“Access to resources in humanitarian crises” was the theme of the latest edition of the Humanitarian Conference, organized by the International Relations Department of Webster University, under the auspices of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Geneva Government, and with the cooperation of the ICRC and the UNHCR. The concept of this event was initiated in 1995 by Professor Otto Hieronymi, and now headed by Alexandre Vautravers, Head of the International Relations Department of Webster University, Geneva. The yearly conference is organized by a team of 40 volunteer students. The event gathers professionals from international and non-governmental organizations, researchers and students to promote exchanges and the transfer of knowledge of humanitarian related issues and action. The event attracted approximately 400 guests.
This year, 43 panellists examined the nature, interests and humanitarian implications of access to resources. ‘Resources’ include food, water and healthcare; but the term may also apply to raw materials and energy, as well as rights and protection. All of these resources are needed to respond to humanitarian crisis and complex emergencies, such as the recent, devastating and tragic earthquake in Haiti. Mr. Hollenstein, head of Humanitarian Affairs at the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency, described one of his agency’s recent missions as a concrete example. He explained the challenges faced by aid workers that stem from logistics and coordination necessary to ensure access to vital resources, to security, and the lack of leadership. He commented upon the use of different types of strategies, varying according to the conditions and situation on the ground, stating that, essentially, the two main alternatives are either to mobilize a small number of units that provide rescue or to deploy a big contingent that provides supplies of water, medicine, refuge and coordination.
A group of experts discussed the issue of oil in a broad geopolitical context. They agreed that the days of “cheap oil” are over, and that this resource will generate confl ict. Yama Maroofi , from the Geneva Research Centre on Security and Development in the Middle East, commented on Hubbert’s “Peak Oil” theory (this theory posits that for any given geographical area, the rate of petroleum production tends to follow a bell-shaped curve). In agreement with this theory, Mr. Maroofi stated that the global consumption of oil exceeds half of the existing oil reserves, while estimates suggest that the total oil reserves will be depleted by the year 2030. The result is that oil prices will dramatically increase and in conjunction with climate change, the global economy will become more vulnerable to crisis.
Aymeric Chauprade argued that oil no longer constitutes a source of wealth; instead its possession represents a matter of survival. He highlighted the challenge for most countries other than the United States to access oil, but suggested the current confi guration will evolve towards a multipolar energy system, infl uenced by the counterweight of a group of nations led by Russia, Venezuela and Iran.
Francis Piccand, from the Swiss Foreign Ministry, addressed the links between “resource curse” and underdevelopment. Mr. Piccand stated that studies show that within the region of the Middle East, in oil-rich countries, there is a tendency for governments to be more authoritarian. Furthermore, a rise in the price of oil generally reinforces the repressive nature of those regimes, while the development process lags further.
Several UNHCR representatives covered issues pertaining to the challenges and conditions that affect access to refugee status and protection. Mr. Durieux addressed the relationship between climate change and human displacement. He argued that the responses address the symptoms, not the root causes. In particular, host countries, mostly Western nations, are not prepared to recognize that climate change is a cause of displacement.
Jeffrey Crisp addressed urbanization and how it renders operations more challenging as refugees become scattered. It creates diffi culties in providing accommodation, employment and access to public services.
Concerns were raised regarding human access to medical care and assistance. Erica Pasini, from Webster University, addressed the topic of access to medicine, arguing that the cost, risk and competition are high in the area of new medicines.
Jo Butler, from UNCTAD, discussed the urgent need to “build life-saving and foodsaving structures” in LDCs. She pointed out that people require better “access to home grown food” rather than have to depend solely on food aid. She stressed that the origins of the food crisis lay in a general underinvestment in agricultural research and development in the countries that are the most dependent upon the agriculture.
Mr. Rubio, a representative of Médecins sans Frontières, concluded that nowadays, political will is an element that seems to play a greater role in conditioning access to resources. Hence, a lack of political will can pose risks to human access to resources.
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