The Humanitarian Times

November 15, 1999


- GOV/REBEL FIGHTING IN EX-ZAIRE THREATENS FRAGILE PEACE AGREEMENT: the Movement of Liberation of Congo is counter-attacking govt forces in NE of Dem. Rep. of Congo; another group - the Congolese Rally for Democracy - says the recent Govt offensive nullifies the recent multi- party peace accord.

- QUAKE (7.2 MAG) IN TURKEY ON FRIDAY KILLS ~500, INJURES 3,000 & incites hundreds to flee region in Bolu many or most public buildings & in Kaynasli 85-90% of buildings collapsed.

- THAILAND FORCIBLY DEPORTS 4,000+ BURMESE REFUGEES, FORCING 8,000+ others into hiding in Thai jungles, afraid of persecution should they be handed over to the Burma military.

- NEW INDONESIAN PRES WAHID SAID LAST WEEK HE WILL PARDON SUHARTO, the former dictator, if Suharto were to be found guilty after the Indonesian govt looks into his history of corruption during 30 years of brutal rule.

- ECUADOR PREPARES FOR ASH & LAVA EXPLOSION FROM GUAGUA PICHINCHA volcano which the local Geophysical Institute claims is accumulating great energy & heat.

- DEATH TOLL IN INDIA'S CYCLONE NOW BELIEVED TO BE OVER 10,000, mostly in Jagatsinghpur district. FAO reports that "the scale of the devastation was so large that over a week after the cyclone, hundreds of villages still remain isolated from urgently needed food & medical supplies, depending entirely on food air drops."

- 176 NATIONAL RED CROSS SOCIETIES, THE RC FEDERATION, ICRC, & GOVTS met earlier this month & end of Oct, discussing the future of the Red Cross, the use of the emblem, the problem of the lack of understanding of international humanitarian law - particularly in America, & the decline in volunteerism (due in part to the decline of collective volunteering in previously communist countries). Red Cross research has found that "the worldwide volunteer force of Red Cross & Red Crescent has dropped by over 50%, from 220m to 105m."

- NIGERIA DELTA REG. VIOLENCE WORSENS AS 1,000 IJAW ATTACK BAYELSA TOWN arming themselves with automatic weapons, & killing 10 police.

- TOOLS OF FEMALE CIRCUMCISION HANDED IN BY WOMEN IN SPECIAL CEREMONY in eastern Guinea (W Africa), a breakthrough program for rights groups trying to overcome traditions of female genital mutilation still common in many northern African countries, & even increasing in some countries, like Tanzania. (source: BBC).

- NEW HUMAN RIGHTS SOCIETY OF UZBEKISTAN CLAIMS GOVT TORTURES thousands of political prisoners as common practice, leading to dozens of deaths this past year, for the crime of free expression.

- BUSINESS HUMANITARIAN FORUM, NOV 1 & 2, EXPLORED PARTNERSHIPS IN AID in WashDC conference. One speaker, from Enron Corp, said that there is not, overall, a lack of equity in which to invest in countries in crisis, or post-conflict, but a lack of debt (draw). The World Bank's James Wolfensohn expressed his view that multinational engagement in countries attempting to reconstruct immediately post-crisis is "not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of good business" (assets are inexpensive) & in the process helping to re-employ & train the affected populations.


- UPCOMING WORKSHOP: "MORTALITY PATTERNS IN COMPLEX EMERGENCIES," on Nov 18 in Wash DC, convened by the National Research Council, expanding on '97 workshop & '98 report, "The Demography of Forced Migration" (Reed, Haaga, Keely); followed this week, on Fri Nov. 19, by the NRC Roundtable on the Demography of Forced Migration. Contact Holly Reed at the National Research Council:


- CONF: "THE INTERNET & FOREIGN POLICY "-- INCLUDING INFO WARFARE, landmines, Dec 10, San Francisco, organized by the World Affairs Council; check:





In contrast to the normal practice in this section of reviewing recent books, this issue recalls 3 older, landmark books on humanitarian aid.

- RANDOLPH KENT'S "ANATOMY OF DISASTER RELIEF, INTL NETWORK IN ACTION" (1987, London: Pinter Pub) canvasses a wide history of disaster experience, drawing on citations from may intl. organizations. Kent introduces the reader to evolution of thinking, & to "demarcations between types of disasters & their impacts. For example, earthquakes rarely result in crop losses, & the afflicted do not normally require massive food aid; however in tidal waves or floods, food aid is usually a requirement." This book is strong in honestly describing the many layers of tensions & conflicting perspectives within the community of relief agencies. For example: "there is always latent tension in any major relief operation between an agency's staff in the field & staff at headquarters." Kent explains why agencies appear rigidly independent, each having its own individual cosmologies, operating procedures & restrictions imposed by their support (funding) base.

