Interview with Aldo Ajello

Humanitarian Voices Interview with Aldo Ajello, former European Union´s special envoy to the Great Lakes region for 11 years. He was also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General responsible for the UN Peacekeeping Operation in Mozambique. Aldo Ajello believes that during a humanitarian operation, coordination between aid workers, the military and political institutions can be positive in terms of helping humanitarian action. Independence of aid is one condition donors must abide by.

Question: Is there any situation when humanitarian actors can work with other actors on the ground, including the military?

Aldo Ajello: In the case of a peacekeeping operation, the coordination between the different elements of the mission – humanitarian and development actors, political and military components- can be quite positive as long as the humanitarian part of the mission can act on its own without involving the rest. In the case of an armed conflict, the political and military elements can be useful to open doors for humanitarian missions, but then humanitarian workers should be able to travel to areas alone, not with the military, so that their credibility is not compromised. The moment aid organizations are no longer considered neutral and independent actors, they will lose support from one of the parties involved in the conflict. So the situation becomes very partial and changes the nature of aid in the worst possible way. If there is room for independent humanitarian aid, donors should be very tough in imposing it.

Q: DARA’s Humanitarian Response Index (HRI) missions consistently find that inadequate access to victims of humanitarian crises is one of the most serious problems facing the humanitarian community today. What do you see as the root cause of that?

AA: In the case of armed conflicts, the question of access is linked to the strategy of belligerents. For them the strategic control of territories is much more important than humanitarian aid. They want to control the territory and they do not want anyone to interfere with this. We also have the example of rebel groups who do not want any witnesses in areas where they are committing crimes, especially with the development of an international justice system that punish those who commit these crimes. They try not to be seen or monitored. So the job of humanitarian actors becomes more and more difficult, and more and more dangerous.

Q: Have you seen progress in terms of a more effective delivery of humanitarian aid?

AA: Yes. The improvement is visible. Humanitarian actors are more professional than they were before and this is a very positive thing. I think that humanitarian actors deserve the maximum possible support. Donors should be very vigilant about what can be done better in the way aid is delivered. Donors must also be very strong in imposing neutral and impartial humanitarian aid. This makes the difference, because if you are credible, people will trust you, and this will allow you to work well.