News / Africa

Negotiating Medical Aid in Conflict Zones

MSF staff often work in the midst of armed militias in Somalia.
MSF staff often work in the midst of armed militias in Somalia.
Joe DeCapua

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders works in many of the world’s hot spots, including Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian Territories. However, humanitarian assistance often depends on delicate negotiations and a lot of compromise.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, has published a new book entitled Humanitarian Negotiations Revealed – The MSF Experience.

In recent years, medical and humanitarian workers have been increasingly put in harm’s way. So much so, many questioned whether “humanitarian space” – the safe zone where aid could be given – was shrinking.

Negotiation inevitable

“We got ourselves 5 workers killed in Afghanistan in 2004. We got 3 workers killed in Somalia, expulsion in Niger and in Sudan. And all those incidents were tended to be seen as consequences of the blurring of the lines between humanitarian action and political and military intervention. And there was that overwhelming feeling that it was getting more and more difficult to work,” said Michael Neuman, director of the MSF research center in Paris and co-author of the book.

He said if medical treatment is to be administered in conflict areas, for example, negotiation is inevitable.

“What we argue in the book is that there is no such thing as an abstract humanitarian space, but that there is huge responsibility from the aid actors themselves to defend and conquer their own space of work through negotiations, through compromises, through power struggle with authorities intersecting with civil society groups, international organizations, governments. And that is what we wanted to explore in this book,” said Neuman.

Negotiations center on a search for common ground.

“You shouldn’t believe in yourself as the bearer of some absolute moral virtue. We have interests, the authorities have interests. And so we have to find common interests between those different parties and groups,” he said.

Piece of the action

Everyone involved in the negotiations wants to benefit from an MSF presence.

“When trying to set up a surgical project in Mogadishu in 2007, we have to gather around this table, virtual table, the warlords, their enemies, their archenemies, the Islamic insurrection, the clan leaders, so that they can all get a piece of it,” he said.

For example, militias may realize their fighters or families can receive medical care at the MSF clinic. Clan leaders may look upon the clinic as giving prestige to their area.

Neuman co-wrote the chapter on Somalia titled Everything is Open to Negotiation.

“If you have expectations of doing anything, of conducting any work in Somalia where there is no government, virtually no health care system, you’ve got to enter into negotiations in every aspect of your work. You have to negotiate renting cars. You have to negotiate how you recruit staff. You have to negotiate the payment of taxes to the interim government or to the rebellion. You have to negotiate the type of activities you’re going to put in place,” he said.

Do no harm?

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates, called the father of Western medicine, wrote “there were two special objects in view with regard to disease – to do good or to do no harm.” MSF came face to face with that in the Libyan city of Misrata.

Neuman said, “The teams faced a terrible reality when they realized that they were basically treating patients between torture sessions. Patients would be brought to them after they’d been tortured by the police and MSF would help the authorities to put them back on their feet. And after a few days they would be sent back to the detention centers to be tortured again. And of course that’s where you start to believe that your work is meaningless. And in that case the decision was to suspend the project.”

He added, “you fight for what you believe in to the maximum, but know that you may not achieve it all.”

The MSF book states, “Sometimes just holding the line for one’s values as best as one can, making the compromises that one must…is no small victory.”

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More