Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 9
Civilians caught between warring factions or between government forces and armed militants suffer the most for their survival. They do not get food, safe drinking water, have no access to sanitation, health care. Even their personal safety is under threat under such circumstances. Armed groups often use civilians as a shield to advance in their fight against other armed groups or government forces. Thus civilian live under constant threat of being a collateral target and hardly able to ilk out a living.
Aid and assistance workers are in constant dilemma whether to consider those places for humanitarian assistance or not. Syrian crisis is a typical example of such situation. The opposition groups control many areas and the government forces fight to recover the areas. Hence the territorial control often leads to bitter battles and loss of civilian lives.
Similarly in Somalia the insurgents or opposition forces control many areas where government forces can hardly enter. The civilians there suffer a double knock. One due to severe food security due to drought and the second one due to battles between government or African Command forces and the Al Sabab/Islamic court.
These crisis are going on for several years with no end predicted in the near future. Can we leave those living in these area to dogs? We often do that. Because these are non reachable areas and there is a great deal of personal security issue to those who deliver aids and assistance.
What are the ways to reach those living in conflict zones?
Through involvement of parties or agencies or countries close to each warring parties negotiation for humanitarian access can be obtained. The time and the process can be discussed and finalised. Drivers and aid workers (local staff) who are familiar with the area terrain can be assigned to deliver the most appropriate relief assistance to the war torn or fight affected areas. The timing and process should be well planned and work executed effectively.
Under such circumstances it is hardly possible to conduct any door to door or House hold assessment to deliver the assistance. So universal food and non food assistance to all in that crisis zone is done. Mostly non cooking foods such as high energy biscuits and drinking water are delivered first. Then the food items such as flour, oil and other cooking items and fuel are given. All things are packed and delivered in the shortest possible time.
Due to extreme situation the tempers will run high leading to physical violence to get the assistance goods. So aid workers need to be trained well to handle such precarious and violent situation. Psychological and mental stamina practices are necessary. These training are conducted by expert trainers well before the assistance is delivered.
As there is no law and order in these regions, the unruly crowd is likely to grab whatever aid or assistance they come in contact or see. So very good crowd management skills are necessary. Unfortunately in many cases it needs use of force in order to bring order.
Under pressing circumstance the women, old people, children and disabled would be left high and dry. So, special efforts need to be taken to address gender and disability issues. It is also possible that the members of the same family pretend to different families and will try to get maximum aid materials as possible. They later sell the extra aid goods in the market or barter them for other goods. Hence with the given elbow room provided for assistance, short group interviews can be conducted and the families identified and noted. The relief assistance can delivered to families as per list.
Due to unpredictable ground situation and the extreme conditions, theft and robbery of aid goods is possible during transport and storage. Armed escorts are to be provide to the aid convey with clear transport instructions. As far as possible storage should be avoided. But under unavoidable circumstances, the aid materials can ne stored in places identified by the community members; but this for a very short time; may be one or two days. That’s all.
Assistance to none/less government control territories
In Afghanistan and Somalia there are many areas not under government control. This is the case for several years. According to one estimate more than 60 % of the areas in Afghanistan is not under any government control. For example I have seen places where they do not use the national currency but the currency of the neighbouring country. Also there are no number plates for the vehicles in these areas. We can see open display or exhibition of sophisticated guns as a show of power everywhere.
Due to extreme restrictions on movement of people in these areas, the normal life is very much affected and the people follow all shorts of negative even irreversible coping strategies. Hence it is extremely necessary to deliver aid and assistance in these areas to save the civil population from food insecurity and provide basic health care. How this can be done?
In all the communities there are traditional leadership systems. For example in Afghanistan they have elders Shura which is functional even in extreme crisis situations. In Somalia there is Xeer system where the head of community controls every thing. In Arab speaking communities ‘Maliks’ lead the community by the his traditional leadership position offered by hereditary rights. We can use these traditional leaderships to deliver aid and assistance. It is better to discuss the plans of assistance, eligible families, and mode of assistance, time and place of delivery.
In Afghanistan we were able to execute even long term projects such a building of Shelter, irrigation channel and dams in insecure places using the traditional leadership. Hence it is possible to do the same for relief and assistance delivery in most of the tradition bound close knit communities. Negotiation for space for operations is done by these leaders with the non state actors. These leaders ensure safety of the staff who delivers the aid and assistance. In return they also expect some favours from the aid agencies. Instead of going for unethical means of meeting the expectations, it is necessary to work based on humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and non discrimination. For example the leader may want to earn political mileage by showing that he has arranged for the aid delivery. Even though aid workers are not doing it directly, by keeping these leaders during aid distribution gives such an impression which we cannot avoid. Also involvement of them in all the important consultations for work execution will give them pride of being seen as leader in their community. In some circumstance even we have asked such traditional leaders to suggest candidates for local staff recruitment. They can be given the minimum eligibility requirements for the local aid and assistance workers and asked to nominate atleast a few eligible candidates for the position with a clear communication that a selection process will be in place to select the most eligible and suitable candidate for the job would be selected on merit among the list of candidates given by the traditional community leaders. In renting places for operations the community leaders can be informed of the minimum requirement for office such as space, security conditions and accessibility to the community members etc.,and asked to suggest the places and not one place alone for renting. Following procurement procedures these places can be inspected, listed and rental prices can be negotiated.
If the places where the most vulnerable families live is extremely dangerous or remote to reach, then meeting of community leaders can be organised in a secure place near the conflict zone. Group exercise such as group interview, focus group discussions can be done to collect common information of the ground situation can be collected and triangulated with Key informant interview. We have used social mapping and wealth ranking techniques to identify the most vulnerable families, listed and assisted them. The principle here that it is that is better to be approximately correct.