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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 266 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid