UN And MSF At Odds Over Future of Humanitarian Work

May 10, 2016 –  Medecins Sans Frontiers’ decision last week to withdraw from the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) taking place later this month highlights the tension between aid organizations and the United Nations over the future of humanitarian work.

In a statement, MSF said the summit threatens “to dissolve humanitarian assistance into wider development, peace-building and political agendas.”

The Nobel-prize winning group, which has lost several staff members and had its hospitals bombed over the past year in conflict zones, added that it failed to see how the WHS would address the urgent needs of people living in conflict in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and other areas of armed violence.

At the heart of the matter is the UN’s desire to promote resilience in doing humanitarian and development work. While MSF say that humanitarian work should be kept separate from development work, the United Nations increasingly sees the two working in tandem.

Those inside the UN advocating for a joint approach point out that countries that emerge from conflict or other complex emergencies do not have a stronger society or systems when the emergency or conflict is over, and very often have a recurrence within five or ten years. For this reason, the UN and the WHS are asking how can countries that have repeated crisis be put on a sustainable path after a crisis.

With this in mind, there is a push to have humanitarian and development actors work in tandem, unlike the traditional sequential approach where aid workers come in and do their work and once they leave development workers come in and try to rebuild the society.

However, because of the core humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence, humanitarian actors avoid working with local governments and once they leave the society is no more robust nor does it have a better emergency response system because aid organizations set up their own parallel systems that bypass the local governments, which should be the first line of response.

Another reason for the push towards resilience is that many crises are slow onset and protracted and it’s not necessarily a humanitarian response first and then a development response. Syria is a case in point where the crises is in its sixth year and it is both a humanitarian crisis – tending to the wounded and feeding the hungry – and a development crisis – establishing schools, devising cash for work programs – and it is also a transnational crisis affecting primarily its neighboring countries but also beyond, as in the case of Europe and the debate over refugees.

One can only admire the great work that MSF does around the globe in responding to emergencies and the great sacrifices it has made in doing so, and it it easy to sympathize with their decision not to attend the WHS.

Yet, an opportunity may have been lost in exploring how best to respond to future emergencies with the decision of MSF not to attend, given its status in the humanitarian world. Natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. Dealing with these crises exogenously is not going to work – outsiders going in and then leaving.

Core humanitarian principles – neutrality, independence, impartiality – need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. The question is how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. 

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Stories:

Tough Task Awaits New UN OCHA Chief

South Sudan’s Expulsion of UN Official Brings Controversial Integrated Approach Into Focus

UN ‘Dysfunction’ at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises

Drought an Overlooked Catalyst for Syria Revolt

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention Detailed in New Book by Former UN Aid Chief

 

UN Demands Investigation into Deadly Afghan Hospital Attack

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 17.38.13
Oct. 3, 2015 – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday strongly condemned the attack on a Medecins Sans Frontiers hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that killed at least 12 aid workers and three children while the United Nations human rights chief said the attack may amount to a war crime.

Hospitals are protected under international humanitarian law while the Security Council lists attacks on hospitals and health facilities as one of the six grave violations against children caught up in armed conflict.

At least 37 more people were injured in the overnight attack, including 19 MSF staff.

In a statement issued by his spokesman in New York, Ban called for “a thorough and impartial investigation into the attack in order to ensure accountability.”

Human Rights High Commissioner Zeid Hussein said the attack on the hospital “is utterly tragic, inexcusable, and possibly even criminal.”

“The seriousness of the incident is underlined by the fact that, if established as deliberate in a court of law, an airstrike on a hospital may amount to a war crime,” he added, according to a statement issued by his office in Geneva.

The attack on Saturday, reportedly a result of U.S. airstrikes, ranks as one of the single deadliest ever attacks on aid workers: 22 United Nations staff were killed when their compound in Iraq was bombed by Al Qaeda in August 2003 while 16 French aid workers were killed in a 2006 attack in Sri Lanka blamed on government security forces.

