THE BLOG

Lessons From The Myanmar Response: Why We Need To Support Local And National Aid Agencies

17/09/2017 22:39 BST | Updated 17/09/2017 23:31 BST
Mohammad Ponir Hossain / Reuters

Images of thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar have quite rightly focused global attention on the human tragedy of displacement and the search for safety.

However, there is another story here, namely the scramble to deliver aid to over 400,000 refugees - the population of a small city.

Dramatic displacements like these require a huge humanitarian response to ensure new arrivals live with dignity.

Indeed it is our legal, humanitarian, and above all, moral responsibility to provide sanctuary and a dignified way of life.

All too often we see scenes of chaotic and undignified 'do-it-yourself' aid distribution.

Of trucks and vans with stick-wielding men throwing aid to crowds of refugees, jostling for position.

Although there is good intention here, it is undignified and breaks pretty much every humanitarian standard.

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So what is going wrong?

To put it simply, emergency aid in these first few weeks runs at two speeds - fast and frantic (meeting immediate needs) and sound and steady (bulk delivery on aid based of clear needs assessments and properly procured/mobilised aid items).

Most international aid agencies are very good at the sound and steady and are often fully operational by week three or four.

This is no mean feat. Sound and steady can deliver a refugee camp hosting 20,000 refugees with shelter and water and sanitation in four weeks which is something to behold.

For far too long though, the international community has ignored the crucial role that local and national aid agencies play in humanitarian response.

They have the know-how and access and are often the first to respond to disasters.

However, all too often international aid agencies either ignore them or form very lop-sided partnerships that overwhelm local partners.

At worst they recruit staff from local/national aid agencies and disrupt their programmes.

If international aid agencies are genuine about serving the most vulnerable, they need to change their strategic approach to emergency aid and seek out equitable partnerships that invest in local capacity.

Only then can we see dignified and effective aid in the first days of a disaster.

Islamic Relief UK have launched an emergency appeal for Myanmar, please donate now and help save lives.