When one reads a news article titled ‘policy change crucial for international development’ or ‘governments must get behind the relief effort in XYZ nation, in XYZ context’, one rarely pauses to consider the link, interchangeability or otherwise of ‘relief’ and ‘development’ as terms and actualities. Perhaps it is the history as an English Literature student, but ingrained in me is the habit of dissecting every term to the sum of its parts and to consider how it interacts variously given its context, narratorial voice, intended audience and so on. But this scrutiny over terminology is necessary from any critical reader, particularly one concerned with global health, and the international agenda for it determines accountability, motivation and outcome.
So, what’s in a name? The two definitions most readily associated with ‘relief’ include a feeling or encouragement of emotions of reassurance following periods of anxiety or high stress as well as financial or practically oriented assistance given to those parties or persons in critical need or difficulty. Meanwhile, ‘development’ is most generally associated with a specifiable state of growth, optimistically linked with progress or change through space, time and people. The crossovers between the two are apparent and, indeed, rather than considering each term and concept in silo, it is best to see them as a continuum. In temporal terms, relief humanitarian assistance usually segues into development, but this chronology is not always linear with the two happening in tandem in many circumstances of humanitarian crisis, fragile states and insecure environments.
But this broad brush approach to theory does not always trickle down into good practice, which returns us to the reason behind discussing these terms and states in the first place. Humanitarian, relief and international development organisations usually pitch themselves as just that – umbrella groups that want to address the acute and the chronic like the most forward-thinking, prophylactic minded doctor. However, the two states have diverse objectives and priorities as usually a different government department is involved in allocating relief aid funding to that involved with international development. This is evidenced in the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) which regularly has to clarify the position of it’s central funding mechanism, UKAid Direct, which awards grants to small and medium sized UK and International Civil Society Organisations to reduce poverty overseas. It was formerly known as the Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) but this titular revision also likely has something to do with managing interpretation and associated expectations.
The divide is also widened in related funded gaps frequently carved through donor motivations and constraints that are, at times, sadly at cross purposes to those in most need. The group of diseases that fall under ‘Neglected Tropical Diseases‘, such as Kala Azar and leprosy are, in part, so categorised because they are less de mode, or emotive than some of the often great, white man killers such as AIDs which dominated funding and coverage in the late twentieth-century across the United States. So too, the missions around ‘relief’ and ‘development’ demand and employ different skills with income generation a priority of current development such as the food security approach. Furthermore, different priority is given to sustainability. Vaccination programmes, a cornerstone of many development initiatives, are frequently hard to implement in anything but a scatterfire manner in acute crisis zones such as mutating refugee camps through which peoples often pass unidentified.
To bridge these gaps, it seems that best practice is to both speak about and act on development in relief and relief in development. There is a clear opportunity here for researchers and workers in disaster preparedness (i.e. the measures taken to prepare for and reduce the effects of disasters) to increasingly bring these two closer together, so that when relief is needed, it is readily available and part of a comprehensive, on-going development effort.
Image Credit: Jonction, Geneva. A.Bow-Bertrand