An immediate need for at-risk populations is a secure location where their safety and human rights are ensured. Initiating an assistance program in an unsafe location or an atmosphere of vulnerability to violence or discrimination is difficult.
Because the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance’s (OFDA’s) humanitarian assistance is often undertaken in areas that are potentially dangerous for at-risk populations, all OFDA field staff should maintain an awareness of the security problems facing target populations and the positive or negative impacts that assistance programs can have in such contexts. OFDA seeks to apply a "protection mindset" to its assessments, strategies, monitoring, and evaluation of assistance programs. At a minimum, the goal is to ensure that assistance programs "do no harm," e.g., do not aggravate local tensions, expose target populations to greater danger, or inadvertently further empower those who are responsible for conflict or abuse. In some situations, wisely designed and implemented assistance programs can mitigate or prevent protection problems, such as violence, abuse, theft, harassment, or exploitation. In short, OFDA seeks to provide assistance in ways that enhance protection.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) uses a broad definition of protection, believing that at-risk populations should be granted the full security and protection provided under applicable norms of national law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law for which the United States has ratified the treaties or conventions in question or otherwise has accepted these principles as reflecting customary international law. In situations of armed conflict, principles and rules of international humanitarian law guide OFDA assistance. In addition, the United Nations’ (UN’s) Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, although not accepted by the United States as an expression of governing international law, offer a useful tool and framework for dealing with the affected population.
Examples of protection problems encountered by at-risk
populations targeted for OFDA assistance include:
Although OFDA assistance programs may be incapable of immediately eliminating protection problems faced by the affected population, OFDA staff should seek to promote protection to the extent possible by being aware of sources of vulnerability and seeking to reduce them. In particularly severe situations, OFDA may need to pursue an outcome with the fewest negative effects rather than an ideal solution that is unattainable. Key questions and considerations help provide a protection component for humanitarian assistance programs.
Statistics often determine how an emergency is perceived and how the outside world responds. Wildly inaccurate data can skew the humanitarian response, miss critical needs, or result in mistaken priorities. Data disaggregated by gender and age, if available, will usually provide a better understanding of problems that otherwise would not be readily apparent.
Consultation can uncover problems of aid diversion, harassment, nighttime violence, and other protection issues that are not readily apparent. Consultation can also reveal ways to better provide assistance. Group leaders who do not have the trust of their followers may undermine the effectiveness and impartiality of assistance programs.
When women and children are not part of the planning and implementation phases, their local expertise and opinions are not tapped and project design will likely fail to address gender-sensitive topics. So that all types of needs and capacities are represented, the women and youth chosen to help design and implement programs should, as much as possible, reflect the sociocultural variability within the population.
Latrines, health clinics, and other infrastructure should be positioned with an eye to the proper balance between safety and privacy. In some situations, routine assistance activities such as food distributions can be safer or more dangerous for targeted populations depending on the time of day, distance from homes, and the amounts distributed. Proper monitoring of assistance activities can identify or prevent protection problems.
When possible, at-risk populations should be empowered to act in support of their own protection. Affected populations almost always know more than humanitarian agencies about their predicament, the nature and timing of the threats confronting them, the mindset of the people posing threats, and opportunities to resist those threats.
Once the situation and needs have been assessed and the pro-tection of individuals has been secured, the priority will be to provide vital assistance to the affected population. In situations in which populations are displaced, key organizational and planning decisions that may determine the future of relief operations must be made. These decisions involve the issues summarized below. If the following issues are not quickly and correctly addressed, they will be difficult to resolve later:
The specific type and amount of emergency assistance required will depend on the factors to consider for each situation. These factors are as follows:
The type and amount of emergency assistance must be consistent with the aim of ensuring the survival and basic well-being of the affected population, fairly applied, and respected by all.
The first priority in an emergency is to provide the organizational framework required to meet the needs of the emergency. The affected country, UN relief organizations, private voluntary organizations (PVOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and international organizations (IOs) must be mobilized according to a plan for immediate action. Ensuring that the involved parties have the logistical capacity needed to deliver the assistance will be of critical importance.
When the organizational framework has been established, the immediate needs of the affected population must be met. The following is a list of needs in the order of their importance.
Promote self-sufficiency in the affected population from the start; involve them in the planning for their welfare. This task may be difficult, but if the affected population is not involved, the effec-tiveness of the emergency assistance will be severely reduced, and an early opportunity to help them to start recovering from the psychological effects of their ordeal may be missed.
The remaining sections in this chapter provide an indepth review of the needs of communities affected by a disaster, focusing on water, food and nutrition, health, DP camps, and sanitation and environmental health issues. While the discussion in these sections often emphasizes IDPs, most of the material is also applicable to assisting with the relief needs of any population impacted by disaster or conflict.