Emergency relief and the media

February 7, 2012
by 
Guy Des Aulniers, Program Officer for Emergency Relief

"The media have prevented humanitarian organizations from being strategic." The judgment is harsh. It is from Overtoun Omgezulu, regional emergency relief coordinator for the Horn of Africa at Trocaire. He saw the media parade through the region during the summer of 2011. Media pressure forced the organizations to spend money quickly so as to justify the use of the funds sent in. Otherwise, they were afraid that they would face accusations by the public.

Nevertheless, he says, this is a slow crisis. You have to give assistance, but from the perspective of recovery. It is useless to distribute food and disappear after six months. Because there will also be a drought next year, or floods. And there will be conflicts between tribal groups.

In the case of Kenya, an intervention should incorporate measures to reduce risks for the next stage (dams, wells, seeds) and above all a conflict-resolution strategy. "The Turkana people in the North refused the camels that we were supposed to give them. The beneficiaries were becoming a target for neighbouring villages. They preferred goats, even if they would obviously not do the same work."

Some dioceses have even ended up with too much money, without necessarily having the ability to manage the amount —"it's true that it's hard to say no." The Diocese of Ludwar, on the South Sudan border, candidly admits moreover that it receives too many "visitors". "Everyone wants their project, their photo..."

These observations are made calmly. Without cynicism. Everybody working on their own or, for example, at the Kenya Caritas Country Forum, which is held monthly. Today, everybody was explaining their successes and difficulties in the projects being implemented. Challenges abound. The biggest challenge is without a doubt coordination between the different actors.

I will be one of those "visitors" starting tomorrow. In the company of Samson Malesi, Emergency Relief Coordinator for Caritas Kenya, I will go to the dioceses of Ngong, Machakos, Kitui and Embu. I will be back on Saturday. You will be able to see whether or not I have Internet access.