1.3 How emergencies affect participation

Acute emergencies, especially rapid-onset disasters, place organisations under extreme time pressure to act. However, a commitment to participation demands that aid organisations balance the imperative to act and the need to involve people in decisions affecting their lives (The good enough guide, Tool 3). At the very least, consultation can be achieved in all but the most extreme cases.

There is no formula for participation in humanitarian action that works in every context. Just as each emergency is different, each will require a different participatory approach. Some of the factors that will affect the participation of affected populations in humanitarian action include what other organisations are doing, available human resources, security and protection, and culture and social organisation (ALNAP, 2003). For example, different cultures respond differently in the wake of emergencies, affecting their participation in aid interventions. Following the 2004 South East Asian tsunami, Muslim women widowed by the tsunami in Sri Lanka and Indonesia went into mourning for a period of time and were not available to participate in emergency relief in the same way that other affected members of the population were. These cultural differences need to be taken into account by aid organisations to prevent the exclusion of such groups in the participatory process.

Heightened security risks for the staff of aid organisations, as well as the affected communities, are often an inevitable reality of emergencies. Conflict emergencies, in particular, require extreme caution when engaging local populations in participation. Information that may seem benign to an outsider may have local sensitivities and could potentially stir hostilities (ALNAP, 2003)

It is important to recognise that participation or involvement with NGOs can change power structures and can be particularly complex in conflict settings. Refer also to Chapter 9.2 Conflict sensitivity.