tagged w/ MSF
Yesterday my colleague Darren wrote about how the world is becoming increasingly dangerous for journalists. While the recent high profile events that Darren mentioned (Roxana Saberi, Laura Ling) have put a spotlight on the perils of journalism, there is an interesting corollary trend that has largely escaped mainstream attention. Slowly but steadily the world is becoming a more dangerous place for humanitarian organizations.
Non-profits, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), aid agencies all used to be afforded a larger degree of protection in the countries and conflicts in which they operated. It’s difficult to define when the trend started occurring, but there has been a rapid escalation in the last two decades of violence against aid organizations. Perhaps the most notable example is the withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF, or known commonly as Doctors Without Borders in the US) from Afghanistan in 2004. Doctors Without Borders had been providing medical services in Afghanistan since 1980. They fearlessly worked throughout the bloody confrontation with the Soviets, the brutal civil war that followed, and the repressive regime of the Taliban in the 1990s. But, after 24 years of operating in one of the most difficult places on earth, coupled with an incident in which five of their staff members were killed, MSF decided that it was too dangerous to operate in the country. This left a major void and a population without access to basic medical treatment at a time it was desperately needed.
Similarly, last year in Somalia, MSF was forced to halt all operations and withdraw 87 staff members after three of its people were killed in a roadside bomb. This was on the heels of an incident in which two staff members were kidnapped. I was in Somalia in 2006 and could see the rampant escalation of violence against what used to be perceived as neutral actors. When I was in Mogadishu, the UN had pulled out all international staff, using only local Somalis as proxies to conduct their activities.
These are but a few examples. The general trend line is that more and more aid organizations are being targeted in conflict zones. The humanitarian space is rapidly shrinking. Even in places where NGOs can still operate, they have to devote a larger and larger portion of their resources to security, thereby diminishing the care they are able to give to the local population, which in turn makes them perceived less as allies and more as foreigners, which makes the aid organizations more vulnerable. It’s a vicious cycle.
Its reasonable to ask why the humanitarian space is rapidly disintegrating. There is a combination of factors. One component is that in both Iraq and Afghanistan the insurgency style conflict has blurred the lines between combatant and non-combatant. This has had spill-over effect to the NGO community. The UN peacekeeping branding has lost some of its perception as a strict peacekeeping force as well. Blue Helmets with .50 cals don’t exactly scream peace, and it is likely that the NGO community as a whole has been impacted by the changing perception of the UN. Finally there is a more worrisome reason that has been whispered about in the aid community. It has been suggested that the military itself is blurring the line between military action and humanitarian action. In an effort to win hearts and minds, the military is engaging in many of the same types of missions that have traditionally been the domain of humanitarian organizations. Detractors say that when the missions are the same, it makes it less important for combatants to distinguish between the motivations of different organizations. For example when I was in Afghanistan in 2005, I was embedded with the US military when they went on a mission called a MedCap. The purpose was to provide medical care in rural Afghanistan. Some in the humanitarian world claim this is exactly the kind of thing that pollutes the line between aid and military action, and puts providers at risk.
The military disagrees with this analysis and believes it is critical to their efforts to engender good will among the civilian populace. Its difficult to know the answer, but it is troubling that an organization like MSF which survived the Russians, a Civil War, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, couldn’t survive the American occupation.
What is clear though is that what (and who) were once considered safe in some of the most difficult areas in the world are no longer so. Aid workers joke with the gallows style humor that the famous red cross plus sign, used to act a bullet proof vest. A vehicle emblazoned with it on the side could drive through the middle of a fire fight and the shooting would stop. Now its considered a bulls-eye.
Whatever the reasons, the shrinking humanitarian space is a reality with fairly severe consequences. In many places organizations like MSF are the only people operating there. Without them, the populations, become less healthy, more impoverished, and increasingly isolated from the outside world; exactly the root conditions that make them ripe to become conflict zones in the first place.
