CEO BLOG: Humanitarian aid – Does it really work?

In 2017, humanitarian organisations reached more people in need than ever before and countless lives have been saved.

David Verboom answers people’s frequently asked questions about humanitarian aid.

In 2017, humanitarian organisations reached more people in need than ever before and countless lives have been saved. However, humanitarian emergencies have become more frequent, complex, longer-lasting and are affecting more people than ever before, stretching the humanitarian community to new lengths.

This week we’re celebrating World Humanitarian Day – a day to honour and celebrate those going the extra mile to help others. As we take a moment to celebrate our teams around the world working hard daily to bring life-saving relief to those who need it most, it’s also a great opportunity to answer some frequently asked questions I receive about humanitarian aid.

Click here  to watch David answer supporters’ frequently asked questions on Facebook Live.

What are the major challenges facing the humanitarian community today?

The biggest challenge is the growing needs of people with fewer resources to help them.

We are encountering more prolonged conflicts and an increase in natural disasters while at the same time receiving less respect for the protection for civilians and humanitarians caught in these crises.

The humanitarian community is increasingly being tested by less financing, fewer capable staff, less media attention, and more criticism.

What are some major opportunities?

The greatest opportunities lie within the people we serve. Building on the knowledge and skills of the people we serve can help us improve our services and make sure that they are tailored to the needs of the community we’re serving.

Other promising opportunities include the growth of new technologies, new and stronger partnerships, and the increased involvement of the private sector. One such innovation that is changing the face of humanitiarian aid is cash programming (supplying cash instead of goods to people in need). It’s a fantastic way to preserve the dignity of the people we serve by allowing them to make decisions about what would help them most in their situation of need.

Sometimes following emergencies I see in the news cases of people not receiving any help. Why does it take so long to help people in some instances?

Responding to emergencies is challenging work. Emergencies often occur in countries with considerable security and logistical challenges, such as Syria and DR Congo. Securing the correct, legal authorisation in a country hit by crisis can be long and bureaucratic, significantly slowing down the aid response.

In many places, particularly in the places we work, the most vulnerable people are often found where the roads are the worst and in places affected by violence, so transporting relief items to them poses significant challenges.

Coordination among humanitarian organisations can be another challenge as well as a lack of funding. Often times, organisations must first raise enough funds before being able to respond to a crisis. That’s why emergency funds are so useful to help organisations respond more quickly when emergencies strike. With advanced funding, we can pre-purchase and pre-position emergency supplies at better prices and in strategic locations, which can lead to cost savings between 50-86 percent!

I read in the news that some donated money disappears and does not reach the people in need. Is this true?

Corruption and fraud do exist and are unacceptable. They limit the amount of aid reaching people who are in desperate need of it.

Emergencies create chaos and weaken governmental systems, making them more susceptible to financial abuse and misuse. Although we sadly cannot rule out the risk of corruption and fraud altogether, organisations can help minimise the risk of it and address it immediately when it happens.

Fraud prevention and detection is a responsibility of every aid worker. To do everything we can to prevent it, Medair established a Code of Ethics, policies and practices to prevent fraud, and a confidential complaint system. We uphold strict financial and logistical procedures that all our staff are expected to follow and analyse the risks and local power structures as part of emergency preparations.

Some countries have been receiving aid for over 20 years. Why is that and is there any solution?

In short, humanitarian action saves lives but cannot directly solve underlying structural problems that cause humanitarian crises. Our primary purpose is to relieve human suffering wherever it is found, even if the structures perpetuate the suffering of people.

However, we should not only help people survive. Humanitarian response plays a vital role in strengthening the resilience of communities affected by conflict by better preparing people for future man-made and natural crises. That’s why Medair does not leave immediately after a crisis, but stays to build resilience and capacity in local communities.

In all cases, we should always do everything we can to not only stop but also prevent human suffering.

Why are there so many humanitarian organisations out there? Are they all needed?

Humanitarian aid as it is today started around the founding of the Red Cross in 1859. After the establishment of the Red Cross, more and more non-governmental organisations were established, most of which were founded to respond to a specific crisis. Medair’s first mission was to respond to a crisis in Uganda in 1988.

However, once their first mission was finished, the young organisations grew and responded to more crises and over the years have transformed into professional organisations. While there are differences among the organisations – who they serve and where they work – there are considerable overlaps in their work today.

However, there is strength in numbers and I believe that these organisations, including Medair, should cooperate and partner more. That’s why we choose to coordinate closely with other organisations through Integral Alliance and EU-CORD as well as with various United Nation agencies.

How can a faith-based organisation like Medair deliver neutral and impartial aid, as your mission states?

Our vision and mission are inspired by our Christian faith, which is what motivates us, but our work is exclusively humanitarian in that we prevent and alleviate suffering. Therefore, it is not limited to people of like-faith.

Medair does not engage in proselytising. In contexts of various faiths, we respect what people believe, while at the same time remain transparent about our values and foundation.

What’s Medair’s approach to delivering aid?

People are at the centre of our work, and we believe that everyone – staff, supporters, and the people we serve – are all a part of our mission

Part of this people-centred approach is a commitment to building upon the existing resilience and capacity of the people we serve. They are not passive recipients, but essential partners in our projects.

We do not come to tell them what to do. Instead, we support them in meeting what they consider their most essential needs and help them to prepare for a better future.

Sometimes the problems seem so big. What can I do to help where I am?

Caring for people in an emergency can be done from anywhere in the world. We all play a role in bringing hope to seemingly hopeless situations – from working with us, making a donation, committing to pray, raising awareness…

So, I urge you to get involved! We simply cannot do this work without the help and commitment of our supporters.

Join the movement that is Medair. There are a number of ways you can get involved today:

  • Support Medair financially
  • Work with us
  • Volunteer with us
  • Pray for our work and the people who we serve
  • Sign up for our e-news and share Medair’s stories
  • Join our community on social media and encourage your community to get involved 

I invite you to visit our “Take Action” pages to learn more and contact us.

Missed our Facebook Live session with David? You can still watch the video on our Facebook page when you click here.