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'Humanitarians must change perceptions'

[Lebanon] A wrecked Red Cross ambulance lies on the road side in Bint Jbeil. [Date picture taken: 08/31/2006] Serene Assir/IRIN
Humanitarians must constantly reassert and redefine their roles to secure the necessary humanitarian space within which aid can effectively and safely reach those most in need, was the defining message of the fourth Dubai International Aid & Development Conference & Exhibition (DIHAD).

Innovative approaches are needed to mount co-ordinated responses to complex emergencies and natural disasters, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General and Humanitarian/Reconstruction Coordinator for Iraq, said in his keynote address in Dubai, the second city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"The rise of infectious and communicable diseases, various new and protracted conflicts, and recent natural catastrophes, have radically altered the manner in which humanitarian response continues to be delivered," said Fakhouri, who has been a member of the humanitarian community with the UN for more than 25 years.

"We face challenges not only in the effective planning and implementation of programmes, but in the very perception and acceptance of our work."

Fakhouri made note of how the war in Iraq, the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories and the recent war in Lebanon "must weigh heavily on the perceived role and responsibilities of the humanitarian community not only in this region, but beyond".

He said the perceived blurred lines between humanitarians and other actors engaging in relief work but not necessarily sharing the same humanitarian principles was increasingly eroding the security of aid workers. "Aid workers have become the soft targets of choice for both criminal gangs and politically minded groups. Insignias are not necessarily the respected and protective shields they once were."

In this more dangerous environment, Fakhouri said the UN, and particularly the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was implementing a series of reforms aimed at improving the coordination, financing and delivery of assistance, "with the view to making such responses more effective, predictable and sustainable".

With respect to Iraq, his principle area of concern, Fakhouri said the UN had adopted a 'cluster' approach by which programmes were grouped according to themes spanning "the humanitarian-reconstruction-development continuum".

Photo: Emmanuel Dunseath/IRIN
IRIN's stand at DIHAD
Fakhouri was one of more than 20 speakers and about 150 exhibitors attending DIHAD, from 1-3 April at the Dubai International Convention Centre. While a number of notable speakers were well received in the conference, several exhibitors spoke of the noticeably poor attendance at DIHAD, saying that numbers were less than the year before. In addition, they complained of the high fees they had paid to be there.

The event organisers were keen to stress the importance of Dubai as an emerging humanitarian hub for the surrounding region.

"Strategically located in an ideal position to reach most of the areas more frequently affected by crises, Dubai is able to launch operations which significantly cut time and costs on response and logistics, resulting in more financial resources reaching the needy and more lives being saved," Abdul Salam al-Madani, Executive Chairman of DIHAD, said.

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