Events - 18.05.2017 - 00:00 

Humanitarian relief in Latin America

Academics as well as practitioners came together to discuss changing trends and the realities of field work at conference

22 May 2017. Hosted by the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of St.Gallen, experts from academia as well as from international NGO’s gathered on Friday 19 May to discuss the rapidly changing world of Humanitarian relief.

Focused on research or fieldwork in Latin America, the event explored the indispensable role that international organisations play in the context of relief in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Jean-Luc Bernasconi talked about Switzerland’s focus on international aid. As the Deputy Head of the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit (SHA) at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) his talk focused on his organisation’s role in the Americas.

Need vs. available funds

His organisation’s priorities focus on the most pressing regional humanitarian needs. One of his biggest challenges, which he believes is a major challenge for all NGO’s, is the constant and never-ending struggle for resources. Mr. Bernasconi mentioned that the discrepancy between humanitarian need, or requests for assistance, and the available financial means to provide support is always growing. Citing the UN Office for the Organization for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) the funding trend is that in 2016 there is a gap of about 10b. dollars.

With its international commitments to provide humanitarian aid, the Swiss agency is careful to follow international humanitarian law as well as to adhere to the UN resolutions on the humanitarian principles, which are focus on humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the arm focused on providing aid, is a part of the Swiss federal government’s Department of Foreign Affairs. Their motto is to provide aid where they can save lives and alleviate suffering both before, during and after crises, conflicts and disasters.

Four priorities

The SHA unit seeks to provide assistance in three main intervention areas: Prevention and preparedness; emergency relief; and reconstruction and rehabilitation. Within this construct, the aid unit has four thematic priorities set until 2020: protecting the civilian population; disaster risk reduction; water and sanitation and helping those who are victims of gender-based violence.

Within their total budget of CHF 22.9m. in Latin America, the SHA uses 6.6m. for preventative measures, 8.7 for emergency relief, 6.6 to reconstruction efforts and 1.0m. for advocacy. With these focus points in place, the agency is open to working with other governments, private partners and NGO’s that have similar goals… and with a modest budget, they hope to provide the most impact with the amount of aid they are providing.

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