COVID-19 response: ‘acute on chronic’ for the entire humanitarian sector

Posted on: April 5, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

“In any case, these interrelations between the three communities, all with different cultures and nationalities, proved that there exist people with a sincere understanding of other people, no matter where they are in the world. It proves that there always exist significant people who transcend government ideologies.” –Behrouz Boochani, A Letter from Manus Island COVID-19 response: ‘acute on chronic’ for the entire humanitarian sector 8 minute read [Updated 4.7.20;5:20PM EST] A global crisis The humanitarian sector is reacting to a massive ‘acute on chronic’ situation as the COVID-19 pandemic impacts all aspects of ‘normal’ humanitarian work. UN entities (e.g., IOM, WFP) and all major INGOs scramble to react to this viral tsunami and to coordinate response with each other, major donor entities, and with affected governments on all continents.  Supply chains are strained or broken, funding is even more uncertain, and affected populations are in varying states of even more…

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One humanitarian’s story: thoughts from ‘C’ about the sector

Posted on: March 5, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry

Warning: long read, 5100+ words One humanitarian’s story: thoughts from ‘C’ about the sector   One woman, one story I have had many Skype visitors to my “Global Citizen/Humanitarian sector” sociology class over the years, humanitarians all.  In a previous post I discuss five of these guests, but below I go deeper into the encounter we had with a humanitarian who, chooses to go by simply ‘C’. Although she is ‘only one person’ her experiences will resonate with many who share her demographic profile: white, 30ish, female, and from the global North, the United States, no less. Please note as you read her statements that her tone, cadence, pauses, and stress on certain words and phrases brought her words to life in ways that cannot be conveyed adequately in the bare text you will read below. There was emotion in her voice as she spoke to us, and we could see…

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Humanitarian voices in Sittwe, Myanmar

Posted on: February 1, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces", Refugee humanitarians

“What do we want?  Justice. Equality. Peace and freedom.” –Kyaw Kyaw, Rebel Riot     Humanitarian voices in Sittwe I recently talked with a humanitarian working in Myanmar, and we chatted about some recent events in the local poetry and music scenes that give reason for cautious hope. He forwarded a link to some graphic, compelling, and highly political videos recently produced by Turning Tables Myanmar. From their web page: Turning Tables Myanmar works to empower marginalized youth by providing the means to process and express their hopes, dreams and challenges, through the Creative Arts of music and film. We strive to address the root causes of inequality and provide support to a wide range of challenges in Myanmar from gender-based violence, tribalism, extremist groups, youth in urban slums and the communities in which they reside. The five videos, under the umbrella title “Transition This”, are all extraordinarily well done and…

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Confronting the lie of civilization through poetry

Posted on: January 28, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces", Refugee humanitarians

“My words are taller than the walls put between Buddhists and Muslims. My words are stronger than the hatred designed for me…My words build bridges between ethnic communities. My words fight against injustice and ignorance. My words have no religion. My words are for humanity. My words know no borders. My words are for peace and harmony.” -from the poem My Words by Rohingya refugee, Mayyu Ali   “Humanity is the only true nation.” -Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health   “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” -Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights         A measure of our humanity According the the UNHCR there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  About double that number, over 140 million,…

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Yet another head on the Hydra?

Posted on: January 27, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Note: I have now written a series of posts that were inspired by my invitation to speak at the 2019 ALNAP gathering in Berlin. All can be accessed by clicking here; it may be best to read them in chronological order, so you’ll need to scroll down to get to the first one.]   Looks matter In the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Tina Fey plays an embedded journalist in Afghanistan. The phrase ‘4-10-4’ is used by a marine commander as he admonishes the Tina Fey character not to fraternize with his men. The ‘4-10-4’ phrase refers to the fairly old misogynist trope that we rate each other on attractiveness, much more so males rating females rather than the opposite, and that this rating is done on a 1-10 scale, ten being highly desirable. The commander’s point is obvious, that attractiveness is a matter of context, such that back in New York…

