Monday, August 17, 2009

Red R ‘Essentials of Humanitarian Practice’

Aaron Davy is part of NZAID’s Humanitarian & Peace-Building Team. To help mark World Humanitarian Day (19 August) he has written about his recent experience on the Red R ‘Essentials of Humanitarian Practice’ course at Burnham Army Camp.

Red R Training in the ‘Essentials of Humanitarian Practice’

It all started rather inhumanely for two other NZAID staff and myself; with an extremely early morning flight to Burnham army camp in Christchurch. The objective of our ‘mission’: to take part in the five day training facilitated by Red R (Register of Engineers for Disaster Relief).

NZAID is the main supporter of Red R and provides $50,000 a year towards funding of its two core training courses. The aim of this particular course, ‘Essentials of Humanitarian Practice’, was to impart upon us an understanding of the international humanitarian system, and the requirements to consider when undertaking a humanitarian deployment.

Red R’s intensive training started by covering relevant international legal frameworks, such as Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, and Human Rights Law. We then examined the many contemporary issues that compromise the implementation of these laws, including domestic priorities, responses to the threat of terrorism, and issues of food security.

As the days progressed, we also examined the mandates and inter-agency relationship between the main humanitarian responders; OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), United Nations Military Peacekeepers, and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross), etc. Ongoing debate ranged from the legal obligations of national governments towards refugees within their sovereign borders, to the relationship between civilian and military players within a ‘humanitarian space’. The NZAID participants also did a presentation on their agency’s involvement in humanitarian action, linking into many of these themes.

The course also incorporated many practical lessons on needs assessments, dealing with stress in the field, and radio communications, and culminated in a (rather taxing and intensive) all day exercise. This assignment drew together all we had learned to manage a ‘real life’ humanitarian crisis (involving local school children dressed as refugees, and Red R staff role-playing as obstinate journalists and manipulative government officials!).

The real-life ambience of the military base provided further interest to our tasks but by the end of the five days we were all ready for a good night’s sleep, and a life free of 7:00 am radio calls requiring us to utilise the phonetic alphabet (pre-morning coffee!). However, we all left considerably energised by the experience and with plans to complete additional Red R training; in preparation for potential deployment to a real relief assignment sometime in the future.

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