Somali pirates have grabbed a lot of media attention lately and understandably so. Pirates make for an easy way to write about Somalia. There is little need for journalists to face the risks of travel in Somalia. They can write from the safety of Nairobi. There is no need for long complex explanations of fractured social systems, failed international interventions, war crimes, acute malnutrition, or clan and factional politics. It’s just nice clean swashbuckling pirate fun.
This Listening Post episode from AlJazeera does a good job of moving beyond the media hype. It is well worth the download time. Take special note of the comments by the International Crisis Group spokesman and those of Lynne Fredriksson of Amnesty International.
To paraphrase Lynne the Somali pirates are merely the symptom. The disease is the situation in Somalia itself. Which begs the question; do we treat the symptom or the disease?
The Carnegie Council has an interesting presentation by Jan Egeland, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, in which he introduces his book, "A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report From the Frontlines of Humanity". Its all good but a couple of quotes really caught my attention.
Jan Egeland on the need for more than just humanitarian aid:
"...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."
Jan on humanitarian security in a post UN Bahgdad bombing world:
"...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."
You can watch a video excerpt of the presentation below.
I don't normally cover Iraq. There are more than enough pundits doing so. However, in this case I am going to make an exception for one simple reason: Iraq is a testing ground for a new model of war. The lessons learned in Iraq, by both sides, will be used elsewhere in the world. By the very nature of where NGOs tend to work they will be directly and indirectly impacted by this new, rapidly evolving, mode of conflict.
Suicide attacks seem to be a keystone tactic in this new conflict. Suicide attacks have a disproportionate effect on world political developments because of their targets, their apparent unpredictability and inevitability, and most of all the incredible psychological impact. NGOs can no longer be confident that they will not be the target of such attacks. Even when humanitarian workers are not directly targeted the places they frequent inevitably will be. Restaurants, hotels, night clubs, public gatherings, government buildings, and UN complexes have all been attacked by suicide bombers in recent years. To make matters worse suicide bombings are no longer rare events outside Iraq. They have increased in frequency in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries around the world.
In the two video clips below author Mohammed Hafez discusses the strategy and ideology of suicide bombing. They are well worth watching.
Question: How do INGOs, often viewed as proxies of western governments, protect themselves from suicide bombers?
"Talking to the Taliban" is a unique look at the attitudes and motivations of the 'average' rank and file Taliban fighter. This six part video series is based on standardized interviews of 42 Taliban insurgents conducted in five districts of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Topics of discussion ranged from their motivations for fighting, their world view, relations with Pakistan and their views on suicide bombing. This is a view of the Taliban that is stripped of the myth, mystique and misunderstanding.
I believe that publicly funded data (data from governments, the UN and other world bodies, and INGOs) should be truly public. By this I mean that anyone can easily, and without cost, access the data in a non-propietary format. No locked pdf files. No password protected databases. No one-query-at-a-time, one-answer-at-a-time forms. Just the data in a simple user accessible format.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the International Relations and Security Network (ISN) understand. They have teamed up to provide an integrated database known as FIRST . FIRST contains free, open source, clearly documented information from research institutes around the world. The databases filled with hard facts on armed conflict, peace keeping, arms production and trade, military expenditure, armed forces and conventional weapons holding, nuclear weapons, security, international relations, human rights, and health statistics. Most of the data can be exported in comma-seperated value (.csv) or Excel (.xls) formats. These formats are easily imported by many analytical tools allowing the user to carry out their own processing and analysis.
As an excellent example of what can be done with data from FIRST check out Jeffrey Warren's Vestal Design interactive data visualization of world-wide arms transactions. You can view the full Java-based visualization at ARMSFLOW. I love this kind of thing. Effective data visualization allows you to quickly present complex data to senior level decision makers without overwhelming them.
Now if only there was a way to get NGOs to share security incident data in the same way!
"Sources and Methods" has a great post on rank ordering the risks from the 2008 Global Risk Report. I'm not really conversant with all the math but his rank ordered list is pretty interesting. Where do you suppose international terrorism ranks compared to a pandemic? Or how about "failed and failing states" compared to "natural catastrophe: earthquake?"
Sri Lanka is among the world’s most dangerous places for aid workers according to the United Nations Staff Union. According to these articles the union is expected to advise staffers not to take postings to Sri Lanka due to the security risks that aid workers face. Although the union places much of the blame on the government of Sri Lanka it also notes with concern “the lukewarm response by UN officials in supporting their own staff”.
* Large-scale human migration due to resource scarcity, increased frequency of extreme weather events, and other factors, particularly in the developing countries in the earth's low latitudinal band. * Intensifying intra- and inter-state competition for food, water, and other resources, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. * Increased frequency and severity of disease outbreaks. * Heightened risk of state failure and regional conflagration. * Significant shifts in the geostrategic roles of every major fuel type. * Increased U.S. border stress due to the severe effects of climate change in parts of Mexico and the Caribbean. * Increased uncertainty over how China's political leadership will respond to growing domestic and international pressure to become a "responsible stakeholder" in the global environment. * Strain on the capacity of the United States -- and in particular the U.S. military -- to act as a "first responder" to international disasters and humanitarian crises due to their increased frequency, complexity, and danger. * Growing demand for international institutions to play new and expanded roles in the management of refugee crises and in providing forums for the negotiation of climate agreements.
The chart on page 104 summarizes the potential impacts succinctly. It would serve as a very good starting point for any longer term planning discussions by NGOs and other stakeholders.