Welcome to IRIN's weekly assortment of journalism and research about the humanitarian world that piqued our interest.
Five to read:
Zakat – a form of obligatory almsgiving for Muslims - is one of the main tools of Islamic social financing. With faith-based and diaspora organisations playing an increasing role in humanitarian response in places like Syria and Somalia, how can Zakat’s potential as an aid funding tool be maximized? A new report by Global Humanitarian Assistance, of the UK’s Development Initiatives, looks at where Zakat is being used to fund aid delivery and the challenges and opportunities that come with this type of financing.
We hear a lot about how technology and social media have delivered an information revolution, but sometimes it seems the old ways are the best. A blackboard inside a shed next to a busy intersection of the Liberian capital Monrovia has 5,000 daily readers, more than the number who read Liberia’s most popular website. At the height of the Ebola crisis the “The Daily Talk” became the go-to place for information and updates on the outbreak and used special symbols and pictures to assist those unable to read fluently.
The gap between the silos of humanitarian aid and development assistance has, predictably, been a big talking point during regional consultations of the World Humanitarian Summit. In this blog post, Marc DuBois a former executive director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in the UK, argues that humanitarian crises can be an opportunity for development and that more needs to be done to join up emergency relief with longer-term planning. Citing the examples of Eastern DRC, Haiti and South Sudan, he calls for more joined-up thinking and an end to the “two-pronged architecture of the aid system”.
Syrian refugee and computer programmer Mojahid Akil has created a mobile phone application to help fellow refugees adjust to live in their new home. “Help Me”, part of a website called “Gherbtna” - meaning exile, loneliness or a feeling of foreignness in Arabic - provides information to Syrian refugees about essential services like health care and education, and where to register births and deaths. The app also helps refugees in Turkey, where Akil is now based, to navigate the language barrier and find Syrian food and other community members. America’s National Public Radio has the story.
Is technology the solution for communication in a disaster situation? Mobile phones and tablets do help humanitarians communicate with crisis-hit communities, but mobile phones alone should not be seen as a panacea, rather one part of a wider set of tools. Reflecting on the recent Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, John Warnes, Technology Officer at the CDAC (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities) Network Secretariat, says: “We need to retain a community-centric, rather than technology-centric approach to humanitarian aid. Technology is only a tool to facilitate communication and improve effectiveness of aid, but it will not automatically put communities in the driving seat.”
One to listen to:
Anthropologist Professor Henrietta Moore argues that development is an outmoded concept. She questions the focus on top-down solutions imposed by the global north on the global south and asks if there isn’t another way. This lecture at the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University was broadcast on BBC World Service radio.
One to watch:
The secluded Nicobar Islands, an archipelago, some 1,200 kilometres east of the Indian mainland, with a population of just 42,000, have survived almost autonomously for centuries, but when the area was hit by the 2004 Tsunami, the aid poured in. In this New Scientist video, social ecologist Simron Jit Singh explains how the arrival of outside “assistance” sent the area into “cultural meltdown”.
Currency fluctuations this year could cost relief agencies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost income, threatening aid to millions of people around the world. A drop in the value of the euro against the dollar and a spike in the Swiss franc have contributed to shortfalls in funding for the organisations like the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), who have offices in Geneva.