Inner City Press


In Other Media-e.g. Somalia, Ghana, Azerbaijan, The Gambia   For further information, click here to contact us          .

Home -

Search is just below this first article

Reuters AlertNet 7/14/07 7/19/07 6/29/07 6/14/7 6/1/7

How to Contact Us


Support this work by buying this book

Click on cover for secure site orders

also includes "Toxic Credit in the Global Inner City"

Inner City Press Podcast --

In Face of Floods, Military Helicopters Are Last Resort, Oslo Guidelines and UN Say

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 9 -- In the face of the worst floods in years, there have been responses of last resort, some ending badly:

Distribution of aid in Bihar[, India] has been hampered by roads washed away by flooding. Those who have been getting aid have been close to main roads that are still intact. People living in remote villages have just been left out. To tackle the problem, the government brought in helicopters. But they too missed the point. The air-drops were limited to certain areas and the bags and water containers burst on impact. Fights over food led to stampedes and one young man died in a police shoot out.

            Thursday at the UN, Inner City Press asked Margareta Wahlstrom, the UN's Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, about the UN's view of on the use of the military, and specifically of helicopters, in responding to humanitarian needs.

            Ms. Wahlstrom said that the applicable Oslo Guidelines call use of the military assets the "last resort... if you have money and commercial" assets, you should use them. Video here, from Minute 27:52.

Floods in Nepal (snakes not shown)

  Specifically, the Oslo Guidelines provide that

i. Requests for MCDA (Military and Civil Defense Assets) to support UN agencies must be made by the Humanitarian Coordinator/Resident Coordinator, with the consent of the Affected State, and based solely on humanitarian criteria.

ii. MCDA should be employed by UN humanitarian agencies as a last resort, i.e. only in the absence of any other available civilian alternative to support urgent humanitarian needs in the time required.

iii. A UN humanitarian operation using military assets must retain its civilian nature and character. While MCDA may remain under military control, the operation as a whole must remain under the overall authority and control of the responsible humanitarian

organization. This does not infer any civilian command and control status over military assets.

iv. Humanitarian work should be performed by humanitarian organizations. Insofar as military organizations have a role to play in supporting humanitarian work, it should, to the extent possible, not encompass direct assistance, in order to retain a clear distinction between the normal functions and roles of humanitarian and military stakeholders.

v. Any use of MCDA should be, at its onset, clearly limited in time and scale and present an exit strategy element that defines clearly how the function it undertakes could, in the future, be undertaken by civilian personnel.

vi. Countries providing MCDA to support UN humanitarian operations should ensure that they respect the UN Codes of Conduct and the humanitarian principles.

            We will have more on these Principles, and how they are implemented.

            Asked about problems with the use of helicopters to drop supplies in the current crisis, Ms. Wahlstrom said she has heard of this. "We were not involved in the execution of this event," she said, adding that dropping aid from helicopters is a "last resort," and only works if there is organization on the ground, which during floods is, by definition, lacking.

            That the UN was not as much involved in the response in India is explained by some insiders as reflective of India's resistance to accepting "charity" or aid, which is not unrelated to the country's continuing drive to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Recently, Ban Ki-moon's titular chief of staff Vijay Nambiar gave a speech advising his countrymen how to forward their interests in the UN system. Whether that was appropriate, and where the advice touched on the humanitarian crisis and whether to solicit or accept aid, is not yet know. Developing.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answer.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540

Search WWW Search

Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service.

            Copyright 2006-07 Inner City Press, Inc. To request reprint or other permission, e-contact Editorial [at] -

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540