Feedback (April 1995)
by Humanitarian Practice Network April 1995

Extracts from a letter by Koenraad Van Brabant, OXFAM Sri Lanka

‘I find the [Relief and Rehabilitation Network] Newsletter an excellent initiative. With an increase in “emergencies”, often of a political nature, there is an urgent demand for learning from experience and for reflecting on how to deal with these. There are other fora for theoretical reflection, and I welcome a Newsletter which can find and keep a balance between inputs from reflection and from field practice.’

‘[Articles] such as those on the campaign to ban mines or on the relief-development continuum are very valuable. However, to what degree can they/do you intend to retain them as your initiative? Is it the purpose that other than editorial staff start contributing articles to the Newsletter? Inevitably the scope of your knowledge (although admirably vast!), and the time to do some additional research, are limited.’

‘I find the Update section interesting and would expect several other field-based people to feel the same. Many international staff have worked in different countries and are often deprived of information once they have left, but would, I’m sure, like to keep in touch somewhat. Particularly if you have access to information about countries/areas that are not well covered in the international press such as the Guardian Weekly or the Economist, I think there is a place for updates.’

‘However, it would be ideal if, over time, thematic links could be established between work done in different countries, eg. reconciliation work in countries A, F and P, resettlement of internally displaced in countries H and L, research on the special needs of female-headed households (husbands and fathers killed or disappeared in conflicts) in countries M and Y, etc. Where there are well-functioning NGO and/or UN consortia, perhaps you can invite them to tell you what they currently see as the four most important strategic priorities related to relief and rehabilitation in their country of operations?’

Editor’s response: We welcome unsolicited articles from readers on themes which they consider to be important and of interest to other Network members, or providing material for the update section (thank you to those who have already sent in such material). With respect to thematic links between countries there is indeed scope for us to do this in the future, and we would welcome the views of other network members as to topics and countries which could be used in this respect. Once again, we would like to emphasise the networking focus of the RRN. The Network is a space open to ideas, articles and news – get scribbling!

Comments on Network Paper 5 (Advancing Preventive Diplomacy in a Post-Cold War Era: Suggested Roles for Governments and NGOs by Kumar Rupesinghe) from Richard Covington, Program Officer at Project Concern International.

‘Please receive warm applause for the excellent content and presentation of your Network Paper 5. I found the material very timely and your ideas representative of the thought process that our leaders should be following. I agree that non-military roles in conflict prevention should be an increasing focus of government agencies and NGOs. The points about targeting aid (particularly for economic development) for areas of potential conflict were very important and something often overlooked. I was a bit troubled, however, by the suggestion that 10% of development assistance budgets be targeted for conflict prevention. With aid budgets shrinking, which portion would you suggest cutting in order to create the savings required to cover new initiatives? I am not sufficiently familiar with all governments budgets, but I imagine they are following the USAID example of ‘right- sizing’ with staff lay-offs and program reductions. It may be unrealistic to assume that 10% could be allocated. On the same subject, how did you select 10% as the target figure?’

‘With regard to the small NGO perspective, the financial restrictions of developing new endeavours are even more acute. Personal income in the US is increasing at a lower rate than the number of non-profit organisations competing for the same donor dollars. Moreover, the US Government is displaying a new policy towards increased cuts in foreign development assistance. For a small NGO to work in the conflict prevention area would require unavailable resources. It would not be easy to generate new private donations for a conflict yet to occur. Can you imagine a donor letter saying something like, “please help us to prevent a disaster in Mexico”, when there is not yet an ongoing violent conflict (the Chiapas indigenous issues come to mind as an example of the potential for increasing internal conflict). I doubt it would generate great appeal, but I could be wrong.’

‘With private monies remaining constant, or shrinking, NGOs must rely on government agencies or multilateral organisations for funding. This brings us back to my first point. Where will the money come from? I have no easy answer (if I did, I would not be working here), and must reinforce your point about Cold War savings. Countries must find a means to tap into these savings by having some of the ‘retraining’ funds allocated for your suggested training of trainers and the establishment of civilian peacekeepers. Perhaps military leaders trained in conflict resolution would hold more credibility in situations of conflict and be better able to prevent violence than a group of government representatives who faint when they see blood?’

‘Your document paints a detailed picture of the need for more conflict prevention and resolution funds, as well as the need for a new approach amongst international diplomats – do not wait for the dam to break before you fix the crack. I only hope that your paper will be read and understood by those who are lucky enough to participate in relevant negotiations’.

The author of Network Paper 5, Kumar Rupesinghe, Secretary-General of International Alert, replied:

‘When you asked me about the 10% to be allocated to prevention, I must say that this percentage was derived from a guestimate as to the sum totals of development assistance and an assessment of what may be the amounts necessary to refocus on prevention. Part of the figure is derived from the increasing amount of money which is being allocated from development assistance to humanitarian assistance. You will agree that over the years within the OECD countries a large percentage of aid funds has been channelled into humanitarian assistance, but if you challenge me on how I arrived at the 10%, I would say that I have no answer. The idea of presenting a round figure was to provoke discussion and create a climate whereby agencies would be able to focus more on the debate rather than the actual percentage concerned.’

‘I do agree with you regarding the role of NGOs and the limited resources allocated to their work. It is one of the reasons why I am advocating an increasing role for NGOs in the field of conflict prevention and conflict resolution. One of the ways in which we can obtain more resources is to argue that it is cost-effective and more efficient if governments allocate a certain sum of money to NGOs. This is a similar argument to the one I am providing for humanitarian agencies – that they too are thinking about allocating a certain percentage of money for those NGOs concerned with conflict prevention’.