Recently on the Vanguard Blog:
- The world: A dangerous place for reporters - Darren Foster
- Sometimes that which seemed impossible actually comes to pass - Mitch Koss
- Doctors Wanted: no experience necessary! - Cerissa Tanner
- All you ever needed to know about Vanguard, and then some. - Mariana van Zeller
- Kentucky Targets “The OxyContin Express” - Mariana van ZellerYesterday my colleague Darren wrote about how the world is becoming increasingly... more
For my birthday, I've decided to give up my time and energy to encourage people to donate to Haitian earthquake relief. I don't have the right skill set to help the people of Haiti directly, but I can use my skills to raise money and awareness for what's happening.
What this means is that for every person that donates, I am donating to them an equal amount of time, sweat and knowledge. So far I will be doing everything from jewelry photography to recording a wedding video.
Overall, the response has been phenomenal, however the amount of need is far higher. I started out with a goal of $1,000 and surpassed it in hours. My goal now is $10,000 and I am 3/4 of the way there.
I'm hoping everyone at Current can help me spread my message to people they know and inspire people to contribute.
You can go to my website http://billysbirthday.tumblr.com to read about progress and learn more about my mission.For my birthday, I've decided to give up my time and energy to encourage people... more
Port-au-Prince/Paris /New York, 17 January 2009—Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges that its cargo planes carrying essential medical and surgical material be allowed to land in Port-au-Prince in order to treat thousands of wounded waiting for vital surgical operations. Priority must be given immediately to planes carrying lifesaving equipment and medical personnel.
Despite guarantees, given by the United Nations and the US Defense Department, an MSF cargo plane carrying an inflatable surgical hospital was blocked from landing in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, and was re-routed to Samana, in Dominican Republic. All material from the cargo is now being sent by truck from Samana, but this has added a 24-hour delay for the arrival of the hospital.
A second MSF plane is currently on its way and scheduled to land today in Port- au-Prince at around 10 am local time with additional lifesaving medical material and the rest of the equipment for the hospital. If this plane is also rerouted then the installation of the hospital will be further delayed, in a situation where thousands of wounded are still in need of life saving treatment.
The inflatable hospital includes 2 operating theaters, an intensive care unit, 100-bed hospitalization capacity, an emergency room and all the necessary equipment needed for sterilizing material.
MSF teams are currently working around the clock in 5 different hospitals in Port-au-Prince, but only 2 operating theaters are fully functional, while a third operating theater has been improvised for minor surgery due to the massive influx of wounded and lack of functional referral structures.Port-au-Prince/Paris /New York, 17 January 2009—Doctors Without... more
The massive earthquake that has toppled buildings and cost untold lives in Haiti has also dealt a staggering blow to a prominent international aid organization, which is struggling to help the injured without the benefit of a single hospital.
The 7.0-magnitude quake incapacitated all three Doctors Without Borders medical facilities around the capital of Port-Au-Prince, the group said Wednesday, causing one to collapse completely and rendering the other two so unstable that they had to be abandoned.
Workers scrambled to set up temporary shelters, where they are now dealing with an influx of seriously wounded quake victims, Paul McPhun, a member of the organization's emergency management team, told a conference call.
The lack of infrastructure has made it impossible for staff to provide adequate treatment, he said.
"The best we can offer them at the moment is first aid care and stabilization," McPhun said.
"The reality of what we're facing is severe traumas: head wounds, crushed limbs, severe problems that cannot be dealt with with the level of medical care that we currently have available with no infrastructure, really, to support it."
The organization's first priority is to re-establish facilities that will enable staff to perform surgeries and other more intensive procedures, McPhun said. There may be some relatively undamaged buildings that could be converted into a hospital, he added.
(read more at link)
What I'd like to see is hospitals in the industrial countries donating vital equipment to Doctors Without Borders, and armies in these countries donating field hospital tents and infrastructures (surgery lamps, tables, equipment, beds, etc.), as well as food rations. The survivors will need clothes, toiletries, blankets, sheets, towels, shoes, etc., and especially formula, bottles, diapers, baby cots, clothes, etc. If there are any Haitians in your neighborhood, it is quite likely that they already are collecting such things to send to Haiti - your help and contributions would be a great gift. You can also donate money to Doctors Without Borders - details at http://www.msf.org/msfinternational/donations/The massive earthquake that has toppled buildings and cost untold lives in Haiti has... more