Humanitarian aid seen from Dakar, roadmap, Alain Boinet.

Meeting at the Bioforce training centre in Dakar, May 2019

All you have to do is spend a week in Dakar and your vision of humanitarian aid is questioned and certainly renewed. I went there for Solidarités International and I offer you, in this “roadmap”, examples that give an idea of what is happening in the capital of Senegal, which, as we know, has become a real humanitarian hub for all of West and Central Africa.

We are talking about the next World Water Forum in Dakar, the regionalization of humanitarian organizations, the link between aid and security in the Sahel and finally the Bioforce Training Centre in Dakar.

It is in the district of the former Lat Dior military camp, rue des Dardanelles, at the DGPRE[1], that I meet Mr. Abdoulaye Sene. Former Governor of the Fatick Region, President of the think tank Global Local Forum, hydraulic engineer by training, it is as Co-President of the Preparatory Committee of the 9th World Water Forum in 2021 in Dakar that I have an appointment with him to interview him. He warmly welcomes us dressed in traditional Senegalese costume.

Since 1997, a World Water Forum has been organized every three years by the host country and the World Water Council (WEC), chaired by Loïc Fauchon. For the next Forum, Abdoulaye Sene represents Senegal and Patrick Lavarde, also co-chair, represents World Water Forum, of which he is one of the governors, and for one week, the Forum brings together tens of thousands of participants, heads of state and government, ministers, agencies and institutions, local authorities and NGOs, companies, visitors… with a work programme and resolutions to be adopted.

The stakes are clear for the next World Water Forum. In July 2015, 195 States unanimously signed the 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations, including Goal 6, which provides access to drinking water for all by 2030. But we are still a long way off and the trajectory is not on track according to the latest United Nations report (UN Water). Without a general mobilization we are in great danger of not keeping these promises! Abdoulaye Sene reminds us of this.

Africa is the continent where people have the least access to safe drinking water and sanitation, particularly the Sahel, which is in a long-term crisis. Just look at the map: in eastern Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, a little further afield Chad, CAR, DRC. No need to make a long speech about the state of play. And it is therefore in Dakar that the next Forum will take place.  So, obviously, it can’t be the same as the previous WEFs in Brasilia, South Korea or Marseille, regardless of their respective merits!

Abdoulaye Sene, Co-Chair of the Preparatory Committee for the 9th World Water Forum and Alain Boinet, Senegal, 2019.

So, for Abdoulaye Sene as well as for the World Water Forum and all the stakeholders in water and sanitation, including the French Water Partnership (FWP), chaired by Jean Launay, which brings together 200 stakeholders in France, the challenge of the Forum is there with its 4 priorities: security and water, cooperation, water for rural development, tools and resources (governance, financing, knowledge, innovations).
But above all, Abdoulaye insists, this WEF must be one of concrete action and achievements for the people who need it most urgently. This shows how important it is for this 9th World Water Forum to involve all stakeholders in humanitarian action and development aid.

It is Solidarités International in its “2019 Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Barometer” that calls for general mobilization to address unsafe water, a major cause of death, while drinking water is a vector for development.

At the end of the interview, Abdoulaye Sene referred to the exchanges of letters between the President of Senegal, Macky Sall, and Emmanuel Macron, about the Forum, expressing the hope that France will be one of the major strategic partners of the Forum and that the UNESCO International Conference on Water, on 13 and 14 May in Paris, will be the opportunity to move in this direction.

We leave each other by agreeing to meet again at the Kick-off meeting on June 20 and 21 in Dakar, which is a major step on the road to the WEF. In its next edition on June 4, Défis Humanitaires will present an exclusive document on this subject.

Dakar and humanitarian regionalization, what model between benefits, constraints and risks?

In Dakar, I have the opportunity to meet the Solidarités International team that has organized meetings with ACF, Save the Children, Alima and ECHO, whom I thank here for their hospitality. I will not be able to quote each of my interlocutors and the points of view expressed, but could rather summarize the problem of regionalization, then that of aid and security in the Sahel.

Dakar is therefore a real regional humanitarian hub for the UN, ECHO, ICRC and many NGOs. Some of its actors cover up to 20 countries with their respective missions. The overwhelming trend therefore seems to be towards regionalization and consequently the redefinition of roles, responsibilities and linkages between headquarters, regions and field missions.

It is not for me to conclude anything on this question, but rather to ask the general terms and issues of this intermediate level of organization. Regionalization is a form of deconcentration or relocation of the centre.

For NGOs, it is most often a consequence of the growth in size and resources in order to gain proximity, understanding and responsiveness to their own missions, institutional partners, the populations they serve and the contexts in which they operate.

I have noticed that in the intermediate phase, we are generally confronted with effects of duplication and tension between headquarters and the region in relations with regard to missions, and we must undoubtedly think beyond the mechanical aspect of the functioning of any organization by asking ourselves whether they could be the consequences induced both on the effectiveness of governance, strategic management and the evolution of involvement, motivation and knowledge of headquarters in the operational chain of humanitarian action, etc. There are several possible models that currently exist.

The headquarters model directly linked to the missions, the model where the headquarters delegates everything to the regional level, which participates in the global organization and its decisions, the intermediate model with a shared distribution between headquarters and region.

