Professor Lena Dominelli, a Co-Director of IHRR, has authored two new guides on disaster intervention and humanitarian aid that are freely available. The first is a Handbook on Disaster Intervention and Humanitarian Aid, the second provides ethical guidelines for research into disaster and humanitarian aid interventions. Parts of the handbook are based on Durham University research into the impacts of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Sri Lanka. This ESRC-funded research project considered both the immediate and long-term impacts of disaster interventions as instances of institutionalising practices on those living in disaster affected areas. The handbook provides solid advice to practitioners and policymakers who are faced with complex, uncertain circumstances that must be dealt with quickly and effectively.
The research introduced at the Breaking the Mould Conference at Durham University, covers 386 transcripts of interviews and focus groups, 38 sets of field notes and 45 questionnaires from NGOs. One of the main findings about disaster interventions in the case of the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka is that the effectiveness of humanitarian aid depends on many things including ‘context, intentions of donors and recipients, cultural expectations, opportunities for local people to exercise agency and the resources and skills held by or are available to disaster survivors’. Importantly, there are also risks to aid workers that should be considered: ‘…humanitarian aid workers themselves can be endangered through ordinary everyday routines as well as have their lives threatened’.
A good question for research into disaster interventions is who are aid workers that are directly involved on the ground shortly after a disaster occurs? The fact is that they can come in many forms and from a number of different fields, but all are humanitarian aid practitioners, which include relief workers, social workers and health practitioners. Another question of interest is the role of internal and external management of disaster. Disaster aid interventions from outside the place of the disaster often receive more media attention than local communities and authorities who are key to recovery. For humanitarian aid to be effective it should not only provide relief, but help empower people affected by the disaster. With that said the handbook emphasises the role of social workers in disaster intervention, recognising their strengths in helping communities bounce back when they have lost everything.
These guides are in draft form. Comments are welcome and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or made in the comments section.