One of the high points of the recent World Vision Triennial Council meeting in Singapore was a remarkable address by Jan Egeland, former U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator. Egeland has been deeply involved in the resolution of intractable conflicts in places such as northern Uganda and the eastern Congo, and was one of the early voices to bring Darfur to the world’s attention.
He reported progress in poverty reduction in many places, but he said we still need to convince the 2 billion richest people in the world that they have the responsibility to “lift up” the 1 billion still suffering from extreme poverty. And while we now have 50% fewer wars and conflicts than in 1989—when the Berlin Wall fell—the answer to the question of whether we are doing enough to resolve the toughest and most deadly conflicts “on our watch” is, “no, we’re not.”
Egeland listed 10 challenges for organizations like World Vision, which I believe are helpful to any organization or group seeking to relieve human pain and suffering:
1. To succeed, we have to promise ourselves to speak the truth of what the situation is. If we don’t speak the truth, who will? We are not there to please powerful donors and sponsors.
2. We are not there to administer a crisis, or to manage it and enable people just to survive. Egeland quoted a woman living in a Ugandan refugee camp who said, “You keep us alive, but you haven’t given us life.”
3. We are there to change things, not just to keep people alive. Humanitarian aid cannot become an alibi for moral and political change.
4. After the “watershed” 2005 Millennium +5 U.N. Summit, the international community can and must now intervene when sovereign nations are not protecting their own people from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
5. We must offer special protection for women and children who are the worst victims of poverty and conflict. He said women are now being abused more than ever.
6. Our energy and advocacy must be focused on the most neglected and forgotten places of the world.
7. We have to raise more resources, especially from the wealthy nations. Most people in the developed world think their levels of aid are much higher than they really are.
8. We must be conscious of the quality of our humanitarian work. The vulnerable need to be protected from our incompetence. This work is no place for amateurs.
9. We have to confront the proliferation of small arms around the world that fuel the conflicts and cause such human destruction.
10. Climate change is also a justice issue. It is primarily caused by the world’s wealthiest people, but it will first impact the world’s poorest people.
All Egeland’s remarks were informative and provocative. For more on the World Vision Triennial, see my earlier post, A World of Hope.