You’ll have to forgive the jumble of thoughts & topics here.
So once again I find myself at the helm of a blog post, after several months apparently drifting in the doldrums of the interwebs.
This may seem a little odd. There’s not exactly been a shortage of things to talk about in the aid industry of late. Which, as it happens, is a big part of why I’ve been a bit caught up.
The famine in the Horn of Africa has been the focus of most of our attention. I spent several weeks deployed there myself, which I haven’t blogged about, in part due to the frenetic nature of the trip. It had me doing planning and support work in our coordination office in Nairobi, in Dadaab refugee camp close to the Somali border, in Addis Ababa trying to engage a new operational hub, then back to Nairobi to run some training. Security, VIP visits, media, operations and planning all took their turns, so it was a pretty busy time.
Beyond that, of course, we’ve been swamped by a steady flow of disasters. More flooding in Pakistan on the heels of last year’s disaster, from which the country is still recovering. A precession of typhoons in the Philippines, which have washed up across south-east Asia, including Cambodia, Laos, and now Thailand, which is looking at one of its biggest flood disasters in decades. And tropical systems pouring over central America too, with emergencies in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The drought in northern Afghanistan acts as a dry counterpoint to this waterlogged catalogue, as does the ongoing famine in Somalia- although flashfloods are predicted in Kenya and Ethiopia over the next few weeks as the next round of rains is expected to arrive.
Never mind the fact that the Pacific has been warned to prepare for an above-average cyclone season between November and May.
The Horn of Africa emergency continues to be the highest priority. And it’s not getting any easier. The security situation in Somalia and in north-eastern Kenya has been consistently deteriorating since the alleged ‘victory’ of AMISOM/TGF forces over al Shabaab in Mogadishu in August. Since then, there has been ongoing fighting in Mogadishu (leading to another statement of victory last week); a major suicide bombing (and a smaller one in the last 24 hours) which has realised suspicions that al Shabab would be returning to asymmetric warfare tactics; four kidnappings aimed at expatriate targets; military advances by al Shabaab into parts of south-western Somalia; and now, the incursion of armoured Kenya military units across the Somali border, and a corresponding threat by al Shabaab that Kenya’s civilians will suffer revenge attacks.
Despite al Qaeda’s engagement in relief operations in south-central Somaila (wouldn’t their resources be better used to try and convince AQC-aligned al Shabab to open their territory to humanitarian actors?), for most agencies this continues to mean difficult access to affected populations within Somalia, and suspended operations in Dadaab refugee camp as well.
Other recent developments in the security field include the decision by the US Government to send a small military force to help the Ugandan Defence Forces hunt down Joseph Kony and other senior members of the horrific Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). I assume the timing of this decision has something to do with the fact that South Sudan (one of the LRA’s hiding places) is now an independent state and heavily backed by the US, so unlike when the country was still officially governed by a far more hostile Khartoum, the US can now have its forces cross into South Sudanese territory without fear of triggering an international incident.
This is an interesting development and one that’s worth more discussion, which may happen in a later post. One piece that I certainly won’t be commenting on, for fear of triggering a stupidity-driven aneurism, is the series of ridiculous statements made by right-wing motormouth Rush Limbaugh, whose ignorance continues to stagger me.
The focus on security issues relates to another reason why my blog posting of late has been reduced. I’m finding more of my role now taken up supporting our security staff, particularly with training activities, as well as some analysis work. While I find this side of the aid industry fascinating, for obvious reasons it’s not something I can spend a lot of time talking about in the public realm. Too much discussion of safety issues relating to NGO workers isn’t helpful, while we like to keep our training activities fairly low-profile as well, the better to maximise their impact. As such, my current job is giving me less and less to chat about publically. Sorry about that.
Luckily I am getting the chance to take the occasional photograph, and I’m sure I’ll get around to featuring some of these in upcoming posts. Birthday parties, spring flowers and, most memorably, painted trains have all been on the agenda. Additionally, I’ve been playing with time-lapse photography recently, also something worth its own post. You can see them slowly going up here. I’m still pretty new to the whole thing, but definitely see some potential for fun in it all.
Finally, like many aid workers kicking around, I’m finding myself increasingly struggling with major flaws in our industry. A lack of integrity in fundraising, a disconnect between field operations and public messaging, a lack of critical analysis, major operational challenges, inappropriate management practices and heavy administrative systems continue to do their best to suck the soul like a many-tentacled corporate octopus. A lot of my energy of late has gone into providing analysis, advice and feedback on some of these issues, which I hope will be listened to. Some of these may appear in subsequent posts, while others are probably a bit sensitive for the time being.
And on that note, an excellent question has been posed by fellow aid blogger Tales from the Hood. J. asks us to consider how, why, and whether aid agencies should admit to their failures, and what are the pros and cons thereof. I’m a huge fan of transparency (but also of my job, hence being somewhat guarded about what I write at times), and would love to see more admission of shortcomings by aid agencies. So perhaps I’ll find time to throw something together on that one, too.
If you’re an aid-blogger, do consider participating in J.’s forum and adding your opinion on aid transparency.
Photos (available to purchase):
1. Concrete Jumble– Ramshackle housing in Antigua, Guatemala
2. Famineland Grimace– Starved cow in Wajir, north-east Kenya during the 2011 food emergency
3. Party Time!– Circus cake, 1st Birthday, Melbourne
4. Magenta Blooms– Garden Flowers, Melbourne
5. Painted Train– Graffiti on abandoned railway trucks, Melbourne
6. Victorian Lane– Near Ararat, country Victoria