Tuesday, December 28, 2004

One world

This latest disaster - earthquakes, tsunamis - is unquestionably a disaster. It will blight the lives of too many for days or weeks or years. Whole communities have been decimated, and from an individual’s point of view, what is more devastating than losing the one(s) you love? But it’s not only people who will be missing - there are animals, livelihoods, buildings, roads, crops, a sense of safety and a belief in the future which will be mourned. We can’t bring these things back.

As far as I can see, unless you go overseas and assist in person, the most effective way of helping these people is to send money. And yes, I know we don’t all have money to spare. God knows this is a bad time of year, after Christmas and everything. Please do what you can. We in the “West” (generally speaking) are materially lucky. You know it, and so do I. We can do without most of what we foolishly take for granted.

The problem is this: the latest disaster is getting headlines, and rightly so. But in the shadows there are so many more disasters playing out quietly and so enduringly. Yes, turn your attention to this latest disaster, and do what you can. But please don’t forget the others either. Tears and anguish won’t help them. Money or political agitation might.

from “The Year in Review” by Rowan Gillies MD, President, MSF International Council + Marine
Buissonnière, MSF Secretary-General

While Darfur finally started receiving public attention by mid-2004, many other crises causing immense human suffering remained hidden from view, rarely mentioned in headlines. The forgotten war taking place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued to claim lives, both directly through violence and more insidiously because of displacement and disease. Increasing violence in Uganda also sent thousands on the run, but made little impact on the outside world.
Living conditions in and around Chechnya are inhuman after over a decade of war and destruction. People inside Chechnya are terrorized in a daily and structural way and the disappearance and execution of people are more rules than exception. For the Chechens who fled their country during the war the situation is almost as bad, mostly ending up in neighboring Ingushetia, living in camps with little or no facilities in tents which fall apart after the winter. Most NGO's working in Ingushetia can not enter Chechnya to do their important work as the risk of being kidnapped is too high
Today there are plenty of crises and conflict zones requiring humanitarian assistance. While a few are caused by natural disasters or epidemics sparked by natural conditions, most are man-made. The need for humanitarian action usually arises when those in power refuse to uphold commitments they have made to protect those living within their borders or to shoulder responsibilities promised under national or international law.
When civilians are not protected or are actively harmed by governments or other actors, it is the role of humanitarians first to respond to their needs but also to expose the conditions and lives of those who are sacrificed – and to remain in solidarity with these people. Such situations not only occur in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Civilians escaping from Darfur and other crisis zones have been met with harsh treatment in Europe when they tried to gain political asylum or immigrate. [And not just in Europe, eh? - Deirdre]
The Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, which has had so much success with reducing the price of HIV/AIDS drugs, is now advocating for an urgent global approach to the lack of research and development on TB.