Ashari, a young mother of two, stands in queue for food relief assistance. The floods have rendered her, and others in her community, helpless. She has her face customarily hidden behind her saree, and approaches the relief provider with some trepidation. The story that unfolds later is this: There are camerapersons everywhere and Ashari is overwhelmed by the many camera flashes on her face as she tries to hide behind her veil. When she is asked to show her face for a photo while taking the bag of food assistance, she feels thoroughly uncomfortable. Many have fallen prey to the unforgiving lens of the camera, and it is quite often that the lines between relief and respect becomes blurred. Sometimes, some people have to exchange their self-respect for a bag of rice and lentils.
Those who help to bring these people aid at the right time also face many challenges, such as time constraints, pressure to source large amounts of food and basic necessities, and crowd management. If one is to give them the benefit of the doubt, it may be prudent to say that it is only due to these reasons, and not for other selfish motives, that the quality of aid distribution suffers. However, if providers of aid were to dig deeper into their conscience, they may just find some room to improve themselves and their helpful endeavours. Take, for example, the general make-up of society. There are a number of classifications in a community, such as elderly persons, the very young, women, the disabled, widows, single mothers, young women, etc.
Each person belonging to these classifications comes with their own requirements and it is important to recognise them rather than discriminate against them. An old man should be able to cut the line and move ahead of the able-bodied. The child who has come on behalf of his/her mother should be allowed to receive food for their family. The disabled person should be served closer to their home. It all boils down to preserving dignity ~ one must be served as per one’s needs, and not according to a standardised protocol. To be honest, there isn’t a lot that needs to be done to overcome these challenges. There are certain universal standards, such as the widely used Core Humanitarian Standard, which talks about nine points of basic humanitarian needs.
Similarly, culturally, and locally, authorities are well aware of the basic requirements of the people in their communities. Making the simple effort to talk to the local authorities and research universally approved standards can help aid providers and first responders to design care packages that truly adhere to victims’ requirements. This can also reduce the problem of overlapping, as most organisations only think of a few common items to give out. From a humanitarian point of-view, it is a given to ask people, and to ask in a manner that does not seem forceful, before taking their pictures and painting them as the wretched victims of a natural disaster, or as the ultra-poor looking for help.