The current global humanitarian system is widely acknowledged as no longer being fit for purpose. As natural disasters and internal conflicts increase over the years, there is a corresponding increase in the number of actors involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief [HADR]. However, the growth in the number of actors has not translated into increased effectiveness and efficiency in HADR operations. The lack of coordination among the various actors is one of the key identified problems which has resulted in unnecessary duplicity of effort, wastage of resources, tensions among various parties involved, and delays in ensuring timely relief to affected populations. Different actors have competing agendas and biases, despite having the stated common goal to deliver humanitarian assistance to those in need.
Information sharing among HADR stakeholders remains problematic, which leads to a lack of coordination. Humanitarian actors may have different and even incomplete perceptions of a disaster situation which can hamper the coordination efforts. There is a lack of trust between stakeholders which inhibits communication and the flow of information. This remains one of the main reasons behind coordination problems. In general there is an unwillingness to share information results in the field, which results in different awareness levels of the same disaster situation, and leads to inefficient responses.
In conducting humanitarian assistance, especially in conflict-afflicted communities, the military wants that all humanitarian responders to coordinate with them to ensure their safety. However, some organisations are wary of working with the military as they are keen to preserve their principle of neutrality and independence in conflict settings. Regular constructive engagements between civilian organisations and the military may help the latter better secure humanitarian actors in accessing affected civilians in conflict areas, while respecting the fundamental principles of humanitarian action. Regular dialogue among all HADR stakeholders may help them achieve common situational awareness which can lead to more coordinated, faster and better services to conflict-afflicted communities.
NGOs and militaries have different approaches when it comes to the protection of vulnerable communities. Militaries and the police tend to use armed protection to ensure the physical protection of vulnerable communities. NGOs have a wider range of responses such as public awareness campaigns, emergency relief, psychosocial support, and advocacy measures with governments, donors, parties to conflict, community leaders, and local authorities.
It is imperative to have a much greater level of cooperation by all actors involved on multiple levels. No single agency or country can deal with the aftermath of humanitarian emergencies, including interrelated protection issues. International organisations, governments, militaries, local communities, private sector, and academia will all need to work together and cooperate with one another. Cooperation and partnerships can also lead to greater levels of trust, transparency, accountability and improved HADR governance structures.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is one important protection issue that requires immediate attention of and collaboration among key actors. However, it is not often a government policy priority prior to disasters. The unspoken nature of SGBV along with the failure of national policies, responders, and of the local communities to really understand the effects of SGBV means that it is a silent disaster. A number of factors exacerbate risks of SGBV which include the increased number of actors involved; increased ‘chaos’ and opportunities for SGBV; increased levels of separation from family, friends and support networks; social taboos; breakdown in social protection mechanisms; and lack of state support to the victims.
In the Asia-Pacific, there are still many cases of SGBV due to deeply rooted gender inequality as well as discriminatory socio-cultural norms and practices. To correctly address SGBV and discrimination, a change of mindset and perspective are needed as regulations and policies alone cannot change the lives of victims. While governments often sympathize with the victims, the issue is still not considered as a major problem. It needs to be complemented with financial support for capacity building, partnership and coordination at the local level, as well as a blueprint for development design at the district and provincial levels to help serve the needs of victims in the aftermath of a natural disaster or conflict.
Research from the academic community is an area that is going to be very important and influential in order to find ways to address challenges to HADR including delicate protection issues such SGBV; but at the same time research also should be practical and should contribute to agenda-setting. It should also ensure that research projects make available to the humanitarian actors and practitioners the tools that they need to better empower vulnerable populations. Any academic pursuit in the field of HADR will be meaningless if it does not generate insights and/or concrete recommendations to improve the situation on the ground.
In an effort to bring together stakeholders from across the spectrum of HADR, this Roundtable is organised through the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Programme at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies and the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS) of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The first part of the Roundtable focuses on two core HADR issues: the protection of and assistance to vulnerable communities in natural disaster and conflict settings. It attempts to map the emerging challenges for HADR actors and assess the effectiveness of HADR in recent years. The second part of the Roundtable focuses on a specific HADR challenge: gender-based and sexual violence in natural disaster and conflict settings, with particular focus on identifying the protection needs of victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and best practices in assisting victims and managing cases of SGBV.
East Asia and Asia Pacific / Event Reports / Non-Traditional Security / Southeast Asia and ASEAN
RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Roundtable on the Challenges to Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief in the Asia-Pacific, 22-23 July 2015 (Report, Singapore: RSIS Centre for NTS Studies, 2015).
Last updated on 07/12/2015