There is no need to conclude here, but the fundamentals of any decision can be identified, whatever the model chosen, and they are, it seems to me, the purpose of humanitarian engagement, strategic coherence, effective governance, the concrete need to adapt the structure to the mission, internal cohesion and effectiveness. Not to mention the DNA of each organization and the human realities to be taken into consideration in change processes. Because you don’t change models like you change shirts!

“There is no development without security and no security without development. It is the official concept in force, a veritable mantra, particularly in the Sahel, that should be binding on everyone. But, from my point of view, the question must be asked differently.

The other reality, that of emergency, is rather the obvious link between insecurity for populations and humanitarian aid; here again, the objective is less to propose a single solution than to debate so that everyone finds their place in relation to their identity, strategy and capacities; quite naturally, as if by sequence, we are now being told about the triple nexus of security, development and peace. And how can we not be for peace? But here again, the urgency is rather the link between the consequences of war and humanitarian necessity. We are talking about deaths, injuries, destruction, displacement, refugees and life-saving relief.

If we want to bring more accuracy to the ongoing debates, it is essential that humanitarian workers display these evidences forgotten by those who are not confronted with them or… that it does not help.

In Dakar, several of my interlocutors urged me to remind Paris, Brussels, Geneva and first of all on this site of the humanitarian principles of impartiality, independence, neutrality and the “European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid”, because of the political pressures they are facing in the Sahel that could weaken aid to the population.

Force Barkhane, Gourma, Mali. ©French Ministry of the Armed Forces

If we were in a post-crisis situation, the logic of a return to security, development and peace would be relevant. But the opposite is happening with the expansion of insecurity and conflict zones in Mali and on its borders with Burkina Faso and Niger. Gérard Chaliand recently considered in an interview with Défis Humanitaires a geographical extension of the conflict in the Sahel.

The mission of humanitarian aid workers is to rescue people and populations in danger in conjunction with all the actors who can provide access to them, and we cannot fail in this mission.

Monique Pariat, Director of ECHO. ©EU

But, on the other hand, there is a very fair point that Monique Pariat, Director General of ECHO, made to us recently during a meeting of the Humanitarian Consultation Group at the Quai d’Orsay Crisis and Support Centre, in the presence of its Director Eric Chevallier. Should we simply repeat the same humanitarian programmes over and over again in areas of recurrent crisis? This is where consultation with development agencies and actors, including local actors, makes sense by seeking, whenever possible, to provide more sustainable and structural responses to the needs of populations, including in areas of insecurity by applying the famous humanitarian principles of not harming and not replacing each other.

I would be incomplete in my remarks if I forgot to say that for some of those I met the resources allocated are not on the scale of needs, the complementarity between emergency, reconstruction and development is still too weak and too slow, laborious and, finally, the nexus comes too late.

But, as they say, it is never too late to do better and besides, do we have a choice? Precisely, to better fulfil our mission, it is also not forbidden to exchange with local authorities and security actors, whereas we also sometimes negotiate with armed groups to gain access to the populations.

Kidal Region, Mali. ©Solidarités International

In any case, I would like to share with you a conviction acquired thanks to a long experience in the field. Peace does not simply depend on security and development, even if they can contribute to it, but first and foremost on the people themselves and the effective responses to the causes of any conflict. The response to the crisis is first and foremost political and it is above all up to politicians to make peace.

Training in the service of humanitarian aid.

The amphitheatre is full of “learners” as we say here at the Bioforce Africa Training Centre. In the absence of its director, Didier Francisco, I am welcomed by Abdramane, in charge of training, by Nicolas Morel and the whole team who give me a briefing on the training provided here. I was very keen on this meeting, because when I was a sponsor of Bioforce’s 2017-2018 promotion, I was unable to respond to the invitation to meet them in Dakar.

I am introduced, I say a few words and then come the questions and the debate on the history of humanitarian work, localization, what engagement is, how to act in crisis areas and one of the students even proposes to do an article for Humanitarian Challenges. The “learners” expect a lot from the experience of the most “old” and it is certainly our responsibility to testify to transmit. Moreover, Bioforce Dakar is looking for external speakers to share their experience.

In the assembly, there are young people but also older people who already have humanitarian experience and who want to progress. The dynamics are there and we all feel the will to prove ourselves on the ground.

Meeting at the Bioforce training centre in Dakar, Senegal, 2019. ©Bioforce

Since the beginning of the first training in Dakar in March 2017, the CFBA has integrated 122 “learners” who have followed a complete cycle of 10 training sessions for 6 different programmes. To date 58 are operational and on mission, 64 others are due to leave soon. I felt a lot of motivation and expectations on their part, but also the worry of delaying leaving for the field. You have to give them a chance because you need them.

At the end, a group photo sequence and an attentive atmosphere give way to a cheerful and cheerful mood, not to mention selfies.

All these “learners” are the humanitarian workers and managers of tomorrow. There is no doubt that they will help shape the humanitarian future.

The “logbook” in Dakar ends here on a positive note. Humanitarian aid is alive, dynamic and evolving. That he remains faithful to his roots and that he always does better, that is my wish.

Finally, we will try to open a new section on this site, that of the field testimonies of your relations with the populations, their needs, their answers and what you are doing for and with them, the lessons you learn from them. Send us your texts (address) and photos that we will select and publish as much as possible.

By Alain Boinet.


(1) Directorate of Water Resources Management and Planning. Ministry of Hydraulics and Sanitation. Senegal.