Hope and Struggle: Understanding International Development

Haiti: Effectiveness of humanitarian assistance one year on

By Zack Larmand, Staff Writer

Flickr via DVIDSHUB

As the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake passes us by, it’s worth a moment to reflect on one of the largest relief efforts ever undertaken in international development. Although many of us are aware that an earthquake devastated Haiti, few of us understand what it takes to re-develop an entire nation and how this fascinating process occurs.

To discover these issues, I will first explain the idea of human rights and the roles played by International Non Governmental Organizations or INGO’s in relation to development. Ted Richmond, an Instructor at Ryerson University, will then helps us to look into some successes and failures of Haiti’s relief and bring awareness to an issue that deserves far more of everybody’s attention.

A Look into Humanitarian Assistance

Understanding International Development begins with understanding the tasks that must be completed in order for development to take place. One then must ask the question, what is humanitarian assistance?

Humanitarian assistance is traditionally a response to a temporary natural disaster, such as floods, fires, famines, or earthquakes (Haiti). The Penguin dictionary of International Relations also argues for social and endemic disasters to be included.

The end result of these disasters is the loss of resources to meet basic human needs. One could then assume that the tasks needed for development mirrors the tasks needed for disaster relief. However, the Penguin dictionary’s definition takes the idea of humanitarian assistance one step further.

It suggests the idea of humanitarian assistance may be tied to a ‘shared humanity’, meaning that helping to fulfill those basic needs is not a voluntary act of charity but a human right.

Traditionally in Canada, religion helped us to act out of charity, not just because people were in need, but because it was the right thing to do. The key word in the last sentence was right. It’s key because when one puts human in front of it, you create human right.

Human Rights: The notion that human beings have rights because they are human beings and not because they are citizens of State X or State Y is, in terms of the practice of international relations, a relatively new right.

The dictionary of International Relations makes us realize that citizenship to a state was and likely still is a pre-condition for attaining anything close to a human right. In the field of international development, the focus on the ground is often based solely around basic human needs.

But when it comes to raising money for the developing world, nothing has proven more effective than religion. Faith has been one of the most effective vehicles for converting empathy into humanitarian aid.

Because of this history, the faith-based sector has the potential to provide competitive and efficient aid, and in so doing are retrieving funds from those non-religious. A very humorous and celebrity filled promotional video made by Judd Apatow and NOT approved by the American Jewish World Service speaks to this point quite succinctly:

That being said, religion in certain regions comes into question. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is a direct example of this potential conflict. The name Red Crescent represents that organizations understanding human life and aid relief efforts will trump religious tension.

An article in The Economist called “How Much Evil Can You Not See?

The author discusses the issue of the Red Cross and their “see no evil” policy. By being politically neutral or “seeing no evil,” the Red Cross is allowed to go places where outspoken organizations such as MSF (Doctors without Borders) are not allowed. The outspoken MSF policy is seen as “bearing witness” to evil atrocity. This of course is opposed to the Red Cross’s “see no evil” policy.

I had the opportunity to interview Ted Richmond, Instructor of NGO’s and World Governance at Ryerson University’s Chang School, to better understand the issues surrounding NGOs. The following is his take on why certain INGO’s choose not to advocate and turn somewhat of a blind eye to atrocity:

INGOs are involved in many different fields internationally, such as humanitarian relief, human rights, environmental issues and combating global poverty through local development activities.

As well, there are many different types of INGOs. We usually think of well-known ones, such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace or Doctors without Borders, but the list should also include anti-corruption watchdog organizations, think tanks, trade unions, international women’s organizations and international associations of Aboriginal peoples.

Almost all of these INGOs are involved in some kind of advocacy—popularizing their issues and creating pressure for solutions. But for INGOs involved in humanitarian relief activities, the role of advocacy is more difficult. Their volunteers or their leadership will certainly have opinions about the causes of the starvation or pandemics or armed conflicts they are witnessing.

But if they speak out they may compromise their basic work of helping the people who are suffering. They may be evicted from the country, or prevented access to the areas of greatest need. Or their workers or the people using their services may be targeted for violent reprisals.

Two of the largest and best-known INGOs involved in humanitarian relief efforts are the International Committee of the Red Cross / Red Crescent (ICRC) and Medecines Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Both have struggled with the issue of advocacy.

In fact, MSF grew out of a split with ICRC on the need to speak out or ‘bear witness’ to the causes of atrocities, and later went through further organizational debates and changes about this same issue. More details about their positions on advocacy can be found on the websites of the respective organizations.

In my view, it is important to recognize that the differences between ICRC and MSF are not as great as some might suggest. Both have brave, dedicated and selfless workers risking disease and dodging bullets to bring aid to those in greatest need.

Both are cautious about public advocacy so as to not compromise their work or their workers. ICRC practices ‘silent diplomacy’, expressing its concerns to United Nations personnel and media and other players behind the scenes. MSF is committed to bearing witness selectively, when judged to be necessary.

Perhaps there is room for both types of approaches to the wide-spread need for humanitarian relief in today’s global conditions.

Show more