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Reflections on Recovery: Taking #MinRecov to the Great Lakes Region

by on Nov 12, 2014  |  posted in Post-Disaster  |  0 Comments

My last direct contact with humanitarian aid work dates back to 1994, when I was eight years old. I went with my parents into one of the internal displacement (IDP) camps in Rwanda’s southern province of Cyanika. The country was in the middle of a horrible fight between the government and rebels, the situation worsening when a Tutsi genocide occurred some months before the war ended. I remember waving hands rejoicing for the arrival of World Food Program food trucks, and water distributing trucks as the salvation for our refugee community’s immeasurable problems.

The words “humanitarian” and “economic recovery post crisis” jumped at me again in October 2014, when I attended the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS) Training of Trainers course in Washington, D.C. The trainer highlighted that the standards articulate the minimum level of assistance to be provided in promoting the recovery of economies and livelihoods affected by crisis. They are the minimum level to be expected by recipients.

This immediately took me back to my five months in the IDP camp in Rwanda. Though I was young, and though it was long ago, that experience and the MERS training made me firmly believe that the standards need to be promoted more widely in the Great Lakes region of Africa (Rwanda, Congo, and Burundi), which has been a ground zero for wars, armed groups, and violent conflicts for the last three decades. As a result of the ongoing conflicts, there is a growing staff of humanitarian relief agencies—the primary beneficiaries of a MERS training course.

Diving deep into the MERS course, we are asked to shift our thinking: to consider the immediate rebirth of economies after any disaster, conflict or crisis. This contrasts with old notions that humanitarian relief consists of emer¬gency efforts to meet basic human needs for shelter, water, food, and health services. MERS goes a step further showing us that providing emergency support without thinking about economic recovery may worsen the situation, create deterrent dependency, and destroy the sources of income and entrepreneurial spirit of people affected by crisis.

I simply remember my family getting shelter, maize, beans, and oil from the World Food Program, but I wish we had received agricultural inputs in parallel, so that we could start farming again MERS DC Training w Jean Damascene(our primary occupation in the southern province of Rwanda). While humanitarian relief NGOs were phasing out their activities, I remember that my family and neighbors struggled for months with a dilemma: should we continue to receive aid, or should we begin our farming again? If humanitarian NGOs would have planned, as they do today, to give out seeds of crops grown in the region, it would have taken less than three months for families to regain their production capacity, rather than the more than five it took my family and neighbors.

While responding to disasters, there is a need for rapid, tailored support for the livelihoods, enterprises, and econo¬mies affected in the wake of a crisis. This does not exclude, but rather completes emer¬gency efforts to meet basic human needs for shelter, water, food, and health services. Moreover, MERS’ success calls for coordination and harmonization of interventions. Getting certified as a MERS Trainer is a milestone for me and I’m happy to join the network of MERS trainers. Now, I will share these skills and insights in my region torn by delinquent conflicts and humanitarian crisis.

Jean Damascene Hakuzimana worked as a professional fellow at the SEEP Network from August to October 2014. He is the senior advocacy and communications officer for the Association of Microfinance Institutions of Rwanda (AMIR).

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