Sunday, January 27, 2013

Why Humanitarian Aid Work?

Greetings and thank you for visiting my blog! As I mentioned in the first posting, this blog will explore thoughts and perspectives on Global Development and Humanitarian Aid, as related to our upcoming Global Development and Humanitarian Aid Training Program at La Roche College, June 30 - July 13 2013. Through the training program, we hope to attract recent graduates and established professionals who are looking to enter or enhance a career in Development and Humanitarian Aid.
In this particular posting, I will offer some basics, such as what aid workers do, why people enter into this field, and what it may require. As you know, there is a great need for Humanitarian Aid Workers (HAWs).  In 2008, $6.6 billion was spent on international emergency response efforts - a 3-fold increase since 2000 - and 210,800 humanitarian workers were working globally – an annual increase of 6%. Many countries, including Australia and those in the EU are incorporating these needs in new initiatives, such as shown in this video EU Aid Volunteers.

What does a HAW do?  “A Humanitarian Aid Worker operates in areas of the world ravaged by war, natural calamities, or man-made disasters. As a Humanitarian Aid Worker, you work to save people’s lives, ease their pain and suffering, and preserve human dignity. Aid can take many forms. Often, you provide emergency medical services as well as food, shelter, and clean water .Communication is key in a Humanitarian Aid Worker’s job. First of all, you must be able to communicate with the people you’re trying to assist. This means having a familiarity with local languages. You must also be able to efficiently and effectively communicate with other members of your own aid organization when securing resources like food, medical supplies, and personnel. Coordinating with other groups, such as military or police forces involved in keeping the peace, defending the area from attack, or supervising an evacuation or relocation, is also often necessary. The situation on the ground during a crisis is constantly in flux. Because of this, the ability to think quickly and adapt on the fly is critical. Lives are at stake every moment, and the right decision at the right time can save many. However, your life may also be in danger. Keeping a sharp eye on changing conditions and your immediate surroundings can keep you safe so that you can stay alive and continue to provide help to those who need it most.”

Why do people choose to work in development and humanitarian aid? Serving as a HAW can be rewarding, as you serve in the most disadvantaged parts of world to improve life for impoverished people. However, serving as a HAW can be hard work, with tough negotiations, grueling travels, horrific dangers, and little rest, so it helps to have desire & stamina to work in challenging and dangerous environments. Also, it’s good if you like seriously demanding work & creative problem solving – very few international aid agencies do handholding or coddling in the field.

 Action Aid is one of those international organizations working in the field  and Bijay Kumar, its head of Emergencies and Crises Team notes that “it is this sense of solidarity with people who are suffering which motivates humanitarians at all levels – local communities, civil society bodies, and national and international non-governmental organisations – to do the work they do, often in extremely challenging circumstances”. Action Aid also offers an interesting Beginner’s Guide to the field which is really worth reading.  In this guide, there is a particularly interesting discussion of the many ethical dilemmas that a HA worker may face, e.g. Will the provision of free handouts in an emergency situation undermine long-term strategies to promote communities’ self-reliance? And, the need to remain neutral and detached in a conflict situation versus the obligation to take a stand and speak out against human rights abuses committed by one or both sides.

In addition to motivation, training is obviously a key requirement for entering into the field, successfully. One of the exciting developments of the past few years is that the HA field as a whole has begun to identify competencies and skill requirements. Our La Roche College training was designed around these competencies and the next posting will address those competencies and the training requirements in more detail.

In the meantime, take a look at the 2011 World Humanitarian Aid Video and also this piece which offers the story of one humanitarian aid worker in Haiti. Remember that you can subscribe to the blog, using the link at the bottom of the page. Comments and suggestions are also welcome.

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