The UN aid chief, Stephen O’Brien, added his condemnation of the attack in a statement issued late Saturday in New York. “Hospitals and clinics should be sanctuaries where people, including women and children, go for help,” he stated. “Attacking a hospital not only has a devastating immediate impact but denies people the opportunity to access lifesaving healthcare in the future,” and he supported calls “for an urgent and impartial investigation to ensure accountability.”

Afghanistan is by far the most dangerous country for aid workers, with 54 losing their lives last year – most as a result of attacks by Taliban or other anti-government forces.

There were at least 38 attacks on health facilities in Afghanistan last year, according to Ban Ki-moon’s annual report on children and armed conflict.

Ukraine Rebels Expel UN Aid Agencies

Screenshot 2015-09-24 at 6.37.43 PM
Sept. 24, 2015 –  The top UN humanitarian official on Thursday called on pro-Russia rebels to immediately allow the resumption of United Nations and international NGO aid activities in eastern Ukraine.

All UN agencies operating in Luhansk have been ordered to leave by Sept. 25 and a decision by the rebels on expelling aid agencies from Donetsk remains on hold.

I am alarmed by news that the de facto authorities in eastern Ukraine have ordered UN agencies in Luhansk to end operations and to leave the area by tomorrow,” UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien said in a statement. “Their continued failure in this regard constitutes a blatant violation of International Humanitarian Law.”

He added that agencies are unable to deliver 16,000 tons of aid including anesthesia, insulin and tubercolosis vaccine.

“Patients lives are at risk,” O’Brien said. “Some 150,000 people are not receiving monthly food distributions, 1.3 million people’s access to water is at risk, and more than 30,000 people have not received shelter materials and household items they urgently need.”

Ukraine is currently trying to control a cholera outbreak that paralyzed two children earlier this month.

“I call on the de facto authorities in both Luhansk and Donetsk to ensure the immediate resumption of UN and international NGO activities,” O’Brien’s statement added. “Furthermore, I call on everyone with influence over the de facto authorities to use that influence to ensure the immediate resumption of humanitarian aid by UN agencies and international NGOs, and to win a commitment by the authorities to end interference in the provision of lifesaving assistance.

In addition to UN aid agencies, the rebels have also banned MSF and People in Need, among others, from operating in Luhansk, a city with a population of some 425,000.

The United Nations estimates that the 17-month conflict in Ukraine has killed almost 8,000 people, most of them civilians.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

  

 

Siege Warfare in Syria Causing Death by Starvation

 

Screenshot 2015-09-03 at 1.54.57 PM
Sept. 3, 2015, Warring parties in Syria continue to encircle and trap entire communities depriving them of food, water, electricity and medical assistance.

The latest report from the UN independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria outlines the harrowing suffering of the 422,000 people living in besieged areas of the country.

“Siege warfare is conducted in a ruthlessly coordinated and planned manner, aimed at forcing a population, collectively, to surrender or suffer starvation,” the report stated, adding that the denial of basic necessities “has led to malnutrition and deaths amongst vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, infants, young children and persons suffering from chronic illnesses.”

According to UN figures, there are 167,500 people besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya in the Damascus suburbs; more than 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo as well Foua’a and Kafria in Idlib; and 228,000 people by ISIL in the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Dayr al-Zawr city.

The sieges of Ghouta and Darayya are now in their third year.

“Civilian residents in these areas have died from starvation, from injuries sustained in aerial bombardments and, as a consequence, from a lack of medical care. A majority of pregnant women in the besieged areas suffer from anaemia, and cases of miscarriage and birth defects have increased noticeably,” the report, which was released on Thursday in Geneva, stated.

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The report said the situation in the besieged areas of Idlib was “particularly dire” with acute shortages of milk for infants.

The more than 220,000 besieged people living under ISIS in populated areas of Dayr Az-Zawr city for the past year, which remains under government control, “have survived on bread and water,” the report said.

