Open Letter to Humanitarian Organizations
By Callie Frye
Dear humanitarian organizations,
From the bottom of my heart, I want to express gratitude for all of your work in humanitarian crises including natural disasters and man-made disasters. All of you altogether have had a significant impact in these affected and needy populations’ lives. You are a diverse sector, but you share the primary objective of humanitarian aid, which is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity.
I know that not many can tell you apart from an aid agency and a development aid (or foreign aid) agency. Fortunately, I am not one of them and I can recognize your distinguishability. Your primary focus is on delivering emergency relief efforts to affected and needy populations.
You value inclusion and make an effort to reach all kinds of people through humanitarian assistance. Therefore, the Sphere Project handbook is where you refer your considerations of quality and accountability in humanitarian response. Although the Sphere Project does not operate any compliance mechanism, the handbook presents the Humanitarian Charter in favor of international law.
The Humanitarian Charter established legal rights and obligations by summarizing the core legal principles that have the most bearing on the welfare of those affected by disaster or conflict. These principles are enacted in order to form the basis of a commitment to the international law regarding the right to life with dignity, the right to receive humanitarian assistance, and the right to protection and security.
For the right to receive humanitarian assistance, international law stresses the principle of impartiality which requires that it be provided solely on the basis of need and in proportion to need. This also reflects the wider principle of non-discrimination.
As an inclusive-loving, disabled citizen, I want to address something that is alarming and concerning among humanitarian organizations. You too frequently overlook the needs of elderly people and people with disabilities—even with the existence of the Sphere Project, especially the principle of impartiality. A recently published report by HelpAge International and Handicap International shows that less than 1% of your assistance targets the elderly or people with disabilities.
Only 47 out of your 6,003 submitted projects included at least one activity targeting elderly people, 18 of which were funded. Also, 22 out of the 47 submitted projects that targeted the elderly were submitted by just one organization – HelpAge International.
Also out of six thousand and three projects, only 98 projects submitted included at least one activity targeting people with disabilities. Only 43 of you were funded for this. Among the 98 projects submitted, only 29 exclusively targeted people with disabilities of which 18 were submitted by just one NGO – Handicap International.
Furthermore, the study found that only 312 of the 6,003 projects you submitted even mentioned elderly people and people with disabilities alongside other vulnerable groups. It indicates to me that access to your general humanitarian projects designed to support the whole population is at best limited for elderly people and people with disabilities. In an effort toward inclusion, elderly people and people with disabilities need to be better addressed in project design and implementation.
Here are some things to consider for a more inclusive humanitarian response:
Have you ever considered providing manuals, booklets, brochures, or handouts for workshops in braille for blind people? Hands-on demonstrations for blind people to touch and feel? Pictograms for people with intellectual disabilities? Sign language interpreters for deaf people?
Have you ever considered about setting up service-delivery points without stairs making it easier for wheelchair users to receive services? Ensuring that the corridors are wide enough for wheelchair users to ride through? Installing the connecting paths from one service-delivery point to another making it easier for blind people to walk through? How to acknowledge people with intellectual disabilities and inform deaf people about the locations of service-delivery points?
After the humanitarian response, elderly people and people with disabilities need to be included and disaggregated in data collection, ensuring better needs assessment for your next humanitarian response.
P.S. You can read the report here called, “A study of humanitarian financing for older people and people with disabilities, 2010-2011 – http://www.helpage.org/download/4f4222be3ce76
Callie Frye is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program. She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog. USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area. Callie Frye is completing her internship at Handicap International. Learn more about the internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257. Read Callie Frye’s, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2015 program, at http://www.usicd.org/index.cfm/news_usicd-mitsubishi-interns-biographies. The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD or Handicap International.