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Issue 03 Editorial

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our third edition of Field Exchange. Our reminder about the questionnaire is opposite so we will not continue to harp on about that! Instead we take you back to the last issue of Field Exchange which carried an article about the process of a private company setting up local blended food production capacity in Kenya. This piece provoked some controversy on two levels. First, there was a view that the subject of product quality was not addressed objectively in the article or the post-script. For some, there is an issue here of humanitarian agencies providing not only the resources to set up private company production capacity, but also ensuring on-going monitoring and quality control. Another view about this piece was that perhaps it was inappropriate to have articles about private sector activities in our newsletter - when written by someone working for the company. This is a very complex issue which we can only touch on here, but underpinning this view is the perception that the private sector is mainly motivated by profit and therefore cannot be trusted to provide accurate/objective information and also that Field Exchange runs the risk of being used for advertising purposes. However, others have argued that the private sector are just as capable of being objective about their work as the public sector and that if it is believed that the private sector have a role to play in humanitarian interventions then important experiences and products should be publicised. Others have also suggested that the private sector may be more accountable for their work than the public sector through the market, and that public sector agencies are just as likely to present a biased picture, e.g. censor articles which they perceive as self-critical and potentially damaging to their fund raising capacity. For our part, where we publish material on (and by) the private sector we take extra care to cross-check information. We would be very interested to hear your views on this one.

Another difficulty that has arisen with the preparation of this issue of Field Exchange is how to deal with articles that may be perceived as critical of (incumbent) governments. The fear is that the position of the agency (for whom the author works) 'in country' is jeopardised as a result of government's sensitivities about what they see as unfair or biased articles. The problem emanates from the fact that many of the programmes written about in Field Exchange take place within, and are influenced by, the political context. The difficulty is that while authors inevitably make some reference to the political situation, this may be piecemeal and lack historical perspective. Most of our articles are written by technicians and focus on technical issues. In asking around, we have had conflicting views on this issue from a number of agency personnel. Some believe that if a political analysis is attempted it cannot be comprehensive and that there is therefore a risk of misinterpretation so that field article authors should not set out to provide a political context. Others feel that humanitarian interventions are so dependent on, and shaped by, the political context that a political analysis is essential to explaining and defining good operational practice.

Our present policy is largely governed by the wishes of the author and/or agency responsible for the piece. We also may take account of the position of other agencies who's programmes could potentially be hampered by sensitive material contained in the article. On these issues we take advice from our contact group and try to get an independent perspective from professionals currently close to the situation. Again, it would be nice to have our readers views on this.

Finally, a bit about some of the issues highlighted in this edition of Field Exchange. DPPK is the topic of a number of pieces in this edition. For many months the world was asking whether there really was a food emergency in this small but strategically important communist country. The government's reluctance to allow sufficient access to agencies wanting to conduct needs assessments led to exasperation and huge uncertainty about the scale and type of emergency as well as appropriate humanitarian response. Donor governments eventually erred on the side of caution (although many would argue that politics was central to their decision making) and provided the resources requested by the North Korean government. However, critics argued that by doing this the humanitarian world was not adhering to humanitarian intervention standards implied in the 'Code of Conduct' as there was limited data to support this type of response. In this edition our reporter Killian Forde has written an article on the DPRK in which he constructs a chronology of events in Korea and the stages of assessment and response. John Seamen and Lola Gostelow (formerly Nathanail) from SCF (UK) have written a letter addressing some of the issues that come out of this crisis. We also have letters examining the economic and nutritional wisdom of providing the DPRK with tinned meat from EC intervention stocks as part of the EC emergency food aid package. These letters raise interesting issues about the cost-effective use of intervention stocks, EC agricultural policies, and emergency food aid.

In this Field Exchange. We also have an article by Susanne Jaspers which describes the basis for setting up emergency feeding programmes in Zaire for the displaced Rwandan refugee population between May and September 1997, The author argues that an analysis of political vulnerability is essential in planning food distribution in a complex political emergency. The article also raises an issue about the use of food aid by humanitarian agencies (i.e. its withdrawal) to encourage repatriation of refugees. In two letters to the Lancet in the research section, this question is raised again in connection with the same refugee population at a former refugee site (Tingi Tingi) and about Somali refugees in Kenya, All authors are concerned about the possible use of food aid in this way. It is unclear whether formal policies governing the use of food aid existed to 'encourage' repatriation in these emergencies. If such policies did exist it is also unclear whether they were stated explicitly at any level within humanitarian fora or were only implicit through actions, Questions are raised about the legal and ethical use of food in this manner. Certainly those involved in humanitarian programme implementation require a more explicit clarification of the decision making process and rationale which governs food aid allocations if they are to properly assess and evaluate the overall impact and success of humanitarian action or inaction.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Field Exchange and look forward to receiving your completed questionnaires and future articles and letters.

Editors,
Fiona O'Reilly
Jeremy Shoham

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Reference this page

Fiona O'Reilly and Jeremy Shoham (1998). Issue 03 Editorial. Field Exchange 3, January 1998. p2. www.ennonline.net/fex/3/fromtheeditor