Thursday, August 25, 2011

Humanitarian and Political Motivation

Political and military motivation should be separate from humanitarian assistance. By definition, humanitariansm requires impartiality, which is not possible if aid is delivered as a tool to sway opinions, to win support, or to advance one ideology over another. As an organization that partners first and foremost with the poor, PIH look to those we serve for legitimacy and also to determine what is in their best interest. Paul Farmer wrote in 2003:

NGOs must, therefore, take great care in attending to their mission of service to the afflicted; because this is the only way they can truly represent the needs of the victims, and avoid common mistakes and historical irresponsibility. It is when we ignore legitimacy in our pursuit of “effective” developmental models, or when we ignore problems that don’t fit our own conceptions of what is wrong or how to fix it, that NGOs find themselves complicit in the violence they mean to stop or, at the very least, allay. Pragmatic solidarity is what allows us to be discerning in which partnerships benefit our patients, and which ones may harm them.

In truth, no one group or individual has a monopoly on humanitarian actions or goals. The sheer devastation of the earthquake, the flattening of infrastructure, logistics capacity, and medical care, and the loss of key leaders in governmental and nongovernmental sectors required a huge, multifaceted effort. In the face of such catastrophe, we could not afford to ignore military assets. If military cannot by definition be humanitarian actors, they can surely accomplish humanitarian tasks. In Haiti in those first weeks and months, we needed and I welcomed all who came with a humanitarian task in mind, a determination to help achieve the common objective of saving lives and reducing suffering, and a willingness to get their boots dirty.
Louise C. Ivers in Haiti: After the Earthquake, p. 306

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