Editorials Christmas 2008

Learning from emergencies

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2865 (Published 16 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2865
  1. John Seaman, director of research
  1. 1Evidence for Development, Leigh, Kent TN11 8PP
  1. John.Seaman{at}evidencefordevelopment.com

    The problems are often forgotten before the next crisis comes along

    From time to time the media report a major emergency in a developing country, the risks of starvation and disease, and the urgent need for international assistance. In many cases this is followed by public appeals from charities and the announcement of millions of pounds in government aid. In most cases the emergency then fades from view, perhaps leaving the viewer with a sense of unease about the effectiveness of the international response. Large sums of public money are spent on relief; in 2006, $8bn (£5.4bn; €6.3bn) was provided by the countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.1 It is therefore reasonable to ask what happens between emergencies. Specifically, what is being done to improve the international response?

    The human impact of different types of disasters is now well understood, and steady progress has been made with relief techniques and technologies. But deep and possibly insuperable problems with relief management remain. The international humanitarian “system” is little more than a loosely connected core of United Nations technical agencies and larger non-governmental organisations, with a periphery of …

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