In the past century, the number of world-wide NGOs has ballooned from roughly 400 to over 25,000. Though efforts have been made to professionalize the field of humanitarian engagement, serious flaws still exist in the ways NGOs develop and respond to emergencies. For instance, many funders require that international NGOs work with community-based organizations or local NGOs. In many situations, however, local organizations may be non-existent or ill-qualified to administer programs. As a result, services provided through hastily created local partners can be detrimental to the host community and can waste substantial amounts of time and money. A case study from eastern DRC will illustrate some of the pitfalls inherent in responding to disasters in an under-developed conflict environment. A basic set of guidelines are developed to outline the criterion for healthy partnerships between international and national NGOs.
Humanitarian organizations have conventionally used direct distribution methodologies to provide households with commodities to help them survive and recover from crises. Non-food items (NFI) such as plastic sheeting, soap, cooking pots, and water jugs are usually distributed in a pre-packaged kit, the content having been decided by practitioners and donors, based on what they deem most critical for household welfare. Cash and voucher interventions present a more flexible alternative to direct distributions, because households themselves can choose items that maximize their welfare. In order evaluate the appropriateness of its NFI activities and illuminate the advantages and potential pitfalls of using cash and voucher interventions to meet the non-food needs of households recovering from the effects of war and displacement, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) carried out a pilot ‘cash for household non-food needs’ program in Maniema Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, in April 2006.
The objectives were to understand the non-food needs of households selected to receive NFI kits, assess the extent to which the UNICEF kit was meeting these needs, and gain insight into the intra-household decision-making dynamics of participating households.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been affected by civil war and state decay for many years causing a humanitarian catastrophe on an unimaginable scale. Following a series of peace accords, a Transitional Government was set up in June 2003 to implement the various agreements made and prepare elections for the first time in 40 years. The DRC remains, however, in a fragile position of there being no war and yet no peace. Furthermore, as this article explains, a protection crisis continues on a massive scale in the DRC with the civilian population being the principal target of the insecurity that pervades the east of the country. The transition process has had only a minimal impact on the continued violation of human rights. There are state, international and non governmental responses to the protection crisis in the DRC, but they remain weak in the face of the scale of the problem. Protection issues should feature more centrally in the international community’s support to the DRC and in a post-war environment there is more opportunity for this to happen.
The world’s view of the state of armed conflict is severely distorted, in that it bears almost no resemblance to the actual scale or severity of conflicts in the world. This is primarily due to the highly selective and increasingly assimilated agendas of the media, policymakers, the public and academia. This situation results in ‘stealth conflicts’ – conflicts that are undetected and absent from these agendas. Using the massive conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the prime example of such stealth conflicts, this paper demonstrates how, for the past five years, the largest and deadliest conflict since World War II has been almost completely absent from international consciousness outside the region.
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