THE EDITOR: World Humanitarian Day, to be observed on Monday, is “directed towards honouring humanitarian efforts worldwide and propagating the idea of supporting people in crisis.”
This year’s campaign is on “Women humanitarians and their undying contribution in making the world a better place. Women humanitarians hold a sense of unparalleled uniqueness, one that adds to the global momentum of female strength, power and perseverance. It is time to honour the women who have acted as first responders to the darkest hours of crisis” (UN).
Today natural and manmade disasters continue to impact the lives of many. In December 2018, the International Rescue Committee’s emergency response experts ranked 21 countries most at risk of humanitarian catastrophe in 2019. The top five are: Yemen, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and Venezuela.
Humanitarian interventions “are becoming more frequent, severe, complex and protracted.”
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs states:
“Despite global development gains, one in every 70 people around the world is caught up in crisis and urgently needs humanitarian assistance and protection. More people are being displaced by conflict...Natural disasters and climate change have a high human cost. Disasters affect 350 million people on average each year and cause billions of dollars of damage. Food insecurity is rising.”
Many unsung women humanitarians continue to take leadership positions in emergency responses and help to empower communities. In TT, for example, for more than 30 years Rhonda Maingot, founder/director of Living Water Community and her team have been working to meet the needs of migrants and refugees who come here from more than 30 countries.
The Catholic Church has a long history of playing its part in humanitarian emergencies through organisations such as the Catholic Relief Services, CAFOD, and Caritas. In October 2018, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See at the UN, stated:
“Women, as Pope Francis has said, are at the forefront of the ‘revolution of tenderness’ that the world urgently needs...The Catholic Church, especially through the activity of its many courageous religious sisters and missionaries, has always defended the dignity and human rights of those enduring conflicts and humanitarian emergencies, by providing physical protection, as well as moral and spiritual support, and working with police and border control agents; facilitating access to justice and humanitarian aid; helping against arbitrary detention; assisting them with access to housing, emergency healthcare, and education in many cases when there is no one else to provide such basic humanitarian requirements; and mediating tensions with host communities.”
For Catholics, the transcendent nature of the human person is an integral dimension of humanitarian aid. Peter Dizikes refers to anthropologist Erica James’ examination of the effectiveness of aid to those on the margins of society.
Her 2010 book, Democratic Insecurities, about the post-1994 reconstruction of Haiti shows that “some aid programmes helped Haitians recover despite a climate of violence, but other programmes reconstituted social divisions or sustained what James calls a ‘political economy of trauma’ in which citizens found financial gain in assuming victim status, and organisations profited from brokering...citizens’ traumas.”
Not all aid pledged is delivered, for example because of corruption. See reports such as the damning 2018 one from British MPs who said: “The aid sector is guilty of ‘complacency verging on complicity’ over an ‘endemic’ sex abuse scandal” (BBC).
See revelations that senior Oxfam staff paid survivors of the 2010 Haiti earthquake for sex. Similar allegations exist about a number of other charities.
Following Pope Francis’ 2017 TED Talk, Ron Anderson noted that “his new language and themes in the TED Talk respond to a declining use of the humanitarianism terminology globally,” due perhaps to “a widespread capitulation to egoism and narcissism. But it may also reflect greater use of terminology such as ‘service to others,’ compassion, and caring.”
Pope Francis warns us that “tenderness, equality, and solidarity must prevail.”