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Opinion

Guide for aid-givers: Beyond good intentions you must do no harm


As the victims and their needs emerge from the Yolanda-affected areas, there are urgent demands for aid as well as enormous humanitarian local and international responses to the emergency. 
 
There are also many expectations for quick action from the government and international aid organizations. However, there seems to be a lack of clear and coherent plan, structures, and mechanisms on hand on how to effectively respond to the disaster for the short and long-term basis. 
 
Without any feasible plan, there is no certainty that relief and development interventions will be beneficial. There's even a strong possibily that some may be harmful.
       
While there are sightings of hope along the way, past experiences on disaster responses were criticized as mired in waste, ineffective solutions imposed by well-intentioned bureaucrats, outsiders, and humanitarian efforts that do more harm than good. Many humanitarian aid recipients have been generally denied of dignity; handouts eat away at their self-sufficiency; and resources are wasted. Beyond all good intentions, due to the demands, time constraints and  sometimes arrogance, humanitarian aid organizations tend to establish inefficient, bureaucratic and occasionally unethical system of helping victims in need without ever asking what they actually need. 
 
There is an urgent call to provide emergency and relief services in a more sustainable, more appropriate, and more sensitive way of delivering "aid" in disaster situations affecting the well-being of people.
 
Humanitarian assistance on a massive scale should be provided in such a way that negative side-effects are avoided by all means. The government and aid organizations need to look beyond charity and good intentions and assess all the implications, not only of what they do, but also of how they do it. 
 
Government and humanitarian aid organizations should understand the impact of their activities, and to design programs which encourage effective emergency and relief towards lasting development. Interventions should be done by allowing local people to play a decisive role in all aspects of programming – from resource allocation to program development.
 
The “Sphere Project” is a voluntary global initiative that brings a wide range of humanitarian agencies together around a common aim – to improve the quality of humanitarian assistance and the accountability of humanitarian actors to their constituents, donors and affected populations. 
 
“The Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response”, is one of the most widely known and internationally recognized sets of common principles and universal minimum standards in life-saving areas of humanitarian response. The “Sphere” principles support the right of all people affected by disaster to re-establish their lives and livelihoods and that this “right” is recognized and acted upon in ways that respect their voice and promote their dignity, livelihoods and security." 
 
The “Sphere Handbook” summarizes below the minimum standards of operations in responding   to disasters which puts the right of disaster-affected populations to life with dignity, protection and assistance at the center of humanitarian action.

These standards promote the active participation of affected populations as well as of local and national authorities work. They can serve as reminders or guidelines for the government and local and international humanitarian aid organizations on how to effectively respond to the Yolanda disaster.

They are as follows:
 
Common standard 1: Participation
The disaster-affected population actively participates in the assessment, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the assistance program.
 
Common standard 2: Initial Assessment
Assessments provide an understanding of the disaster situation and a clear analysis of threats to life, dignity, health and livelihoods to determine, in consultation with the relevant authorities, whether an external response is required and, if so, the nature of the response.
 
Common standard 3: Response
A humanitarian response is required in situations where the relevant authorities are unable and/or unwilling to respond to the protection and assistance needs of the population on the territory over which they have control, and when assessment and analysis indicate that these needs are unmet.
 
Common standard 4: Targeting
Humanitarian assistance or services are provided equitably and impartially, based on the vulnerability and needs of individuals or groups affected by disaster.
 
Common standard 5: Monitoring
The effectiveness of the program in responding to problems is identified and changes in the broader context are continually monitored, with a view to improving the program, or to phasing it out as required.
 
Common standard 6: Evaluation
There is a systematic and impartial examination of humanitarian action, intended to draw lessons to improve practice and policy and to enhance accountability.
 
Common standard 7: Aid worker competencies and responsibilities
Aid workers possess appropriate qualifications, attitudes and experience to plan and effectively implement appropriate programs.
 
Common standard 8: Supervision, management and support of personnel
Aid workers receive supervision and support to ensure effective implementation of the humanitarian assistance program. — KDM, GMA News 
 

Based in Badghis Province, Afghanistan, Rodolfo Ticao has more than 30 years of Philippine and international experience in humanitarian emergency, relief and development, and democratic governance in the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Iraq. 
 

 
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