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Inter-University Event Report: Humanitarian and Emergency Relief in Times of Conflict and Disaster from the Perspective of Human Dignity


Given how often Japan experiences disasters such as earthquakes, torrential rain, and landslides, all of us could well become disaster victims at any time, or could equally find ourselves providing relief. Looking abroad, we often see reports of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods and been forced into refugee camps due to increasingly rampant conflicts.

Speaker Go Igarashi

On June 29, 2019, a workshop was held to learn about the Sphere standards, a set of international standards for humanitarian and emergency relief for people taking refuge from natural disasters and conflicts. The workshop was led by Mr. Go Igarashi from Quality and Accountability Network Japan (JQAN) and AAR Japan and Ms. Noriko Fukuda from the Kiyose City Center for Gender Equality, and attended by students from Ochanomizu University and Nara Women’s University.

The workshop opened with reading a fictional relief case and identifying the problems it presented. The case involved relief for areas that had suffered earthquake damage, but it was clear that it posed many problems—for example, target areas were determined purely based on what was said by the village head, while women with limited access to information about relief were unable to receive relief supplies, resulting in dissatisfaction among the disaster victims.

Speaker Noriko Fukuda

After identifying potential issues in the delivery of humanitarian and emergency relief from that case, we were told how the humanitarian relief failure following the Rwanda massacre in 1994 inspired the development of the Sphere Standards which are now used to boost the quality of humanitarian and emergency relief on frontlines around the world. Growing recognition of issues with evacuation centers and other aspects of disaster relief in disaster-prone Japan has apparently brought the Sphere Standards to the attention of local municipal authorities and mass media here as well.

We learned about the humanitarian relief approach underpinning the Sphere Standards and the nine criteria needed to improve relief quality (assistance appropriate and relevant to needs, participation by the affected parties in relief decision-making, the ability of the affected parties to voice legitimate complaints and wishes, etc.).

Considering ways to improve the fictional
relief case (skits and discussion)

Finally, we went back to the problematic case mentioned above and considered improvements that could be made based on the nine Sphere criteria. We created skits based on our ideas for improvements which each group then performed, with discussion following. Playing the roles of those providing and receiving relief gave us some insight into the challenges presented by the various relief situations.

Commenting on the workshop, one participant noted the realization that while disaster relief is helpful for those affected, it can also cause conflict among them. Another felt that the workshop leaders had passed on some invaluable and exclusive insights based on actual struggles and failures on the frontlines of humanitarian relief, while there had also been a lot to learn from discussion with participants. “Who knows when I might find myself either providing or receiving relief,” said another. “The workshop taught me what I need to consider in both situations.”

Note: This inter-university event was held as part of the “Developing an Intercollegiate Network for Peace-Building in a Global Society—International Knowledge Cooperation for Bolstering Women’s Roles” program.

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