Humanitarian aid should be priority in times of calamities

By Douglas ole Sikawa

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, drought and landslides cause enormous pain and unbearable stress. Violent conflicts and other calamities caused by man are even more agonizing.

East Africa suffers from regular droughts and flooding, making displacement a regular occurrence.  A large percentage of humanitarian aid is usually delivered during times of crisis. However, these situations also come with a complexity of other misgivings such as political complexities, conflict dynamics, external influence, and a horde of other complex situations.

Even with all these challenges, people deserve to be assisted in order to reduce human suffering and the imminent deaths that follow immediately. It is therefore the duty of government agencies and other humanitarian aid actors to ponder how to improve aid delivery to reach the recipients so as to reduce human suffering. Emergency assistance saves lives in crisis situation, and therefore its delivery must be given top priority and be devoid of bias. Humanitarian aid must focus on the principal mission of saving lives.

The mandate of every government should therefore be to deliver the much needed assistance to the affected people and exercise impartiality, neutrality and independence. These principles were set by the UN more than a quarter century ago, and help humanitarian agencies get access to the crisis hit areas. It also has an economic flip side to it as well. For example, the trucking industry may profit from the transport of aid resources.

Media discrepancy must be carefully weighed to determine the true scenario on the ground of such affected areas. Examples are known of media being more selective in highlighting stricken areas. If this information is not carefully examined, the resultant outcome would be for some areas to be more favoured than others in terms of humanitarian aid.

Kenya has been exposed to the risk of recurrent droughts which like every other part of the world is as a result of the effects of climate change. Where such a type of disaster strikes, it makes more sense to improve water resource management in general than to truck water around in times of crisis. This may end up being costly in the final analysis, but it pays and becomes a continuous source of help to the affected populace. Success will be seen if more emphasis is geared towards development agenda which will result in fewer and manageable problems.

The more governments gear their policies to reducing communities’ vulnerabilities and building resilience, the less they would set aside funds for mitigating such calamities. Governments should always opt for approaches that are inclusive of local institutions and communities because in the long run they make a difference.

There is a danger however. If humanitarian aid delivery becomes a routine, psychological support and compassionate care becomes neglected and can have devastating effect on the affected. Everyone has a capacity to be resilient and although this capacity for resilience differ from person to person, those who proof to be more resilient can be trained as potential volunteers in trauma counseling which enables them to provide psychological first aid.

The stronger the resilience is, the better it is because communities can develop potentially life-saving buffer capacities to absorb stress, hazards and other disturbing forces. For example, school emergency operations can be put in place which will in turn give students and teachers a safe environment. The schools can equally give temporary accommodation for victims of catastrophes.

In its original form, humanitarian aid makes a powerful offer by not focusing on anything beyond saving human lives and reducing suffering. Aid is not just an issue of humanitarian empathy. Every person on earth has a right to social security, freedom from hunger and good health.

The grim reality is that disasters are recurrent therefore many people are likely to be traumatized over and over again. The challenge is to build the resilience of vulnerable communities and deliver timely assistance when they need support.

The author is a Wildlife Conservationist and Security Consultant; he can be reached on


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