Providing Humanitarian Aid: Challenges and Solutions

Providing Humanitarian Aid: Challenges and Solutions

War ransacks the lives of ordinary people. It kills and wounds civilians who play no part in its cause or outcomes; conflict tears families apart and destroys homes and communities. People lose the ability to provide for themselves and their families. State services such as schooling and healthcare collapse, while people lose access to essential infrastructure such as gas and electricity.

In conflict situations, humanitarian aid seeks to help the most vulnerable, providing emergency relief and services like food supplies, water and sanitation. For the wounded and the sick, elderly, and disabled, aid supports medical interventions and emergency treatment by providing equipment, resources, and medicines. 

Humanitarian aid also helps displaced people relocate to safer areas or to host countries away from the immediate risk of violence. It provides emergency shelter from exposure to extreme weather and unsafe social environments. For populations at greater risk of harm, such as women and children, aid protects against violence, exploitation and abuse. As conflict endures, humanitarian aid enables psychosocial support for the stress, trauma, and radical disruption of everyday life that war causes.

In the longer term, aid can support the re-establishment of the education sector, support community initiatives such as crop and agricultural redevelopment and rebuild governmental capacity. Aid also supports advocacy and awareness of the plight of the victims of war and influences geo-political will for the peaceful resolution of conflict through this work. 

The provision of humanitarian aid faces several critical obstacles. Ongoing conflict makes access to the areas where people need help difficult. Security concerns, logistical challenges, political bias, the seizure and stockpiling of aid, and blockages by opposing factions can delay the provision to those most in need. Humanitarian workers face a constant risk of violence from kidnappings, detainment or bombings of aid convoys or regional headquarters. 

Conflict disables regular supply lines; key transit roads, airports, or ports become inaccessible. Damage to critical local infrastructures, from hospitals and storage warehouses to electrical services, exacerbates delays in aid delivery. 

The distribution of aid resources requires careful coordination. As many aid organisations intervene, communication is critical to streamline delivery and avoid unnecessary wastage or duplication of relief packages. Funding aid work requires similar coordination and management. Media coverage wanes over time, shifting to newer conflicts and humanitarian disasters, resulting in less funding. 

Innovate approaches to delivering humanitarian aid.

Novel approaches to delivering humanitarian aid in challenging and fragile conflict environments are gaining traction. These include the deployment of drones, the leveraging of mobile technology and direct-to-victim cash payments.

Drone drops of critical aid, such as food packages, water and medicines, particularly perishable medication such as insulin, can speed up aid response and reduce transit times and security risks to humanitarian workers and aid convoys. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be programmed to fly autonomously and reach areas when traditional delivery methods are unable. 

The World Fund Programme is investing in humanitarian drones. They used drones successfully after the 2019 cyclone in Mozambique. The organisation is developing a remotely piloted drone to deliver up to two tonnes of aid in a single drop. Autonomous land vehicles may grant larger aid deliveries. While drones will never fully replace traditional cargo deliveries, they bolster support, especially in the short term. 

Mobile technology is invaluable in conflict situations. It offers real-time information about the areas of conflict, safe transit routes, and the location of aid drops and shelters. Mobile technology enables immediate communication with aid workers on the ground in a disaster zone.

As many people have access to mobile phones, aid organisations can leverage the technology to reduce response times and interact directly with those in need. Mobile phones can collect information through surveys and disseminate crucial alerts and warnings. Mobile technology supports health checkups and education in areas that aid providers cannot access. The technology can also track and monitor the progress of aid deliveries. In Syria, mobile phone apps allow displaced family members and friends to stay in contact.

Mobile technology is integral to direct cash transfers from aid organisations to local groups or people. Direct cash transfers to people affected by conflict are one of the most valuable forms of humanitarian aid. Payments stimulate disrupted economies and empower people to make the best decisions about their essential needs. “If you're a mother with three children, you know what you need to spend your money on,” says Heather Macey of the International Rescue Committee. 

Direct cash transfers reduce the complexity of aid coordination and delays because of bureaucratic handling. Nor does the absence of physical or operational banks limit access to mobile money, as buyers and sellers can transfer money directly between each other.

Charities can also make direct cash payments to local support providers, who are often better equipped and knowledgeable about their communities and needs. 

Collaborating with local communities ensures sustainable and effective distribution.

External aid agencies must collaborate with local communities and organisations to ensure that aid resources are best utilized and distributed to provide enduring benefits. Engagement with local communities and organisations provides intimate knowledge and specific expertise that can better facilitate the understanding of needs and the most effective ways for aid distribution. Such collaboration can reduce wastage and uncover needs that may be obscure to external observers. 

Local community groups can access regional resources and networks that maximise distribution and targeted relief. Local organisations and community groups know their communities and their context; they understand how to navigate the cultural norms, sensitivities and customs of people who experience war. Through collaboration, external organisations gain insight and a broader understanding of the complexities of the conflict situation. Local organisations limit cultural misunderstandings and local suspicions of external actors, which strengthens aid delivery. War-torn populations are more trusting to aid delivered, facilitated and driven by local groups they already know. 

Most importantly, local collaboration and capacity building ensures sustainable and enduring development and gives communities ownership and control of the resources provided.

The empowerment of local organisations and initiatives is crucial for community well-being and cohesion during and after a conflict. Community groups and organisations seek to use aid and resources sustainably and equitably. This desire can lead to innovative and creative solutions to challenges. 

Community building initiatives can ensure that assistance is contextually relevant and offers people stability, education and long-term income. Local control over the re-development of essential services, such as water access and schooling, frees communities from external donor contributions or expertise in the longer term.

Providing aid in a conflict zone is extraordinarily complex and challenging. Innovations allow quicker delivery of relief to affected people. Similarly, local organisations' empowerment maximises the benefits of emergency and long-term aid to people facing armed aggression.