In Case of Emergency

In Case of Emergency

Why you should care

Because crisis is immediately riveting, but change takes time.

The catastrophes keep coming. If it’s not Ebola (and it’s not so much, these days), it’s earthquakes, refugees drowning, frightening chaos in the Middle East. We’ve no shortage of global crises. We do seem to lack for solutions, though, perennially. Crisis gets the blood pumping and the aid money flowing. But staving it off requires a longer-term commitment.

Back in September, when everyone was just starting to freak out about Ebola, Allyn Gaestel wrote about how the dread disease had thrust some of the shortcomings of humanitarian aid into the spotlight — and had given health workers hope, ironically, that the Ebola response might be a catalyst for longer-term solutions for quieter killers. Those include malaria, which killed more than 600,000 people in 2012, and tuberculosis and cholera, which affected millions more. The challenge, she wrote, was for the aid system to look past the consuming crisis. Read more here.

Refugee crises, like the one that resulted in the drowning of hundreds of people off the coast of Italy last month, can prompt rich governments to look to the source of the problem: Often, it’s political repression at home. Such is the case for Eritrean asylum-seekers, whose numbers have tripled to almost that of Syrians, Laura Secorun Palet reported recently. But unlike Syria, Eritrea is not engulfed by civil war. So what are these people fleeing? That’s an easy two-word answer: Isaias Afwerki. The dictator, who has governed Eritrea for the past 25 years, has enormous support from the diaspora abroad, but is reviled at home. Read more here.

What about humanitarian intervention in some of the countries where dictatorship has flourished? Yes, but history demonstrates over and over that intervention is not all it’s cracked up to be. The 1994 humanitarian intervention in Haiti, involving 20,000 U.S. troops, was a good example, according to Pooja Bhatia. Operation Uphold Democracy, she writes, ’twas, as invasions go, clean and short, its limited goals actually accomplished. Surgical, even. The junta was taken out — not killed, but gone. (Junta leaders would be tried, and many convicted in absentia, for their role in an April 1994 massacre.) Democracy was reinstated. Thousands of Haitians gathered in front of the National Palace to welcome back the president who’d been overthrown in a coup. Vive l’invasion! Well, not quite. Read more here.

If all else fails, as it sometimes does, there is always comedy. In Send in the Clowns … to the Refugee Camp, Secorun Palet reported on Clowns Without Borders’ performances at a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Can an hourlong circus act really change the troubled lives of refugee children? Unlikely. Psycho-social activities can be crucial in helping kids’ emotional well-being, but the artists’ efforts can be easily wasted without the right expertise. “It’s absolutely crucial that performers are very prepared before they visit places like refugee camps,” says Mahmoud Shabeeb, CARE’s communications officer for the Syria response. “Despite the best intentions, it’s very easy to have bad surprises and shortcomings when you don’t really understand the circumstances you’re working in.” Read more here.

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