Sunday, April 01, 2007

A call for regulation in humanitarian action and a high level panel

Felt that this post from ODI blog deserves to get wider circulation. For military audiences, it should serve as a good benchmark for understanding why civilian humanitarian agencies lack professional codes, associations or standards that might make it easier to distinguish the 'real' agencies from the less credible variety. It is not so much the absence of a professional body that regulates humanitarian agencies, but more the infernal debates that seem to characterize the lack of progress.

Comparison between military and humanitarian worlds might help illustrate the question. For example, many lament the lack of consistency that armed forces show when it comes to doctrine and practice of CIMIC. Some armed forces advocate that CIMIC is not about doing humanitarian projects; others put more emphasis on the fact that CIMIC doctrine does not exclude undertaking assistance projects. If we look at how different armed forces have set up and run their PRTs over the last 5 years in Afghansistan, we see how these different views translate into reality: not very consistently.

This debate on regulation of the humanitarian industry is remarkably similar to debates on 'what is CIMIC?'- but arguably no where near as advanced. Instead of agreeing that regulation is inevitable, and would add to the quality and accountability of the assistance and protection provided, more distractions are proposed. Proposals range from 'high level panels' to 'embracing the increasing diversity of humanitarian actors' to 'recruiting the Public Relations world' to help us better hear the voices of the stakeholders of humanitarian action. In short, and still speaking comparatively, the humanitarian world isn't even building their own inconsistent network of PRTs, they are still debating whether to build a PRT.

Can we compare the absence of professional standards, accountability and regulation in the humanitarian sector to divergence and difference in CIMIC policy, doctrine and practice? I think we can- and if we do, the military comes across as much further advanced in the debate.