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Milestones in Humanitarian Action Chronicles Two Decades of Impact through Education

8 September 2017, New York – The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC), Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), and Fordham University Press are proud to announce the publication of Milestones in Humanitarian Action by Kevin M. Cahill, M.D.

Milestones in Humanitarian Action is the tale of a quarter-century long effort to improve responses to complex humanitarian crises that emerge during or after wars, or as sequelae of natural disasters. The book chronicles the impact of humanitarian education through the reflections of the organizations’ founders, students, instructors, and tutors.

Founded in 1992, the CIHC originated from a conversation between Dr. Cahill and his friend and patient, former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, about one of the main challenges he encountered as United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General in the former Yugoslavia:

“Non-governmental organizations and humanitarian workers [who] are often poorly trained and uncoordinated, causing endless and unnecessary problems.”

This insight led Dr. Cahill “down a path of inquiry and exploration.” He began developing  the International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA) – a formal and academically-sound training program for humanitarian workers.

“I have aimed to redefine humanitarian relief work as not merely the actions of ‘do-gooders’, but as a distinct new profession, and to confer legitimacy on humanitarians who seek to build bridges to peace and understanding in times of war,” writes Dr. Cahill in the book.

The IDHA is a comprehensive, effective, and practical training program which continues to inform the work and efforts of health workers, military personnel, lawyers, and aid workers globally. Over the course of 20 years, more than 3,000 humanitarian aid professionals from 140 nations have taken the IDHA and other humanitarian programs offered by the CIHC and IIHA in Barcelona, Geneva, Kathmandu, New York, Nairobi, and beyond.

Due to the growing interest in humanitarian studies, Fordham University’s Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs now offers a Master’s in International Humanitarian Action (MIHA) for humanitarian professionals as well as a Major in Humanitarian Studies – one of only four such undergraduate programs in the world.

Milestones in Humanitarian Action focuses on the IDHA’s impact on 12 select graduates.

“The IDHA acted as a springboard to my international humanitarian career. In my opinion, the most unique thing about the course is not only the wide breadth of experience and talent that it brings together, but also the indelible bonds it creates amongst its alumni,” writes Naomi Gikonyo, a recent MIHA graduate.

Argentina Szabados, IDHA 2 alumna and CIHC Board Member, is the Regional Director of South-Eastern Europe, Europe, and Central Asia for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the book, she expresses the unique value of the IDHA:

“IDHA students do not simply sit and listen to lectures; they shape the direction of the course. That is the genius of the IDHA and of an interdisciplinary curriculum that combines academic theory with the practical experience of seasoned professionals.”

Milestones in Humanitarian Action ends with a speech given by Former United Nations Secretary General and CIHC co-founder Boutros Boutros-Ghali who led UN efforts to prioritize preventive diplomacy, using “universally understood semantics of health, disease, and medicine.” When asked about his most significant legacy in a final interview at the age of 93, the former Secretary General responded, “My work with Dr. Cahill in the mid-1990s on preventive diplomacy.”

Similarly in 1993, at the first CIHC conference, Mr. Vance said, “It is only in the last year or so that I have come to understand the importance of health issues in world affairs. The CIHC – an important new organization – and the vision, dedication, and drive of my friend, Dr. Kevin Cahill have informed us all about the ways that government, private groups, and international organizations can begin to care for the health and well-being of all.”

This mission rings true today. Looking forward, the CIHC and IIHA continue building upon the remarkable contributions of its founders, instructors, students, donors, and partners to shape leaders in the humanitarian field and, ultimately, improve the global response to a world in strife.

“I find comfort in the fact that our students will soon be out in the world, aiding the vulnerable, bearing witness to injustice, advocating against the obscenity of poverty, and contributing to their communities, each in their own special way,” concludes Brendan Cahill, IIHA Executive Director.

To engage in our mission for effective humanitarian action, consider joining us in the following ways:

Press contact

Angela Wells
Communications Officer
Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs
+1-718-817-5303
awells14@fordham.edu

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Room for Debate: WHS & MSF

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS)

The WHS will take place May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey. Organized by the UN, the summit is a call to action with three main goals:

  1. To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles.
  2. To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises, and be resilient to shocks.
  3. To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the center of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering.

The core responsibilities of the summit are:

  1. Prevent and end conflict
  2. Respect rules of war
  3. Leave no one behind
  4. Working differently to end need
  5. Invest in humanity

With approximately 5,000 people expected to attend, the summit will produce a “Commitments to Action” document which will support the Agenda for Humanity. The document, which is not legally binding, will be a demonstration of goodwill by UN member states and other stakeholders including NGOs.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)

On May 5, just a little over two weeks before the main event, MSF announced its withdrawal from participating in the WHS. According to the statement released by MSF, the organization no longer believes the summit “will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations.”

