Médecins sans Frontières Needles Our Risk Avoiding Humanitarian Spirit.

According to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), We keep doing the easy jobs and going to the easy places. Médecins sans Frontières created quite a stir in the international humanitarian discourse recently over their article “Where is Everyone?“.  The report, lamenting the scarcity of humanitarian agencies operating in most difficult environments…..

This link opens a pdf Report. Where Is Everyone: Responding To Emergencies In The Most Difficult Places.  (http://www.msf.org/sites/msf.org/files/msf-whereiseveryone_-def-lr_-_july.pdf)

Here are a collection of quotes from the study.

Taking The Easy Road

“Many agencies are concentrating only on the easiest-to-reach populations and ignoring the more difficult places.”


Can’t argue with this. Most westerners serve where the schools are great, you can speak your mother tongue,

Not Actually Doing The Work – Passing the Buck

“Many humanitarian actors are now working at arm’s length through local NGOs or government authorities, acting more as technical experts, intermediaries or donors than field actors.”… These local organisations have enormous burdens placed on them to respond, but often do not have the skills and experience required to conduct technically difficult interventions; further, it can be difficult for them to operate in contested areas and to be seen as neutral and impartial.”

The fact that we are acting as facilitators and not actually doing the ground work too, concerns me. One could say that this is simply good delegation.  However, the report indicates that delegation to many local agencies and personnel is often going to people with less capacity to see good results, or give proper over-site. If we are humanitarian workers, should we not get our hands dirty in the field.  It all sounds like a dependency cycle, where we are seen as bankrolls to hand out cash to get the job done. This to me is where abuse comes in, and we attract people to the service filed with alternator motives… lining their pockets with cash, or a good paying job.

Aversion To Risk 

“A major theme to emerge in all three cases was a very strong risk aversion by NGOs,…. Humanitarian agencies have adopted a stance on security which is risk-averse and which has led, in more than a few  cases, to populations being without emergency assistance when they most needed it…..

That about says it all right? We like to cover our own ass. And when humanitarians (Or other workers) do go to risky regions of this globe to serve, and something goes awry, we are very quick to criticize them for not covering their ass too. “What the hell where they doing there in the first place?”, we question. And in doing so are quick to assign negligence, irresponsibility, or carelessness to their working in higher risk areas. So the hard stuff should just be avoided then… right?

Inflexibility & Cumbersome Structures

“The humanitarian community’s programming was generally too cumbersome and inflexible to allow for quick reaction to the emergencies that occurred during the 2012-13 crisis…..”  Humanitarian responses are slow and cumbersome, and lack impact.”

What, institutions are inflexible and slow to move? Really? Simple structures are needed and larger institutions are often critical of the less structured groups. Often smaller and lean, meeting niche needs.  Man of Peace Developments philosophy is “Simple, economical, easily repeated (By ordinary people) solutions and approaches to work.

Lack of Decisiveness 

“My main complaint … is that, even if you can only do a few things, do them decisively, not this endless up and down regarding whether a camp is staying or going. Lack of decisiveness isn’t about the depth of the wallet.”

Slow decisions, slow to move, and slow to respond.

Non Response To Crisis

“Some humanitarian agencies simply wait until the emergency passes to continue their usual, long-term

Maybe they simply lack the finances, skills, and know how to respond to emergencies? Maybe they should stick to what they know how to do best?  I see many possibilities as to why this might be the case.

Faltering Technical Skills

“Technical capacity in sectors such as water and sanitation or health also seems to be declining in emergency settings.”

This is alarming. Water and sanitation are the key need in crisis. Food distribution is easier…. but maybe we need hands on people who can simply build things, and drill things…like wells and pit toilets with excavators.  Maybe, we simply need more well drillers, and people who can use a shovel, backhoe, or hammer. People who can plant crops and get vegetable gardens going quickly in a crisis region…  more than the people with A Masters Degree In Global…….. or whatever other humanitarian classes we assume NGO’s’ MUST have.  I for one want the dirt worker over the degree…

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