The Role of the Middleman When Politics Fail
It seems like everyday a new conflict arises in some foreign part of the world. When it comes to international issues, it is easy to sit back on your comfortable couch, tune into your nightly news and perhaps yell at the TV with discomfort or jump up in joy based on your political views. It is simple to pick a side. However, for those living the reality of conflict, life is not so easy. Conflict, whether it is neighborhood crime and violence, civil war, or war between two countries, is often the cause of poverty. It is the opposite of economic prosperity, or, as the World Bank likes to describe it, conflict is “development in reverse.”
This video will give you a glimpse of the aftermath of a conflict stricken community. It takes place in the Gaza Strip, after the three-week Gaza War in December 2008. It is important to keep in mind that with an issue like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is easy to get caught up in the heated politics. After all, the conflict has been occurring for over 60 years. However, after watching the video, instead of pointing fingers of blame, it is necessary to ask yourself a question: What can I do to help those individuals in conflict regions who are not the cause of the conflict, but suffering the consequences of it?
The 2008 war left the Gaza Strip in a devastating state. The blockade, in response to heightened tensions in the region, prevented the humanitarian organizations from assisting razed communities with much needed repairs and reconstruction. Building materials necessary to reconstruct over 60,000 damaged and destroyed homes are prohibited from entering the region due to border restrictions. Roughly 90% of the 3,900 industrial companies in Gaza have closed since June 2007, resulting in 80% of the population now living below the official poverty line. Tightened restrictions on movement of goods and people have led to the collapse of the private sector, the erosion of the productive base, and the unemployment of over half of the population. The majority of the post-war problems that plague the people of Gaza resemble many of the problems of other conflict-ridden regions around the world.
The presence of international humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations Work and Relief Agency (UNWRA), is crucial to post-war communities. UNWRA has aided Gaza in food assistance, job creation, microfinance, education, health care, microcredit, social services, and emergency assistance to refugees among other things. Although it is true that these types of organizations are not permanent fixes, they are essential to keeping conditions from worsening when the role of government is missing. Politics is the driving force of long lasting peace and economic progress because it is the force that has the power to implement policy; yet preventing individuals from rotting in their broken homes until progressive policies are implemented is vital to upholding hope in impoverished communities. It is that little bit of hope that plants seeds of a brighter future. This is the type of thinking that has the potential to encourage productivity, create markets, and encourage individuals to specialize. Hope is also what can prevent desperate individuals from working with rebels or violent extremists for basic human needs. Hopelessness can lead to acts of violence or to terrorism that can affect people beyond their borders. It is typically the nations or communities where government is the weakest that face the vicious cycle of continued violence and poverty.
As individuals, it is up to us to support and strengthen the middleman in post-war efforts. The “middleman” includes nonpartisan humanitarian organizations such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the European Union Commission on Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO), the American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to name a few. In the case of Gaza, donations to UNWRA go a long way. A donation of $16 provides a food ration for a family of four for a month; $20 protects a child from disease; $50 pays for a child’s school supplies for a month; and $300 could help a refugee women start her own business. Depending on the economic condition of an impoverished region, a small donation can go even farther.
However, donations alone are not enough. It is also important to appeal to our government representatives to support post-war humanitarian organizations. International policy or pressure to ensure that these organizations have the ability to disperse their resources and services without restriction is key. It is up to individuals to encourage the international community to be stronger participants in repairing post-war communities. This includes upholding international law all over the world and ensuring that aggression between different political actors does not result in collective punishment for whole communities.
The very first step in affecting change starts with educating yourself. Ignorance is not bliss, and neither is death, disease, lost childhoods, landmines, isolation, and severe poverty, or in other words, many of the consequences of conflict. Awareness of human suffering in a conflict region is the first step to mutual understanding, friendly discussion, and the prospect for peace and economic growth. The idea is to pick an issue you care about, or several issues, and be proactive. Whether it is Gaza, Zimbabwe, or Burma, helping conflict stricken communities must start with the awareness of one’s self and that awareness must transcend to all those around one to be effective.
By Sima Dajani, Ashley Hess, Annie Unger