[Svrilist] Mozambique: Upholding people's rights in the midst of disaster

svrilist at mrc.ac.za svrilist at mrc.ac.za
Thu May 25 07:44:26 SAST 2006

MAPUTO, 23 May (IRIN) - People's rights sometimes get trampled in the rush
to provide aid when disasters strike - with women and girls particularly
at risk of exploitation.

Mozambique has suffered more than its fair share of emergencies in recent
years, from cyclones to floods and droughts. Last week two training
sessions for government and civil society staff were organised by Save the
Children-UK/US and Oxfam to underline the international standards expected
in disaster responses.

The Sphere project, also known as the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum
Standards in Disaster Response, has had guidelines in place since 1997.
But it was the headline-grabbing cases in Liberia in 2002, in which
peacekeepers and aid workers were accused of systematically abusing young
women and girls, that clearly highlighted the vulnerability of disaster

The Sphere project identifies minimum standards that crisis-hit
communities have the right to expect: for example, a certain quantity of
food, adequate shelter, a sufficient supply of water and protection from
abuse. "It's their right, not charity," said Chris McIvor, programme
director for Save the Children UK in Mozambique.

"The risk factors in Liberia are similar to Mozambique. Girls, especially
in the rural areas, are suffering severe economic deprivation and that
fact, coupled with the usual peer pressure and the lack of prospects and
recreational activities, makes girls easy targets for unscrupulous
humanitarian aid workers," noted McIvor.

Although there have been no reported cases of systematic sexual abuse by
humanitarian workers in Mozambique, it was important to put systems in
place to prevent them from occurring, said McIvor.

Mozambique, one of the world's poorest countries, where 80 percent of its
18 million people rely on subsistence farming, has been hit by prolonged
droughts and two major cyclones. The floods in the southern and central
regions of the country in 2000 and 2001 claimed the lives of almost 700
people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Manuel Maxlhaieie of the Mozambique National Disaster agency, INGC,
participated in the sphere training. "I found it very useful - I was
unaware of some of the minimum standards that are required in emergencies,
such as the minimum size of the shelter."

Orlando Francisco, INGC director in the central province of Zambezia, said
he had not heard of cases of humanitarian workers exploiting their
positions, but in a high-intensity disaster relief operation it could

"The pressure is so great. On our side we have to coordinate all the
actors in a short space of time. There is never enough food, water and
tents to go around," Francisco explained. "We just have a little of
everything - and so this puts pressure on both those distributing and
those receiving."

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