Access to clean water is limited in these areas, according to the report, and cases of diarrhoea, dehydration and gastrointestinal diseases are increasing.

Among other details in the report was a case in March of a father in Idlib who drowned when attempting to swim across the Euphrates River from a besieged area to find food for his children.

Indiscriminate violence continues in these areas, with snipers targeting and killing civilians trying to escape, including children.

Hunger and malnutrition is rising in besieged areas and resulting in death.

“In April, a 13-year-old girl died of hunger in Al-Joura. Another teenage girl cried out to her brother in a telephone call, ‘Our situation is very bad, just pray to God that he will stop the siege or that he will let us die… because we cannot take this anymore,'” the report stated.

In the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, the commission reports that “interviewees from inside Yarmouk camp describe eating domestic animals and leaves in an attempt to survive. In April, it was estimated that 40 per cent of the children remaining in Yarmouk suffer from malnutrition.”

UN and other relief agencies have only been able to reach 1.8 percent of the population in besieged areas with medical assistance while no food aid reached any besieged area through official routes last month, according to a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council last week.

Black market economies are also on the increase in besieged areas.

“Consequently, sieges are also a business for those enforcing them and for the most well-connected trapped inside,” the commission of inquiry report said. “In most instances, armed actors remain able to function. It is the civilian population who suffers.”

The report from the independent commission covers January 10 – July 15 this year and is based on 355 interviews. The members of the commission are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair, Karen Koning AbuZayd, Vitit Muntarbhorn and Carla Del Ponte.

The report also covers the situation of detainees, religious and ethnic communities, women, children, medical personnel, human rights defenders and lawyers.

In their conclusion, the commissioners state, “It is thus unconscionable that the global community, as well as regional and local actors, are prevaricating in their response to a conflagration which has been escalating since 2011.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

A Ceasefire or Humanitarian Pause: What’s Happening in Yemen?

Airstrike in Sana'a photo: Ibrahem Qasim - Licensed by Creative Commons

Airstrike in Sana’a photo: Ibrahem Qasim – Licensed by Creative Commons

July 25, 2015 – Media reported on Saturday that a five-day ceasefire (Reuters) or humanitarian ceasefire (CNN) was to take hold in Yemen beginning on Sunday between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels.

The source of the news was a Saudi Press Agency (SPA) report announcing a “humanitarian truce.”

So which is it?

It seems certain from the SPA report that what is planned is not a ceasefire, which would mean both sides have agreed to a longterm cessation of violence in conjunction with a political process to resolve the conflict.

Instead, it appears that the announced five day cessation of hostilities is a humanitarian pause, such as what was planned for earlier this month but which never took hold, and its sole purpose to allow in desperately needed aid supplies.

Here is a useful glossary from UN OCHA on pauses during conflict.
AccessMechanismsWhile the news of a pause to allow the delivery of aid is welcome, and absolutely vital, it seems like none of the parties is committed to a political process to resolve the conflict, and the UN appears unable to negotiate one.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Stories:

UN Yemen Appeal Only 15 Percent Funded

Yemen’s Saleh Worth $60 Billion Says UN Sanctions Committee

UN Yemen Aid Appeal Only 15 Percent Funded

Airstrike in Sana'a photo: Ibrahem Qasim - Licensed by Creative Commons

Airstrike in Sana’a, May 2015 – photo: Ibrahem Qasim – Licensed by Creative Commons

July 14, 2015 –  Gulf countries are conspicuous by their absence on the list of donors to the UN’s $1.6 billion humanitarian appeal for Yemen where more than 80 percent of the population are in need of assistance.

The United Arab Emirates is the sole donor among the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), having committed $18 million towards the $284 million received so far, according to information from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs.

More than 3,200 people have been killed and some 16,000 more injured since a Saudi Arabia-led mission to restore the former Yemeni government began in March after an offensive by Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former president Saleh.

The government in Riyadh has pledged $244 million to the UN appeal but has not delivered the funds. Similarly, Kuwait has pledged $100 million but has also not yet committed.

