Humanitarian, what does the future hold?

Distribution of wash and dignity kits, Mabilé centre, Mali. Solidarités International

Humanitarian : adapting to crises.

Experience shows that one of the essential rules of humanitarianism is to know how to adapt. Adapting to sudden changes, ruptures, unforeseen events that require relief while hindering it.  And this has been the case with Covid-19 since it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) at the end of January.

The paradox is that the access of relief supplies to populations has been hindered (borders, air transport, lack of equipment) whereas containment is a major condition for individual and collective safety. Of course, we have experience of other epidemics such as Ebola and Cholera, which have a much higher mortality rate, but which we generally manage to isolate in order to limit their spread. With Covid-19, the pandemic is global and is evolving into a leopard-skin pandemic in the form of shifting infectious foci. There is both a change in scale and a strong global acceleration of the virus.

That we judge. On July 3, there were 10 million cases of infection and 500,000 deaths worldwide, according to the WHO. On July 29, three weeks later, Agence France Presse (AFP) counted 17 million cases and 627,307 deaths. Africa, until now relatively spared, is experiencing a strong growth of the epidemic. It took 98 days to reach 100,000 cases, 9 days to go from 300,000 to 400,000 cases and one week to go from 400,000 to 500,000 cases.  And the peak is yet to come.

In this context of aggravation, far from panicking or being paralysed by fear, the question is therefore how to adapt, not only to carry out the humanitarian emergency programmes that were already underway, but also to respond in the long term to Covid-19 and its collateral consequences that will degrade pre-existing situations.

Adapt relief efforts to the context to better respond to vital needs.

Responses are multiple and can vary from one humanitarian actor to another, from one country or region to another, and depending on the timing and type of programme. What is certain is that humanitarian needs are increasing and responses are more difficult (access, displacement, supply, distribution). Expatriates will have to stay longer, local managers will have to take on more responsibility, some coordination and technical expertise will have to be done remotely, closer cooperation between aid actors must be developed, the D system can lead to innovation, programmes must be prioritised if necessary according to the emergency such as war surgery, especially as this crisis is set to last.

Governments must also adapt and take their responsibilities, which are not those of NGOs. Thus, in the Sahel, in the face of what humanitarians call the “hunger virus”, the risk of famine is not an empty word. The closure of borders, the difficulties of access to markets, and the confinement are causing a scarcity of medicines, fuel oil, seeds, livestock sales and a deterioration of the labour market. For countries with few social safety nets, there is a rapid slide into scarcity if not distress. In the Sahel, we are in the rainy season and in the lean season when the granaries are almost empty. Food prices have risen by 10% in Mali and 35% in Nigeria. In addition, Mali, which is the epicentre of the security crisis in the Sahel, is experiencing a very troubled political and institutional situation. NGOs have neither the responsibility nor the legitimacy to make political decisions. This is the role of states supported by international organizations. And it is urgent for the populations, including the one and a half million forcibly displaced persons in the Sahel.

We are also very concerned about Lebanon, where the State is practically in suspension of payments. 60% of the population lives below the poverty line and 35% of the working population is unemployed. And what about the 1.5 million Syrian refugees, a quarter of the Lebanese population. The dollar that was traded until recently for 1500 Lebanese pounds is now traded for 10,000 pounds. And tomorrow, in the face of galloping inflation, what will the exchange rate be? Here too, there is absolute urgency and it is first in the hands of the authorities that the political and economic solution is found, as in Bamako. Some commentators speak of Lebanon as a new Venezuela. But where could the Lebanese take refuge in large numbers in the region? The solution is in Lebanon, and it is up to the political leaders to help their citizens first. They, too, must adapt to rise to the occasion or else resign!

absolue et c’est d’abord entre les mains des autorités que se trouve la solution politique et économique, comme à Bamako. Certains commentateurs parlent du Liban comme d’un nouveau Venezuela. Mais, où les libanais pourraient-ils se réfugier en grand nombre dans la région ? La solution est au Liban et c’est aux dirigeants politiques qu’il incombe d’abord de secourir leurs concitoyens. Ils doivent eux aussi s’adapter pour être à la hauteur ou bien se démettre !

©Water distribution with respect for social distances, Burma. Solidarités International.

Adapt, hope and persist.

Adapt in accordance with our humanitarian principles. Adapt and even change for the better to be oneself. This is a story that I have lived with many companions for 40 years with the NGO Solidarités International. On the occasion of its anniversary, the association is publishing a book that will be in bookstores in September with the title “Helping further – 40 years of crises, 40 years of action” published by Autrement.

Basically, this book is a message of hope. Hope in solidarity action, hope to get out of crises. This book is that of a commitment that goes through time, adapting country by country, through great geopolitical periods, always with the same mission in mind: to help populations in danger and to accompany them to get out of the crisis in a sustainable way. This book, full of beautiful testimonies and photos, also anticipates the challenges to come. Over a period of 40 years, it is a fine lesson in adaptation, which today is most useful to take a step back, to draw lessons to better adapt and project oneself. I will talk to you about this book again in September, I promise.

In the meantime, I invite you to read the interview with Marie Houel and Fabrice Perrot on the humanitarian airlift implemented by the Humanitarian Logistics Network (RLH), but also the article by Méline Peyrot who gives a complete overview of the human and geopolitical stakes of the renaissance dam on the Nile, and finally the study by Marion Péchayre of MSF-Crash on humanitarian management which should stimulate us to do better.

The next edition will be published in early September and will include, among other things, a detailed presentation of international humanitarian aid.

In the meantime, have a good read to share with your family and friends and see you soon to take up the humanitarian challenges together.

Alain Boinet.


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