Friday, August 20, 2010

Guest Voices: The “Front Lines” Can be “Behind The Scenes”: World Humanitarian Day 2010

For the last installment of World Humanitarian Day themed guest posts from Concern Worldwide. Anne O’Mahony, the country director of Kenya, remarks on the humanitarian work that was behind the recent constitution referendum. Concern Worldwide works with poor people in the under-developed world to help them survive poverty and hunger.

This morning in Nairobi, Kenya, Concern Worldwide marked the second commemoration of World Humanitarian Day with colleagues from NGOs, Red Cross Societies, the UN, government representatives from both Kenya and Somalia, and other humanitarian actors. It was uplifting—and hugely important to recognize the contribution and sacrifices that humanitarian workers make in this troubled world of ours. Here in Kenya, this day could have gone very differently.

On August 4th, Kenya held a constitutional referendum.

For about two months leading up to this event, the humanitarian community was immersed in planning for the potential humanitarian consequences that could have arisen if the referendum had triggered outbreaks of rioting and violence—as was the case following the last general election here. Building on the knowledge and experience we gained during that crisis in 2008, meetings were held, scenarios developed and outlined, conflict hot-spots identified, humanitarian relief supplies prepositioned, communication networks and plans set up, transport and logistic hubs identified, staff vacations cancelled, tasks and response sectors allocated, and potential relief centers earmarked. We engaged community leaders in raising awareness and in conflict management—sharing tools and information on how to defuse potentially charged situations. The Government engaged with these efforts, and security was beefed up.

It was a huge exercise, and the humanitarian community was were ready.

Referendum day dawned, the polls opened. People went to vote. Polling was orderly and efficient. The count was transparent and accurate. The result was announced in a timely way. It was a fantastic outcome. Not a bad word was spoken nor a shot fired. It was a smooth referendum. We could all relax and get back to business.

Humanitarian work is not just about the front line stuff in Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia or Afghanistan. It is as much about preparedness and prevention as it is about response. It is about the quiet, unsung work carried out by humanitarian workers with varying expertise behind the scenes that enables us to be ready to respond adequately to humanitarian situations and limit the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society and our world.

If the Kenyan referendum had not gone smoothly, we could have been marking a very different World Humanitarian Day here in Nairobi. But I am happy to say that instead, we were able to see the results of our hard work and honor our colleagues as well as the populations with whom we work.

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