Oman, Qatar and Bahrain have neither pledged nor committed funds to the appeal. With the exception of Oman, all members of the GCC reportedly have fighter jets taking part in the Saudi-led mission while the United States is providing intelligence and logistical support and has speeded up the sale of arms to the coalition.

Also not among the donors to the UN appeal is Iran. A UN Security Council sanctions committee report last month stated that an Iranian vessel delivered 180 tonnes of weapons in March to a Yemen port under Houthi control.

The US is the top donor to the appeal, having committed $75 million, or 26 percent of the funding received to date.

The UN last week declared the situation inside Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian crisis, the highest level. Only three other humanitarian crisis are designated L3 – Iraq, South Sudan and Syria.

More than 3,500 schools have been closed in Yemen and almost 2 million children are out of school, according to the latest humanitarian situation report from OCHA.

An outbreak of dengue fever has reached six governorates and the UN says it needs to preposition cholera kits ahead of an expected outbreak.

There are increasing cases of measles and rubella and a high risk of a polio outbreak, according to OCHA. At least 160 health facilities are affected by a lack of power and shortages of medicines, IV fluids and surgical supplies.

A delivery of 10,000 doses of Oxytocin has been made to the Ministry of Health to assist women in labor, OCHA says.

A humanitarian pause that was due to take hold over the weekend never materialized.

The full list of donors to the UN appeal for Yemen is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Yemen aid appeal

Understanding Resilience – An Interview with the UNDP’s Samuel Doe

 Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)


Samuel Doe is the UNDP policy adviser for crisis, fragility and resilience (photo: Josh Styer/EMU)

July 10, 2015 – When Samuel Doe was growing up during Liberia’s 1990s civil-war he recalls aid workers distributing wheat to feed the hungry.

“Liberians never ate wheat. We had to learn to eat wheat,” he says. “It wasn’t our decision.” He also remembers mothers queuing up to receive cooked porridge to feed their babies and aid workers insisting on feeding the babies themselves. “They did not trust the mothers would feed their babies.”

“That sort of indignity is becoming less and less now,” says Doe, who is the UN Development Program’s policy adviser on resilience, an often-used and misunderstood term that is transforming the way aid and development work.

At a fundamental level, “resilience is about harnessing agency, the intentional action of human beings and believing that human beings can make dignified decisions that over time strengthen their independence, strengthen their interdependence and their self-reliance,” Doe explains.

But how does that translate on the ground for the UN and international NGO’s doing aid and development work and what were the reasons behind the shift to a resilience approach?

There are four broad reasons, Doe says.

The first is a realization that, with a lot of complex emergencies, once the response and recovery phase is over, these countries do not have a stronger society and stronger systems.

“We find them repeatedly again and again falling back onto those conditions of fragility that have been exacerbated by the crisis. Countries that have gone through war and have recurrence in 2-3, maybe 5-10 years,” Doe says. “Countries that have repeated disasters have been depleted of human resources and social capital. That is one of the reasons why people begin to ask how can we make the humanitarian response and recovery processes put countries on a path that is sustainable after a disaster.”

“The second reason behind the motivation, the push to resilience, is that prior to this thinking we have always thought in the international system that there is a sequential approach, a sequential relationship between humanitarian response and development. So there is a crisis, the first line actors are humanitarians, they do their bit then they get out and then we come in and then development people pick up the pieces. But, increasingly, depending on the quality of work that humanitarians do, they are likely inadvertently to make the development space more difficult.”

“For example in many humanitarian responses there is a tendency to develop parallel systems: we can’t work with the governments so we will establish our own coordination system, which brought about the cluster system. We will set up our own accountability system. The funding mechanism will go directly to the implementing organizations that we will work with. So government being the primary actor to responding to disaster is often left out in these emergency response.”

