International Rescue Committee (IRC)

‘Where is everyone?’ We’re standing right next to you

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) released their report, "Where is everyone? Responding to emergencies in the most difficult places," on Monday with an accompanying and eye-catching op-ed in the Guardian by popular aid-contrarian Ian Birrell. MSF certainly knows how to lead off a spirited debate by issuing a report that single-mindedly criticizes the way in which emergency humanitarian aid is delivered to the many acute emergencies the world faces right now.  

The report gets a few important points right.  There really has never been a time in recent history when the aid industry has been needed more.  The world hasn’t seen as many refugees since the Second World War as it does now; today there are more than 16 million refugees.   And that’s just those that have been forced to cross international borders — a further 33 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict or disaster while managing to cling on to their own countries.  These numbers are massive now, and are only likely going to go up as the percentage of the world’s extremely poor find themselves increasingly surrounded by fragile, war-prone states — indeed the World Bank reports that by 2015 one-half of the world’s poorest people will be living in fragile and conflict-affected states.

So the spirit of the report is absolutely right and I agree that we should all be thinking and debating how to increase the funding, manpower and focus that drives the global business of saving lives.  The issue then is not the intent, but the implication that is easily derived from the title of the report "Where is everyone?" — MSF seems to suggest that they're the only ones working out there. A troubling message to me as the International Rescue Committee’s emergency team continues to launch programs today in and around Syria and Iraq, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and most recently in response to an outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone. Indeed, I’ve just returned from visiting with the IRC’s team in Somalia — a country so violent that MSF itself has withdrawn, while many other aid groups continue to stand and deliver in the face of chaos and mounting humanitarian needs. And it’s not just the rhetoric; I also have real concerns about the methodology and research behind the report, and so the IRC will, in the coming weeks, consider a more formal response.

Of course we should embrace the well-intended spirit to drive forward a debate about how the humanitarian community can be faster, better and meet the needs at a scale we’ve never seen before.

At the IRC we’re willing to juggle concurrent emergency responses, as well as a meaningful engagement in that debate, and we will do so. In the meantime I really hope my colleagues at MSF are willing to open their eyes, look around and acknowledge that we’re standing right next to them and wanting to achieve the exact same humanitarian goal.

Bob Kitchen is the director of the emergency preparedness and response unit at the International Rescue Committee.

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8 comments

Comments

It is really nice to see the

It is really nice to see the first messages of IRC about donations of boots, gloves and instalation of electricity in one hospital but I think it was much bigger interventions who were needed and in term of actually treating ebola cases, they were really alone. I understand that to collect funds it is important to communicate but it should be good also to acknowledge they were for long the only ones treating the patients. I think this message is more meaningful today after 7 months of Ebola crisis when we all realise that they are really alone and no one had for months the capacity and I think the will or even the vision to see that this crisis will be a major one. No got involved into actually running ebola treatment centre.

Wait, seriously, given the

Wait, seriously, given the Ebola crisis, the question MSF posed- where is everyone- is more apt than ever.

In the spirit of good faith,

In the spirit of good faith, I hope that all NGOs realize that the world appreciates their efforts and that we do not want to see divisive rhetoric of any sort. It is so important to recognize that we do not see ourselves in competition with each other in any way. I support both IRC and MSF and want to share my appreciation for the work that is done under dangerous and challenging conditions.

@comments We should not take

@comments We should not take the title of the report literally: MSF is not asking if other NGOs are working in emergency contexts (or the simple answer would be to go on OCHA's website and download 3Ws). What MSF wants is for the sector to reflect on a perceived trend where INGOs are increasingly like the UN (slow, working through partners, focusing on sustainability to the detriment of emergency response...) The report also criticizes MSF's own approach as monopolistic and not community-driven. I feel it's right to praise the spirit of the report, and the debate about the merits of the arguments should not be driven by a desire to prove that one's own organization is better than others.

Actually - Kim Joliffe: I

Actually - Kim Joliffe: I think that's a bit unfair to MSF in Myanmar who has been there for years long before everyone else. MSF was forced to close their programs in Rakhine in Myanmar in 2014 and did so extremely unwillingly. IRC has very small programs in Rakhine and are struggling to pick up the slack of the work that MSF did and will not be anywhere near as big as MSF was there although everyone in the humanitarian community is grateful to have IRC and their medical care available. IRC is also not present in Kachin - however IMC is there. MSF continues to provide HIV care for thousands in Kachin state (although one could argue that they could expand their more traditional humanitarian healthcare there). To me, the argument that MSF makes is valid but a bit hidden behind a typically MSF arrogance. They ask why others don't make the same decisions that they do but also ignore the fact that MSF has the financial freedom to do things that other NGOs do not. Its irritating because they assume everyone has the same resources and then criticize others for not.

MSF make a crucial point at a

MSF make a crucial point at a crucial time. They also do great work, and many emergency agencies could learn from them and do so much more. Nonetheless, where I work - in Southeast Myanmar- home to approx. 400K IDPs in extremely fragile protracted situations, they left 2006 because of relations with gov... IRC and others support local groups there to provide the only limited support there is, regardless of gov. IRC and others also doing much more in Kachin...

there are tens of thousands -

there are tens of thousands - if not more - souls living around the world who would join me in supporting your words, bob. thousands who've been given life-saving services by IRC and all the others doing hard work of serving the most desperate around the globe. thank you for your work - we see it and we're grateful, even if MSF is blind.

Well, it appears that that

Well, it appears that that the MSF report has achieved at least one goal: inspiring spirited debate over this topic.

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