In order to respond to disaster situations arising from conflicts, many national and international agencies provide timely emergency relief and long term recovery assistance. The task of delivering humanitarian aid is often made difficult by the challenges encountered by these NGOs. Security considerations make it unsafe for humanitarian workers to access the affected populations. Sometimes the governments of the countries concerned are reluctant to allow international aid workers entry into disaster areas. The example of access problems caused by security is Somalia where aid agencies have been absent for years. Recent examples of access denied to humanitarians by states are Myanmar and Syria.
Impartiality is a key factor in humanitarian assistance. In a situation where ethnic differences are the root-cause of a conflict, such as Myanmar and Congo, or where human rights and governance are publicly questioned on streets, as was evident in the Arab Spring, it is absolutely essential for aid agencies and advocacy organizations to strictly follow the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality irrespective of the beneficiaries’ faith, gender, ethnic or geographical origin or political affiliation. Impartiality is a fundamental component of the accountability framework of humanitarian NGOs. In providing assistance in conflict situations charities, especially faith-based charities must ensure that they are not influenced by any consideration other than need. This may place these charities in conflict with their supporters who may expect preferential treatment based on common faith. In the case of Muslim charities, their Islamic ethos supports the humanitarian principle that aid should be distributed on need basis. Muslim Aid has adhered to this principle in many regions likes Syria, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Sri Lanka when providing relief.
Another key factor that poses a challenge to the work of the charities is their inability to generate media interest in potential disasters which do not make headlines. There are always telltale signs ahead of a disaster, such as the slow onset of famine in the Sahel region in Africa. However, no one pays attention to these signs with the result that aid agencies are unable to raise sufficient awareness to prevent a disaster.
Worldwide recession has also affected the funding of charities. They now struggle to get government grants for running stabilization and poverty alleviation programmes. Recently, countries are finding it hard to continue overseas development assistance. Whatever humanitarian aid is provided is not enough to meet the needs. Often funds that should be given to charities are taken by UN agencies to fund their own inter-governmental programmes.
*The copyright of this article is held by the Information and Public Affairs Department of Muslim Aid, UK. Use of its contents is allowed subject to acknowledgement. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not represent the point of view of Muslim Aid.
Information & Public Affairs Assistant