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ALNAP comments, Berlin 2019

Posted on: January 11, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

ALNAP comments, Berlin 2019 [Note: I have now written a series of posts that were inspired by my invitation to speak at the 2019 ALNAP gathering in Berlin. All can be accessed by clicking here; it may be best to read them in chronological order, so you’ll need to scroll down to get to the first one.] Reflections on what it means to be a humanitarian Below are the comments I made as part of the ‘Jigsaw’ session at the October 2019 ALNAP conference in Berlin. These comments are an alternate version of the blog post I made about the conference theme of ‘Relevance.’ After I gave these comments, conference participants were separated into 5 large groups and each was charged with discussing questions related to one of the five privileging forces, later to report out to the larger group. Here are the questions for each group: Patriarchy – How…

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The ultimate goal of the Hydra is genocide.

Posted on: December 9, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

“It is not power that corrupts but fear.” –Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and defender of Myanmar’s genocidal actions   This is an important week This week there is a Brexit vote in the UK and impeachment hearings against President Trump in the US. These two events are consequential, to be sure, but perhaps no more so than what will be happening in the Netherlands. Brought up on charges of committing genocide by The Gambia, Myanmar goes on trail in front of the International Court of Justice. Heavy, somber, and immensely powerful words, those. In anticipation of the hearing in The Hague, I spent part of this afternoon reading the 46 page document outlining Gambia’s case against Myanmar for the genocide against the Rohingya. It begins, “In accordance with Articles 36(1) and 40 of the Statute of the Court and Article 38 of the Rules of Court, I have…

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The gaping hole in the Hydra model: religious persecution

Posted on: November 29, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Updated 1 Feb 2020] Religion is arguably one of the most egregious ‘othering’ forces that has ever existed. All through recorded history people have been marginalized -and in countless cases murdered- because they were of the ‘wrong’ religion.” “The normal and the stigmatized are not persons, but perspectives.” -E. Goffman, Stigma, 1963 Prologue As I write this, Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her team are preparing to respond to formal charges of genocide against the Muslim Rohingya at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The world will be watching these proceedings, and we as a global community must continue demanding justice be served and the dignity of all humans is defended. Review and context In a previous post I talked about both ascribed and achieved statuses, how these are tied to the process of othering, and the inevitability that this process leads to the rise of various ‘privileging forces’,…

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Mobile and wifi access a basic human right? Yes!

Posted on: November 15, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry, Refugee humanitarians

“The first thing a refugee asks for upon arrival at a camp is not water or food, but the Wi-Fi password. A smartphone has become a basic humanitarian need because it allows displaced people to connect with loved ones they’ve been separated from.” -Turkish telecom CEO Kaan Terzioglu at DAVOS, 2018   Mobile and wifi access a basic human right? Just now I am writing in a local coffee shop, surrounded by colleagues, students, and staff at my university, literally 100% of whom are connected via cell and/or wifi. In the global north where I live connectivity is essential, even vital, for day to day life. Is the same true for the rest of the world, especially those who are now refugees?  More specifically, in our globalized world, is cell and wifi access essential and therefore a basic human right? I’ll argue absolutely yes. Rohingya denied Over two months have passed…

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Humanitarian principles and intersectionality

Posted on: November 2, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Updated and edited on 27 January 2020] All human lives have equal worth Humanitarian principles, however broadly defined, begin with the assertion that all human lives have equal worth. Given that premise, our challenge is to understand the social forces which are a threat to that assumption and frequently lead to humanitarian crises. In previous posts (see here and here) I discuss how the process of ‘othering’ is universal, and throughout history has inexorably lead to the entrenchment and ossification of many ‘privileging forces’ that continue to have massive impact on all global cultures and, necessarily, impact the functioning of the humanitarian ecosystem. I argue that fighting each of these privileging forces individually may seem both necessary and logical, but that to be most effective we must, metaphorically, fight the body of the Hydra, i.e., the process of othering itself. Othering fuels the Hydra’s body and thus all of its…

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