Lesson Learned: I don’t know as much as I think I do. No matter how much information I have the vast bulk of it, the hidden silent evidence, remains below the surface. From this morass of unseen circumstance can spring forth all manner of unanticipated surprises.
Map Maker is an Android application for creating maps in a disaster zone. It is designed to allow aid workers to quickly and easily create a map of the area they are working in. After a disaster such as a hurricane or earthquake the landscape can change so fundamentally that existing maps are rendered out of date. Knowing things like which roads are passable, where field hospitals are and suitable aircraft landing areas makes it far easier to manage an emergency.
NGOs have been directly targeted for attack on 29 occasions in the first quarter of this year with 16 of those attacks associated to Armed Opposition Groups (AOG) and 13 to criminals. Although comparable to last years figures in volume (30), the attacks of this year have resulted in many more fatalities indicating an escalation in the seriousness of attacks on NGO. This assessment is demonstrated in the fact that NGO incidents attributed to AOG have doubled from in first quarter of 2007 to 16 in the same period this year. The NGO incidents include, amongst others, seven AOG armed attacks which between them resulted in nine fatalities, nine injuries and near total destruction of two NGO compounds; seven armed abductions accounting for 12 persons kidnapped and an additional two fatalities including a female US citizen; and ten serious armed robberies accounting for one additional NGO staff injury and a long list of losses and damages to property. These figures are all higher than last year by a significant margin.
The chart above was generated when I compared relative interest in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Congo, with Sweden as a control.
The results were pretty interesting. Searches for Iraq seem to correspond with increases in media coverage. No surprises there. The big surprise for me was Sweden. Google user are more interested in Sweden than they are in Darfur, Afghanistan, and the Congo. Talk about forgotten conflicts!
Flag B is interesting. It marks George Bush's call for more NATO troops in Afghanistan and clearly shows an increase in media coverage of Afghanistan. It even overtook coverage of Iraq for a short while. However, the general public took no notice.
The regions chart is enlightening. Americans are predominantly interested in Iraq and seem to have forgotten about Afghanistan. The Canadians, who have troops in Afghanistan but not Iraq seem equally interested in both countries. And finally, the Swedes seem to be totally obsessed with Sweden.
Not without trepidation replaced Sweden with "beer" in my search terms. I shouldn't have. I now know that your average computer using westerner is more interested in beer than they are in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. "Darfur?... never heard of it... do they have good beer?"
If you are feeling particularly masochistic try breakfast or worse boobs. For a brief while in 2004 your average Google user was more interested in what was happening in Iraq than what they were going to have for breakfast. That aberration hasn't repeated itself since. Its also interesting to note that while American's seem equally fascinated by Iraq and breasts, Canadians have a distinct preference for the later.
Are the media relying too much on aid groups and NGOs to provide pictures and video of the world's forgotten crises? Or does it make no difference where we source our material? Does the public even know the difference?
These are interesting questions but I'd rather switch it around a little. Do NGO's rely too much on mainstream media to get the word out about forgotten crises? How do governments, non-state armed actors, and others view our relationship with the media? How do these perceptions affect NGO security? How do they affect our ability to access those in need?
In the past most NGO kidnappings were conducted by criminal groups seeking economic gain. However in at least the past five years we have seen a marked increase in the number of NGOs who have been kidnapped for political reasons. Confusing the issue are indications that some recent kidnappings may have been 'speculative' in nature. That is to say they were carried out by groups that were primarily criminal in nature but with the intent to sell the victim to the highest bidder.
"Experienced Advice Crucial in Response to Kidnappings" outlines the nature of the kidnapping threat and the steps NGOs should take to prepare themselves. Kidnap insurance, crisis management plans, family support, and media liaison plans are all covered in an accessible manner. If you are an NGO security officer the article might be useful for opening a discussion with senior staff. If you are a programme person you should read it and raise any questions you might have with your security officer.
The article was authored by Bob Macpherson, former director of the CARE International Safety and Security Unit, Christine Persaud, and Norman Sheehan. Between them they have a wealth of experience dealing with NGO security issues.
"...in the old days, they said, "Send the Marines." Now it's, "Send the humanitarians. They will keep them alive, and we can maybe forget about it." Well, we keep them alive, until they are massacred."
"...it is a watershed when we go from just preparing ourselves to survive in crossfire with militias, with child soldiers, with drunken soldiers, with mines, and so on—we have lots of procedures to survive in such circumstances, but we do not know how to survive when a well-financed, ruthless organization plans for one month to kill you."