“Parallel systems that are developed in a crisis context that then overcrowd the local government systems over time make them almost inoperable to assume responsibility once the response is over. Many governments are saying increasingly that unless we use the country systems in preparing and responding to disasters it will be difficult for these countries to develop much more robust systems against future disasters.”

The third reason is that emergencies are increasingly slow-onset, says Doe, and aid and development work is happening at the same time.

“Take the case of Syria, the case of the Horn of Africa, or the case of the Sahel. There is no relief and then development. There is relief and then development constantly interacting because it’s a slow-onset crisis, it’s a protracted crisis. This illusion that humanitarians will do their bit, they will get out and then we’ll come in does not work. Therefore we have to cultivate a new way of working that allows development actors and humanitarian actors to work in the same space at the same time but that then puts a lot of pressure on the humanitarians who say well ‘we need the core humanitarian principles to still be respected,’ principles of neutrality, independence, impartiality. These need to be respected but they do not preclude the recognition and use of local systems. So how can local systems be used by respecting impartiality and neutrality and independence. This is the discourse we are pushing.”

The fourth reason is that the architecture of the development and humanitarian communities reflects the financial architecture of the donor communities so there are donors that fund only humanitarian work and donors that only fund development work. “There is no bridge conceptually or operationally for humanitarians to tap into development funds and vice versa,” Doe says.

But slowly UN appeals are being reconfigured to move away from short-term appeals, months or up to one year, to multi-year appeals that address both the humanitarian emergency and the underlying development issues.

So how will a resilience approach be implemented and what lessons have been learned from the past?

“Society should have the capacity to predict risk and if possible prevent risk using development, prevent the threat factors that are preventable,” says Doe. “So say, for example, we look at the Ebola crisis in West Africa, we’re saying the recovery plan should emphasize the resilience of the countries because when the crisis happened, it only took three months for Ebola to destroy the institutions the international community had invested billions into in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It took just three months for the economy to go into free fall, for the health systems to collapse completely. The highest donor support in Liberia was to the health sector. The system that we put the most money into was the system that collapsed in three months. What gave way to that?”

“Prior to Ebola, Liberia had literally 51 doctors for 4.5 million people. More than two-thirds of those doctors were concentrated in Monrovia, Although we’re investing in building the infrastructure of the health system, we’re building the clinics, but the Liberian medical school was producing less than 20 doctors every year. It’s appalling that the doctors being produced weren’t equipped to deal with very basic supply chain management, access of rural clinics to supplies, roads that were inaccessible. Even basic gloves were not in villages and clinics. So the way we invested in the health system focused a lot on payment of salaries, focused a lot on building the infrastructure but the human capital that is necessary to sustain those systems was less invested in. So our investment was sort of skewered to different priorities.”

A major push behind resilience thinking is strengthening local governments as they are the front-line responders to a crisis.

“If we do risk sensitive development we need to emphasize local government systems, emphasize working with local governments, making sure local governments and administrative bodies are strong, that local governments have their own preparedness capacity in place,” Doe says. “That there is a strong, fluid, very active supply line, a communication line that runs across local and central governments. We’ve  seen that in the Ebola crisis, we’ve seen that in other crisis: when the local systems are functioning, when the local communities are actively engaging the systems, the response capacity is fast and is effective.”

The resilience approach is now being used for the Syrian crisis and Doe explains the thinking that lead to this.

“There was tension between humanitarians and the development people. At some point the humanitarians said this is a humanitarian crisis, we want to focus on humanitarian issues. we do not want the development actors to confuse this, but over time we all realized that this crisis is going on years and it’s transnational. Turkey is affected, Jordan is affected, Lebanon is affected. They all have refugees. The refugees are not all in camps, they’re in homes, some are working. So you can’t use the way we do humanitarian response in that setting.”

“In Lebanon for example you have two shifts of schools, morning and in the afternoon, so maybe you have to increase the salaries of teachers. Paying that cannot come through a humanitarian fund, it goes through the government. That is the kind of thing that is happening. Strengthening systems of governments so that they deliver on a humanitarian crisis. Rather than strengthening humanitarian systems so that they deliver only humanitarian aid. So that is the distinction that is being made in the Syrian situation.”