Kent writes, "Disasters are marked by uncertainty.. ... prone to serious distortions & contradictory evidence." As a result of ambiguities about what are overall priorities, "individual agencies base their assessments of needs on what they had the capacity to do," i.e. they shape their relief response largely around what they know they can do, rather than what is most needed. Kent notes some of the lessons of the "rush" to set up relief centers, for example where placement induces famine victims to leave their villages to travel far to access help. "the journey to the relief stations merely intensified their problem." [Kent has recently served as coordinator for UN humanitarian aid in Rwanda & Kosovo & is currently the UN coordinator in Somalia].

- "DISASTERS & DEVELOPMENT" BY FRED CUNY, PUBLISHED BY INTERTECT PRESS (first printed in 1983 & reprinted in 1994, sponsored by Oxfam), was one of the first professional books to apply common sense to intl. humanitarian assistance. Cuny observes that aid too often creates greater dependency among victims on local patrons, reinforcing patterns of underdevelopment. Drawing on experiences from earthquakes (Guatemala), complex emergencies (Bangladesh, Biafra) & refugee camps, Cuny argues that external aid organizations need to reorient their approach to standpoint of the affected community, appreciate & build on the basic resources still available in these communities, & use reconstruction as a process to empower the poor & marginalized so that they can themselves control hazards & mitigate future disasters. In Cuny's experience, "the greatest resource following a disaster is the collective motivation of the people." Therefore, "in the aftermath of a natural disaster, delivery systems must be decentralized to take the aid directly to the victims' community." One corollary: "Survivors of a natural disaster have a need to stay on site and should be moved only if a life-threatening situation still exists." Cuny diagrams practical ways to protect people from hazards, while observing: "Few foreign agencies have any medical impact on disaster recovery,, as the (presumed clinical) needs they are prepared to meet are non-existent or have disappeared by the time the agencies arrive. Often the most effective means of combating disease is through environmental engineering rather than medical methods; yet most disaster assistance has focused on meeting medical needs of victims & has generally ignored environmental needs." In a section on flood hazards, he writes, "Not only do we contribute to the causes of floods [i.e. farming, deforestation induce runoff], but reckless building in vulnerable areas, poor watershed management & failure to control the flooding also help create the disaster condition." Among the ways to use aid as a change mechanism, Cuny was also one of the first to discuss the importance of re-stimulating the market system in recovery - a means to achieving re-employment, livelihood & food security. [Cuny was killed in Chechnya, trying to provide practical protection to civilians under Russian attack].

- ANDREW NATSIOS' "US FOREIGN POLICY & THE 4 HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Humanitarian Relief in Complex Emergencies" (1997, WashDC: Center for Strategic & Intl Studies) draws heavily on the author's experience as coordinator of USG humanitarian aid from 1988 to 1993 where he learned that "the truth is that most complex emergencies receive little media attention at any stage. Although photojournalism can sometimes influence policy-makers, what has not been carefully studies is when & how that influence occurs. The relationship between gruesome media reporting & disaster response is by no means exact." The author emphasizes that the greatest threats in crises are from food insecurity & disease, not violence. Skeptical about soft-aid programs, the author argues "we do not have the knowledge of what causes states to collapse, the resources to carry out nation-building programs even if we did understand the causes, nor the mechanisms" to reconstruct states.

Therefore "we must settle for more modest objectives: stop the high mortality rates & create a level of food security & public health that will give people a chance to construct their own stabile political orders over the long term." Natsios cautions against high expectations for disarming combatants: "the only truly successful disarmament efforts have taken place after a conflict has ended, a peace agreement signed, & soldiers & militia alike demobilized & the incentives for keeping a weapon have diminished. Instead of disarmament, the objective should be to establish enough local security for people to be relatively safe in their own homes & villages, for markets to function without threat of looting" & mechanisms to mediate disputes. The author calls for greater collaboration in humanitarian aid between the European Union & the US. Based on extensive work with the military he observes: "Military assets should be employed in a complex emergency intervention only when they enjoy a comparative advantage over other humanitarian actors. .. ..Substituting the military for relief agencies when not needed is neither wise nor efficient because it is the most expensive alternative."

- Also of interest: the "Populations in Danger" series by Medecins Sans Frontieres. Each book included in-depth case studies (e.g, Burundi, Chechnya, Sudan, Liberia, etc.) along with thematic pieces on health, protection, intl. law. Titles included "World In Crisis" (1997); "Populations in Danger, 1995" & "Life Death & Aid" (1993). [The MSF International headquarters is in Brussels]


The Humanitarian Times