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Report: Hector Pascua, Pictures: Mandy Salonga
Vienna, Austria – Humanitarian aid must no longer be provided “from above”, but must respect the people’s desire for autonomy. The experts came to this conclusion during the 5th Humanitarian Congress under the motto “The Future of Humanitarian Aid” on Friday, March 29, 2019 in Vienna.
“The suffering people we serve should be at the center of our work,” said World Caritas President Cardinal Luis Tagle. According to the president of “Caritas Internationalis” and Archbishop of Manila, it is important to involve and empower people.
At the high-level panel discussion in the large ballroom of the University of Vienna, Tagle discussed with Austria’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock, and International Red Cross President Peter Maurer.
„Human compassion and respect in dealing with the poor are needed,“ demanded the World Caritas President. In that sense, he keeps telling Caritas volunteers: “We are not going to the needy people with a feeling of superiority, but of solidarity.” People of different traditions and religions have to work together and become aware of the values that “help the entire human family” to bring about “heart building,” Tagle Cross President Peter Maurer, who has just returned from Syria, called for a “change in behavior” in aid to crisis regions. Specifically, he criticized, for example, the tendency of many countries to provide weapons, but then to take responsibility. “It’s not about financing a system, it’s about helping people become independent and no longer rely on humanitarian aid,” Maurer said.
Similarly, Mark Lowcock, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Response (OCHA), said: “People are very afraid of dependency, and what they want is to be able to rebuild their lives themselves,” said the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator. Asked about the global problem of aid-related corruption, Maurer said that this was “the deadliest thing” that could happen. “Proximity” is crucial to avoiding bribery in one’s own system and that of partner organizations. “You do not spot corruption at a distance, you have to be there to understand the dynamics of humanitarian aid,” he said.
134 million people depend on humanitarian aid
“134 million people worldwide depend on humanitarian aid,” said Foreign Minister Kneissl.
The Foreign Minister affirmed the importance of diplomatic relations in order to prevent humanitarian crisis. In this sense, several Austrian diplomats in Eastern European countries helped to prevent conflicts – largely unnoticed by public perception. “They are not honored for their bravery on the battlefield, but they do important work in the background,” said Kneissl.
Support should not be measured by numbers alone, but by the results, the Foreign Minister replied to criticism that the current federal government is cutting back on humanitarian aid.
She criticized relief efforts that solve short-term problems and asked, “Does it make sense to ship a new canister of water to Syria every week, or is it better to repair the water pipelines on the ground?”
Organizers of the all-day “Humanitarian Congress” in Vienna included Caritas, the Red Cross, the Working Group on Global Responsibility, Doctors Without Borders and SOS Children’s Villages.
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