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Prepaid cards distributed to Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Another example Doe gave is the credit card system used in Jordan where Syrian refugees are given prepaid cards instead of aid workers determining what goods and services the refugees need, the refugees decide for themselves.

“They have credit cards now, they can go to a bank, use their credit card and get their funds for their own welfare. That’s an example of choice, of empowerment. So giving them choice giving them the freedom of choice is an important outcome or characteristic of building resilience. It’s dignity,” says Doe, who was instrumental in designing the 3RP plan for Syria.

Although resilience has been a buzzword for the past few years, it is only now that it is being codified. The United Nations is about to release its UN System Principles on Building Resilience, a document two years in the making that involved not just the UN’s humanitarian and development arms but also international NGO’s working on the ground.

“It’s an amazing process, just to have a blueprint, something that is codified,” Doe says. Now the hard work starts. “Multi-year appeals, getting donors to  change their way of thinking, trying to really get governments thinking too that this is about ownership: this is your crisis. Working together more coherently getting coordination systems way ahead of time, making sure we have preparedness –  we spend billions of dollars on response but less than one percent on readiness of countries, changing that paradigm, making sure we spend a bit more money on getting people ready. Are these schools ready, are they producing the right human capital?”

Doe also says a more integrated early warning system, not just for food and conflict, but also pathogens is needed. He said there’s currently a push to get the EU to develop its own Center for Disease Control so that it too can provide global disease surveillance.

The stark reason why the UN is changing the way aid and development is done is simply because natural disasters are increasing and new conflicts continue to emerge and escalate at an alarming rate. This underlies the resilience approach.

“We will not be able to deal with all of these exogenously, just from outsiders going in,” Doe says. “That’s not going to work.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Stories:

Tough Task Awaits New UN OCHA Chief

South Sudan’s Expulsion of UN Official Brings Controversial Integrated Approach Into Focus

UN ‘Dysfunction’ at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises

The Politics of Humanitarian Intervention Detailed in New Book by Former UN Aid Chief

South Sudan’s Expulsion of UN Official Brings Controversial Integrated Approach Into Focus

Screenshot 2015-06-02 at 7.54.43 PM
June 2, 2015 – Since the early 2000s, the United Nations has favored an integrated approach for some of its most difficult missions with the ostensibly neutral Humanitarian Coordinator also double hatted as the explicitly political Resident Coordinator, and triple hatted as the deputy special representative of the secretary-general.

The reasons behind an integrated approach were well-intentioned: to streamline UN efforts and ensure that the objectives of all UN forces and agencies are channeled towards an over-arching common goal (Weir:2006). But aid agencies have raised concerns on the basis of neutrality and impartiality, saying that the line between the UN’s military objectives and its humanitarian objectives is increasingly blurred by an integrated approach, and that it leads to the shrinking of humanitarian space (see Stimson Center report here). In Somalia and Afghanistan, NGO’s have withdrawn from, or refused to enter into, UN coordination mechanisms because of the support of these missions for the Afghan and Somali governments respectively.

UNMISS in South Sudan is one of the more recent integrated UN missions. On Monday, the government in Juba expelled Toby Lanzer, reportedly for comments he made criticizing the government’s failure. Lanzer is an experienced United Nations official who was chief-of-staff of one of the first UN integrated missions, in Timor-Leste in 2006. In South Sudan, he wears four hats: deputy special-representative of the secretary-general; UN resident coordinator; humanitarian coordinator; and resident representative of UNDP.

Screenshot 2015-06-02 at 8.03.47 PM

Diagram from UN OCHA showing civil-military coordination in South Sudan: source UN OCHA

His is, or rather was, an impossible task – Lanzer was due to be replaced at the end of the month. The original UNMISS mandate in 2011 called for UNMISS to protect civilians and support the South Sudan government in consolidating peace and building state institutions, but the language on supporting the government has been stripped from subsequent resolutions – the most recent mandate renewal was passed by the Security Council last week.

