OP-ED

Aid workers strive to save lives today as they build local capacities

National Yemen

Hajir Maalim

By Hajir Maalim

As the world marks ‘World Humanitarian Day’, we not only remember the many aid workers who have either fallen or got injured in their line of duty but also the larger communities whose assistance they missed. We all express humanitarian spirit in our own unique ways, when you assist a needy relative, neighbour, or friend, remove harm from one’s way or contribute to charity. People in need are visible around us, either at the gates of mosques or on the street and you may have either helped or desired to help. Others are hidden from us, in their homes or remote villages, reached only by a few.

International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) providing humanitarian assistance are driven by such noble yet simple goal of providing assistance to those in need who can’t find help locally. The ongoing Ebola epidemic in West Africa is a clear manifestation of when a crisis is beyond the reach of the local community and local governments. It is in such or similar situation that humanitarian agencies respond and provide help when it is not only welcomed but expected.

In the last decade, delivery of humanitarian assistance has been shifting. More community-based approaches have been developed where decisions on how assistance is delivered is placed in the hands of the people been assisted. Longer-term vision and stronger involvement of local authorities is now a new normal. In Yemen, resilience building and stronger linkages with all stakeholders is the key pillars of humanitarian assistance been delivered. More local partners are been engaged and all internationals agencies are building local capacities through engagement with local non-government organisations, local authorities or communities. Thousands of community volunteers and local staff have been trained who are a resource for Yemen as we all contribute to building a new stronger prosperous country.

Aid workers have the spirit of taking risks as their work demands that they reach all in need, wherever they are, whatever the risks. Through aid work that has significantly scaled-up since 2011, access and knowledge of the needs in all governorates in Yemen have improved. Local authorities have also had opportunities of reaching out to communities who were in the past un-aided through means provided by humanitarian agencies. This risk-taking attitude has had a burden on aid workers and a number of our colleagues have died, injured or kidnapped while others continue to face such risks everyday in their work. We remember them all and reassure them that their sacrifices are not in vain.

Yemen is at an important but delicate time of transition when she needs all her friends. There is great optimism in the future and INGOs play a critical role in supporting this transition. Through delivery of key basic services in the fields of food, health, water, education, shelter amongst others when most needed and through capacity building support to the government, the gains made is consolidated and setting the communities on the path to recovery and development. Over 200 million US dollars of assistance was delivered through INGOs in the past year, providing assistance to over 2.8 million needy Yemenis. Most importantly, the delivery of this assistance has facilitated the transformation of communities as they get empowered to develop local initiatives to support themselves. Early warning and disaster preparedness plans is developed at the community level that will allow local authorities to continuously assess their situation and trigger assistance at time most needed.

The spirit of giving, including transfer of knowledge or skills to the local populous, embodies a life of an aid worker. Agencies do envision exit strategies from day one and international staff also work on making their work redundant. A number of key international positions have been nationalised in the past and more is planned in the coming months and years as local capacity grows. International NGOs in Yemen have particularly taken interest in local capacity building and Yemen INGO Forum did take the lead in conducting a major capacity building initiative for local NGOs that reached 60 local organisations.

When population gets displaced due to conflict or a natural disaster strikes, we expect an appropriate and adequate assistance to be delivered immediately. Humanitarian agencies do mobilise to respond to such immediate life-saving needs. At the same time, they endeavour to build local capacity to respond. Today, as we mark World Humanitarian day, I call upon you to reflect what aid work means to all those who are in desperate need and to give a thought to not only those involved in providing the assistance but the many who have been left out of this vital life-saving assistance since we don’t have the human and financial capacity to reach all.

 Hajir Maalim is the Chair of the INGO-Forum and the Country Director of Action Against Hunger (ACF) in Yemen. He can be reached at hajirmn@gmail.com