Analyzing the same event from different perspectives is a favourite trick of historians to spice up their narratives. It also works pretty well to describe humanitarian interventions.
During the last round of fighting in North Kivu, a UN agency proudly announced on its website that it had sent 60 metric tons of essential drugs to DRC. This gift from the Norwegian and Italian governments allowed the UN agency to assist hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people through the delivery of emergency medical kits.
Yet this story appears somewhat different when described by actors in the field. According to various Congolese sources, a UN team had made a quick visit to a health centre during the fighting in North Kivu. They delivered a medical kit to the Congolese staff, asked them to sign on a receipt and left as quickly as they had appeared. As they had not been informed of the exact contents of the kit, the Congolese staff were suspicious. They decided not to open the kit, fearing that they might be accused them of misappropriation. They sent a delegation to the provincial Ministry of Health in Goma to get official instructions. In return, the Ministry sent staff on site to officially open the emergency kit. This 'committee' opened the box to discover that the instructions were written in a strange European language (Norwegian?) that nobody understood. Fortunately, medical terminology is often derived from Latin and the Congolese medical staff managed to decipher most of the contents. They were happy but a little bit baffled by some of the items: among other things, this emergency kit contained treatment against diabetes as well as antimalarial drugs that the Congolese authorities had excluded from their national protocol a few years ago... at the request of the same UN agency that had now just delivered them.
This story is not just another example intended to stress the inadequacy of humanitarian assistance. It is an attempt to draw attention to what could be referred to as kit culture's effect. Kits are without any doubt very useful logistical tools that facilitate humanitarian interventions. Yet, in Congo as well as many other places, the Kit is has become than a tool, it is increasingly the embodiment of THE humanitarian gesture itself, as if dropping a kit constitutes the raison d'être of humanitarian interventions. Indeed the delivering of kits is part of (and facilitates) a broader dynamic of bureaucratization through which humanitarian assistance is increasingly standardized, quantified, publicized and adjusted to global rules of reporting and accountability. We should not throw away humanitarian kits but we should definitely be more alert to the unexpected impact of technical progress in the humanitarian field. And of course...Needless to say, UN agencies are not the only actors who fall into the kit culture's pitfall.
To cite this content :
Jean-Hervé Jézéquel, Kit Culture, 25 May 2009, URL : https://msf-crash.org/index.php/en/blog/humanitarian-actors-and-practice/kit-culture
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