Health priorities during humanitarian emergencies with population displacement (introduction)

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There are currently 45 million refugees or displaced persons in the world, victims of conflict, climatic disaters or other natural catastrophies.. Often, the countries and regions to which they flee do not have the resources to cope with such an influx.
When the displaced population crosses a border to find refuge in another country, they are called refugees. In such situations, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (the UNHCR) has a two-fold mission: assistance and protection. It supervises the relief effort, registers the refugees and grants them legal status. Displaced populations that stay within their own borders (Internally Displaced Persons, or IDPs,) do not have the same rights and – without humanitarian aid – will likely be left to the mercy of those in power. Hence, assistance and protection are inextricably linked, right from the start.
Médecins Sans Frontières carefully analyses the situation of the population in its political environment and potential security problems, as these will condition its intervention.
Aid may be blocked, targeted, manipulated, diverted, or used as an excuse for government incapacity. Ideally, the camp is set up more than 50 kilometres from a border or conflict zone. To maintain their credibility and freedom of action, it is important that humanitarian organisations clearly distinguish themselves from military operations. That independence is necessary to gain the population’s trust.
It is essential to act quickly. High mortality is common in mass population displacements. The faster and better-adapted the response, the more it will improve the population’s lives and chances of survival. In addition to the population’s basic needs, MSF also considers its customs, sociocultural characteristics, ethnic origin, organization and current leadership, to ensure that assistance programmes are both accessible and acceptable.
Operations adapt constantly to changes in the local health and political situation. The quality of our action depends on our ability to listen and observe. Usually, this is all very complex. Over the years, MSF has developed strategies and tools for reducing the mortality commonly associated with population displacement. Emergency health priorities have been established so that aid and assistance can be quickly and effectively deployed to displaced and refugee populations.

The eleven emergency health priorities act as a roadmap or simple reference list in an often confused and overwhelming situation. Thinking about the eleven priorities helps ensure that none of the population’s basic issues and needs is overlooked.

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