Humanitarian aid after disasters
Can be helpful, but sustainability is important
- By: Peter Walker
Humanitarian assistance has two forms: namely, responding to natural disasters and assisting casualties of war. In both contexts, people’s livelihoods and access to basic needs have been rapidly diminished to the point where, if they do not receive external help, they are likely to die. Aid therefore seeks to alleviate acute, life threatening suffering for people caught up in crises.
Not all natural disasters or wars solicit humanitarian assistance. In many cases local authorities and civil society can provide the assistance needed on their own. Recent examples include the US response to hurricane Katrina or the tsunami in Japan earlier this year. Where a government either cannot or will not provide help, international humanitarian assistance steps in.
What constitutes humanitarian assistance is now captured in a set of agreed international standards—the Sphere standards.1 Using these standards, agencies seek to ensure that crisis affected populations can access necessary water, sanitation, food,