The organization stated, “the summit neglects to reinforce the obligations of states to uphold and implement the humanitarian and refugee laws which they have signed up to.” The organization believes that not enough pressure has been put on member states to uphold the laws of war and it is unfair and unrealistic to ask NGOs like MSF to fill this gap.  IRIN News spoke with a former MSF senior staffer who put MSF’s decision in perspective: “You can ask firefighters to put out a fire. Don’t ask them to build affordable housing.” However, the UN Tribune reports that the UN sees humanitarian aid and development work coming closer together, working in tandem.

Reuters commented that because of MSF’s strong global influence, the WHS may not be as effective without the NGO. Another blog, Humanicontrarian argued WHS’ agenda has been flawed from the beginning, and has little to do with humanitarian aid. At least one person has advocated that MSF pulling out of the summit will help illuminate the gaps in the agenda, and encourage other participating NGOs to demand the summit address them.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General commented on MSF’s withdrawal; “I’d say it’s disappointing, because I think the summit was going to deal with a lot of issues that are vital to MSF and which MSF traditionally presents a strong and influential voice.” He went on to state that the summit is continuing “full speed ahead” and the UN expects over 6,000 attendees. Howard Mollett, a Senior Policy Advisor at CARE International UK pointed out that the WHS “has been a messy, sprawling affair and will inevitably fall far short of what is required to address the vast and deeply political challenges facing humanitarian action.” However, he goes on to argue that “we cannot avoid the fact that the governments, civil society groups and businesses invited are either already engaged on the ground or have an influence on today’s major crises.” The hope is that these already engaged groups attend and commit to acting on “challenges, gaps and weaknesses that MSF, but also Ban Ki Moon, have identified.”

Debate

  • Are MSF’s claims that the WHS will not effectively address governmental responsibility and the weaknesses of humanitarian action valid?
  • Is there another way that MSF could have called attention to its concerns while still participating in the WHS?
  • Will the legitimacy and effectiveness of the WHS be called into question given the lack of participation of MSF?

Please feel free to comment below, or share with your colleagues and networks to start a conversation!

 

 

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Ebola Waning: The Role of Community in Epidemic Response

Although residual fear still lingers among communities in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, recent reports show that the Ebola epidemic – which has claimed the lives of over 8,900 people – has finally showed signs of slowing in West Africa. As the disease tore through Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Mali, and the first cases appeared in the US, infectious disease experts released  grim predictions of the dire situation to come. Now, almost one year after the first case arose in March 2014, the rage of the epidemic is beginning to calm. Many have cited international assistance as the main cause for the downward trend in cases, but recent evidence seems to suggest that community initiatives and precautions have played a major role in combatting the spread of the disease.

In Liberia and Sierra Leone, neighborhoods have mobilized, healthcare workers have volunteered, and rural villagers have formed local Ebola task forces. Ebola survivors have even created their own organizations to help other Ebola survivors reintegrate back into society as they cope with trauma, grief, and potential stigmatization. A recent article published by the New York Times details the measures taken by communities in Sierra Leone who took it upon themselves to track infections, set up informal isolation centers, and even create blockades in some neighborhoods to take the temperatures of those who entered. The article also highlights an unanticipated key advantage of humanitarian response in urban settings: a more educated population is better able to adapt and change behavioral patterns – despite the tracing challenges posed by dense living conditions.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has warned that the fight is far from over, citing critical gaps in Ebola response particularly in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Officials also warn that the epidemic will not be over until cases reach zero in all three countries. Yet the resounding examples of community strength and mobilization bring hope for better prepared networks of first responders.

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Ebola Update

The fight against Ebola in West Africa has continued, with some promising and some not so promising results. Liberia, one of the countries worst affected by the disease, has set a national goal of no new cases by December 25th, signaling that authorities believe that they are getting ahead of the virus. Mali and Sierra Leone, however, tell a different story. Mali has confirmed their eighth case of Ebola, despite ardent efforts to trace the contacts of infected persons. 271 people in Mali are still being monitored.
The United Nations’ goal of containing the virus by December 1st isnot likely to be met due in part to the escalating numbers of cases in Sierra Leone. While that target will be achieved in some areas, the reality for Sierra Leone is much different. A number of burial workers in Sierra Leone have gone on strike in protest of non-payment, leaving 15 bodies abandoned at the city’s main hospital.
In America Dr. Martin Salia, who had been working as a surgeon in Sierra Leone, has passed away in an Omaha hospital. Health officials say that Dr. Salia had been in treatment for two days, but had been sick for almost two weeks. Italy is treating their first Ebola patient, a Sicilian doctor, who arrived in Rome after contracting the disease in Sierra Leone.
 
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