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Why We Should Change the Way We Think About Humanitarian Aid

In a world plagued by natural disasters, disease, conflicts and health crises, humanitarian aid is capable of alleviating the burden of individuals' suffering where there are no prospects of an imminent resolution.

From providing lifesaving assistance in war-torn regions to leading projects that can change the lives of disadvantaged populations, humanitarian aid embodies the essence of humanity's potential for altruism and cooperation.

Here, Shameet Thakkar, founder and managing director of Unimed Procurement Services, an international development organisation regularly supporting humanitarian relief missions globally, discusses what it really takes to deliver effective humanitarian aid.

Putting the core humanitarian principles into action

Originally created by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and later adopted by the United Nations, the core humanitarian principles offer a universal outline of the right way to implement humanitarian aid to protect those affected by disasters, conflicts, and other emergencies.

The core principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence bring consistency, integrity and credibility to the world of humanitarian aid, which unites people from all over the globe, nurturing an environment of trust and cooperation.

However, these are not a set of instructions to be blindly followed, rather a belief system which requires an in-depth understanding of how to act for the sole benefit of those receiving assistance.

The principles dictate a complete lack of discrimination and bias, meaning a change in mindset is often required for them to be followed. Providing assistance based on need alone may go against one’s beliefs, such as in the context of conflicts, and abandoning these beliefs can often be a challenge.

Nevertheless, the unified, coherent response dictated by the principles is key to begin putting thoughts into action to create long-lasting change on a global level.

Is crisis response at the core of humanitarian aid?

Humanitarian crisis response is a vital part of humanitarian aid, and a particularly complex area, requiring the coordinated efforts of many on short notice.

When disasters strike, the rapid deployment of food, clean water, medical commodities and emergency shelter can effectively save lives and help safeguard vulnerable communities.

Crisis response fosters collaboration among governments, international development organisations, aid agencies and local communities, helping create long-term relationships and inspire change on an even deeper level.

Ultimately, everyone is touched by humanitarian crises. Their impact resonates far beyond the borders of the affected regions, whether it be the economic repercussions stemming from natural disasters, the displacement of refugees, or the collective need to mobilise resources to prevent certain crises from exacerbating.

This means that humanitarian aid is about immediate crisis response just as much as it is about building relationships and looking at the big picture to make a meaningful, lasting impact.

The link between humanitarian aid and building solid healthcare infrastructure

Crucially, looking at the big picture requires identifying issues within healthcare infrastructure as a whole and identifying the right ways to address them to reduce countries’ reliance on humanitarian assistance.

The need for humanitarian aid in developing countries often stems from existing issues within healthcare systems, with these not being equipped to deal with the burden of conflicts or natural disasters coupled with existing health crises.

In particular, the widespread lack of access to preventative and diagnostic care forms a critical barrier to public health and healthcare advancements. Many of these nations struggle with limited healthcare infrastructure, scarce resources, and inadequate funding, leading to disparities in healthcare.

Preventative measures, such as vaccinations and health education programmes, are often unavailable to large segments of the population, leaving them vulnerable to diseases and health complications that are often preventable.

And with diagnostic tools and facilities, including medical equipment and testing capabilities, being frequently scarce, early detection and timely treatment become almost impossible.

Overall, these deficiencies perpetuate a cycle of poverty and inequality that is difficult to break, and this is where humanitarian aid and international development workers come into play, with stakeholders playing a role that goes way beyond crisis relief, extending to actions that carefully address the needs of vulnerable populations to create long-term change.

A multi-faceted approach based on continuous learning

Continuous evaluation and learning from past experiences can further help those in the humanitarian space to adapt to evolving challenges to secure more impactful outcomes.

The challenges faced by vulnerable communities across the world can serve as a stark reminder of the fragility and interdependence of our global community, showcasing why we need to work collaboratively and proactively towards increasing resilience.

Addressing healthcare disparities to reduce the need for emergency aid in developing countries requires the efforts from the international community as well as investment in healthcare systems to improve infrastructure in the right ways, prioritising the health and wellbeing of people in need.

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