyone.

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