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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

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

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.