UNMISS has essentially shifted into neutral mode following reports of mass graves, extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, attacks on peacekeepers and massive displacement of civilian populations – tens of thousands of whom are sheltering in UN bases – and the world’s newest country is currently at risk of famine.

But peacekeeping missions are hardly neutral and require the support of the host government to achieve peacebuilding and institution building mandates and need freedom of movement to fulfill a protection of civilians mandate.

UNMISS is a $1 billion mission, financed by mandatory assessments on UN member states, while the UN’s humanitarian appeal for South Sudan is for $658 million, though only $70 million has been received as it relies on voluntary contributions.

There are no easy answers to the South Sudan crisis but it puts the utility of integrated missions once again under the microscope and the wisdom of having one person responsible for coordinating humanitarian activities while also responsible for political activities and institution building and will likely lead to further calls for the UN to re-examine the integrated approach.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Tough Task Awaits New UN OCHA Chief Stephen O’Brien

Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O'Brien

Ban Ki-moon greets new UN emergency relief coordinator Stephen O’Brien

May 31, 2015 – The new head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Stephen O’Brien, who takes over from Valerie Amos on Monday as the world’s top aid official, will have to immediately tackle a funding crisis, work more with local actors, and strengthen OCHA’s role in conflict and complex situations, such as in Syria and Somalia, says Shannon Scribner of Oxfam’s humanitarian policy team.

OCHA has received less than 25 percent of the almost $20 billion it appealed for at the start of the year to assist 114 million people affected by disaster and conflict, and new crises continue to emerge such as the earthquake in Nepal and the deteriorating situation in Yemen as well as a growing crisis in Burundi.

“Stephen O’Brien is stepping into a situation where the UN system is overwhelmed. So that would be the first business, how is he going to address this overwhelmed system where the UN is responding to four L3 emergencies in Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria and they don’t have enough funding to do that,” said Scribner in an interview with UN Tribune. “Oxfam would make two recommendations. The first would be recommending mandatory assessments for UN member states for humanitarian assistance. This would be similar to what they do in UN peacekeeping where they have assessed contributions.”

Scribner added that this is something that O’Brien could work on with the new high-level panel on humanitarian financing that was appointed by Ban Ki-moon last week. The UN currently relies on voluntary contributions for relief funding.

“The other thing that Oxfam is going to start emphasizing and Stephen O’Brien should be looking at this, as well as International NGOs like Oxfam, is we need to do more direct funding to local actors,” she said.

“The assistance we give is often too little and it’s often too late but we have local actors, such as local NGO’s and civil-society and, where appropriate, governments. From 2007-2013, only 2.4 percent of annual humanitarian assistance went directly to local actors and that just doesn’t make sense,” Scribner said. “They’re the first responders on the ground and they’re often the ones who are put in harm’s way. If you look at the number of aid workers that have been killed, the majority are local aid workers so we need to do a better job as a humanitarian community – international NGOs, UN OCHA and donors – to give more direct assistance to local actors.”

As an example of how neglect of local NGOs affects an emergency response, she said that meetings of the humanitarian cluster groups in Haiti during the 2010 earthquake were held in French or English even though most of the first responders spoke Creole “so that wasn’t helpful.”

Scribner added that local actors are not really considered true partners in the humanitarian response but rather as sub-contractors to implement programs that have already been designed. She said they need to be seen “as true partners where they are designing the interventions with us and they’re implementing the interventions.”

Finally, she said that the UN has do a better job in complex and conflict situations and need to appoint envoys who know the region or country and even better, know the local language, and where the UN has already has a mandate, it must ensure that protecting civilians is part of that mandate and its neutrality is unquestioned.

As an example, Scribner cited the UN’s support for the Africa Union mission in Somalia where the emphasis is on protecting government institutions.

