The CSS Blog Network

A ‘Complex Emergency’ in the Horn of Africa

Famine in Somalia. Source United Nations/flickr

Biafra, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia… the same story, the same heartbreaking pictures of children starving, and the same anger: These children are not starving because there is not enough food. They are starving because their governments – or whatever is left of them – have failed and are failing to handle this crisis.

The famine and refugee crisis in Somalia, said to be the result of the worst drought in 60 years has left the international community floundering to address it. The crisis is the result of a combination of a two-decade old civil war and the second famine in 20 years. In response Somalis are fleeing to Mogadishu or Kenyan refugee camps. Families are compelled to leave behind the weak and disabled – including babies – on the long walk through conflict and drought zones in search of a means of survival. Most Somalis head to the Dadaab camp in Kenya – the world’s largest refugee camp. It is seriously overcrowded – with an official capacity to hold 90,000 people, it currently hosts more than 420,000.

Many of those who manage to reach to the camp die waiting to enter, as there are endless lines at the registration offices. And even those who enter the camp face a new risk of violence: the local marauding gangs and criminals in the camp. Men are beaten and women raped. The Kenyan police say they do not have enough manpower to stop them. » More

Disaster Relief 2.0

Disaster Relief 2.0“The 2010 Haiti earthquake response will be remembered as the moment when the level of access to mobile and online communication enabled a kind of collective intelligence to emerge.”

Last week, The UN Foundation, the Vodafone Foundation and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published a report on the future of information sharing in humanitarian emergencies. The paper examines the role of volunteer and technical communities (dubbed “V&TCs”) in providing information to aid agencies on the ground.

Paradoxically, aid workers in Haiti last year faced two opposite problems. At first, they lacked the most basic sources of information – even the UN offices had been destroyed and many employees had perished. In no time, internet communities mobilized to fill the gap, collecting data online, from satellite images or from SMS.

But then, established humanitarian institutions – and especially UN agencies – had no procedure in place to integrate such masses of external information, and overstretched aid workers soon faced a state of information overload.

Some NGOs focussing on information services in emergencies existed before the Haiti earthquake (e.g. MapAction, Télécoms Sans Frontières, Sahana). According to the report, the earthquake triggered a boom last year. Some of the key V&TCs involved in Haiti it mentions are OpenStreetMap, CrisisMappers, Crisis Commons, the 4636 Alliance and Ushahidi.

Disaster Relief 2.0” raises several issues regarding the management of information in international emergencies, especially with a view to better exploiting the potential of V&TCs. From the established humanitarian system’s point of view, reliability and professionalism are core values that can be problematic in loosely organized volunteer communities.

On the other hand, those communities have the potential to help solve the current humanitarian system’s “data silos” problem. Coordinated by OCHA, humanitarian relief is organized around clusters (shelter, health,  nutrition, etc…). According to the report, proprietary information systems and individual standards are major impediments to the exchange of data between those clusters and with actors external to the system such as V&CTs.

The arrival of these internet communities on the scene is likely to make the silos crumble. They will bring their open source and semantic web philosophies, hopefully fostering the development of open standards and structured data. Humanitarian aid 2.0 is on its way, hold on!

Kick-starting Development Aid

Photo: Screenshot of kickstarter.com

Often in development aid, misery and natural disasters determine where the money goes. The tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh in 2004 could be seen all over the news for many weeks. The recent Haitian earthquake is still very present in many minds and may touch our conscience in such a way that we gladly give our money to respective development agencies. As a consequence, these places are swarmed with NGOs, IOs and private initiatives creating and realizing projects.

Yet, isn’t that exactly the purpose of development aid? To help people in need? Yes, but meanwhile a disaster victim in Banda Aceh receives 5 tents, 7 pairs of shoes and tons of goods of development aid for years to come, children in the poorer regions of Africa, South America or elsewhere lack the public attention to attract comparable support.

Relying heavily on organizations such as the UN Development Programme or US Aid, funding of projects in unknown and remote areas can be very difficult. It is a widespread practice that agencies, especially those which count on private financial contributions, use the “big disasters” to raise money and then redirect these funds to cross-finance smaller, less known projects in other regions. However, this practice is often prone to intransparency, fraud and improper management.

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Our Business: Trafficking Weapons, Delivering Aid

What’s transported in this cargo plane? Weapons? Humanitarian aid? Or both? / photo: tz1_1zt, flickr

The global transport industry plays a crucial role in conflict economies. Ethical Cargo, a new information portal by one of our partners, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), sheds light on this role and helps donors to choose the right companies when giving out contracts.

An earlier study by SIPRI showed that 90 percent of air transport companies engaged in weapons, drugs or precious minerals trafficking have also received contracts to deliver humanitarian aid or peacekeeping equipment.

“Air transportation has played a key role in fuelling the war economies that have devastated much of Africa in recent decades,” Hugh Griffiths and Mark Bromley write in their paper. They urge the EU and its member states to “deny humanitarian aid, peace support, stability operations and defence logistics supply chain contracts to air transport companies engaged in destabilizing or illicit commodity flows, in particular the transfer of SALW [small arms and light weapons].”

To support this, Ethical Cargo was launched, namely to help the “humanitarian aid and peace-support communities implement effective conflict-sensitive logistics and ethical transportation policies.” The website offers an emergency 24-hour hotline, a database, model codes of conduct, best practices and contract negotiation techniques.

People working for organizations engaged in humanitarian aid or peace-support can register and use the services freely.

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