Getting closer to the end…

Yes, okay, I have not been very diligent writing (neither have my co-authors, so what)… last time I was still in Brussels, with the European Union. In the meantime I have been to Germany, Sweden, Germany again and now – for the grand finale – in the USA. Monterey, California to be more precise, a lovely, little, sleepy, quiet town two car hours south of San Francisco.

I’m getting closer to finishing, and slowly I’m beginning to accept that this thesis is not going to change the whole nature of how we look at humanitarian aid… too bad! As a reminder, I looked into whether environmental management systems (EMS), as they use them in the industry, can help humanitarian organisations to reduce their (often severe) environmental impacts and improve their overall effectiveness in helping the affected population recover. Turns out I didn’t come up with the holy Grail of disaster reconstruction – there are some reasons why these EMS might not be the best solution… for example the fact that up to 100 different aid organisations are implementing projects all in the same area, which makes environmental protection more a question of coordination than of inner-organisational management. If you think now you could have told me that without having to dig through literature and trying to contact humanitarian field workers, then so be it (seriously though, there is still a bit more to the issue than what fits into this blog).

Of course it makes me very sad that in the time I write this thesis such a terrible natural disaster is actually occurring and I think of Nepal quite a lot while writing. Knowing these terribly difficult, messy, chaotic processes I’m writing about are actually happening at this very moment is a depressive feeling.

Nothing the less, it was and is interesting to work with that topic, but I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line in three weeks. A very nice thing is knowing that 26 friends of mine are – all around the world – closing in on our common goal at the same time and that we will all get to meet again in June in Budapest.

middlebury

…and here a pic of the institute in Middlebury – very nice place to study, by the way.

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Being jealous on Gender issues

As my internship in Brussels is coming to an end, my work for the thesis is slowly picking up speed – slowly. Brussels is actually a good place to work with Disaster Management since the EU is the world’s biggest donor for humanitarian aid with more than a billion Euro every year.

The money is dispersed through DG ECHO, a Directorate General of the European Commission. Even though they have stuff in the field, they do not have their own projects, but fund the projects of partners (such as red cross organisations, UNEP, UN OCHA, etc.). I was lucky enough to get to talk to some people working with this process.

While there are many documents and procedures, evaluations and implementation plans, environmental sustainability is mentioned only very seldomly. On the one hand, you can understand the rationale that in humanitarian aid, work has to be done really quickly in order to rescue and protect the lives of many people. Environmental planning takes time, which the organisations often simply do not have. On the other side it is obvious that a misguided recovery can leave the population in a more vulnerable spot, with a more pressing poverty, than before (e.g. if deforestation for reconstruction takes away the livelihood activities, or water pollution from construction activities becomes a health hazard for the community). Also the evaluation reports of the EU acknowledge that in the future their procedures would have to pay more attention to the environment.

An example where this already happened is gender sensitive aid. All projects funded by the EU have to explain in which way they take into account the special needs of men, women, boys and girls, as well as old people. The analysis and mitigation of gender-specific problems is then rated in a “gender marker” and has significant influence on whether the project receives funding or not. As gender is just like environment a so-called “cross-cutting issue” that is relevant in every traditional aspect of humanitarian aid (shelter, livelihood, water, sanitation, etc.), this development can be a role model for the uptake of environmental issues in the same way.

WIth only a couple of days left in Brussels, I look back grateful for this opportunity, and look forward to returning back to Lund in March and then, afterwards, finishing my thesis in Monterey California in April and May. More disaster management from my side is soon to come.

The heart of Bureaucracy

Neither Mozambique, nor Belize, nor Guerrero Negro – yet I’m also sitting in a jungle… a jungle of paragraphs and files and scrutiny reservations and non-papers and white papers and amendments and so on, in other words, in the middle of the European Union in Brussels.

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While starting my thesis I’m also doing an internship at the German permanent representation in Brussels. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, I’m also happy about the opportunity to get to see the how the processes go in one of the power centers of the world. A lot of the things discussed during the 1 1/2 years of our courses can be followed here in real live.

My thesis however has very little to do with this internship. I am writing about how the use of environmental management systems can improve the effectiveness of disaster recovery. After a major disaster, infrastructure that has been built over several decades has to be reconstructed in a two or three years. This puts an enormous pressure on the natural resources around. If the population and the humanitarian helpers don’t take the environment into account properly, they can disrupt ecosystem services and in the end do more harm than actually help the affected population. Environmental Management Systems have helped the industry in better controlling their processes and avoiding unecessary burdens on the environment, so maybe they can help the humanitarian sector as well.

As I’m doing a full-time internship here,  I didn’t get going so much with my thesis yet, looking at some articles and trying to get a hold of the people from the “European Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection” or DG ECHO. But what I’ve read so far sounds like I’m going to have an interesting Spring ahead of me.

Warm regards from cold Brussels!