“If they have a political mandate, then they’re going to be seen as political and they’re going to be seen as allying with one side. Their mandate should really be about giving assistance to people in need and making sure NGO’s have access, and protecting aid workers,” she said. “We have seen an increase in the number of aid workers that have been attacked and killed. In 2001 there was about 90 violent attacks on aid workers and in 2013, there was 460 such incidents and 80 percent of fatalities since 2001 have been local aid workers. If the UN can really show such leadership in those areas it will really help on the ground – they do play a very tricky and difficult role in these complex crises.”

Scribner said that the liaison role OCHA plays is key for humanitarian efforts in conflict situations but that it hasn’t always been up to the task and this will need to be on O’Brien’s list of pressing priorities. “NGO’s like Oxfam rely on OCHA to play the main liaison role in conflict settings and that’s really important for the independence and neutrality of NGO’s. I think Syria’s an example where we needed UN OCHA to really step up and play that role and they just don’t have the presence on the ground and the International NGOs are left to to kind of fill that role in terms of access and that liaison role. That is something he will have to grapple with, especially in these complex emergencies that are continuing to grow.”

– Denis Fitzgerald

On Twitter @denisfitz 

Related Stories:

UN ‘Dysfunction’ at Heart of Slow Response to Humanitarian Crises

South Sudan’s Expulsion of UN Official Brings Controversial Integrated Approach Into Focus

Replacing Valerie Amos: Political Appointment or Merit Based?

Syrian Government Attacks on Medical Facilities Reach Record High in April

hcid-ambulance
May 28, 2015 – A medical facility was attacked almost every other day by Syrian government forces during April and the majority of attacks involved the use of barrel bombs, Ban Ki-moon reported to the Security Council on Thursday.

In his monthly report to the Council, Ban wrote that there were 14 attacks on medical facilities throughout the country in April. Five of the attacks occurred in Idlib, four in Aleppo, two in Damascus and one each in the Deir ez -Zor, Hama and Hasakeh Governorates. In addition, ambulances and medical personnel continue to be targeted. Seven medial workers were killed in April, five by shelling and two who were shot. Government forces were responsible for all attacks, the UN chief stated.

“The number of attacks on medical facilities in April was the highest monthly total on record in my monthly reports since the adoption of Security Council Resolution 2139,” Ban wrote. “Attacks on such facilities have a multiplier effect, not only killing and injuring, but also leaving many people unable to get the treatment that they need.”

Meanwhile, the number of people in besieged areas stands at 422,000 including 163,500 besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta. No assistance reached eastern Ghouta in April but in early May, the World Health Organization was able to deliver, through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), diabetes treatment for 200 people as well as two dialysis machines, according to the report.

WHO had requested permission to send 2,000 renal failure medicines but permission was granted for only 250. The SARC convoy delivering the aid was hit by mortar fire resulting in the death of one volunteer and injuries to three others.

More than 225,000 people are besieged by ISIL Deir ez-Zor city. No aid has reached them since March when the Food and Agriculture Organization delivered 140 sheep.

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The government is also confiscating medical supplies, Ban said in the monthly report to the Council.

“Despite obtaining approval from the local authorities, all injectable medicines, surgical supplies and medical kits were removed from a United Nations inter-agency convoy to Ar-Rastan in Homs by the security forces. Consequently, people were deprived of 10,459 treatments,” he said in the report.”

A measles vaccination campaign by UNICEF and WHO in April targeting 2.5 million children reached 1.6 million children, Ban wrote. ISIL did not permit the campaign in Raqqa and large parts of Deir ez -Zor with the exception of allowing 1,000 children to be vaccinated in Raqqa. Fighting prevented the campaign reaching other areas including in Aleppo, Homs and rural Damascus.

Nine humanitarian aid workers have been killed in Syria since the start of the year, according to the report, bringing to 76 the number killed since March 2011.

The full report is below.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: ICRC

Ban Ki-moon Monthly Report on Syria resolutions