by Simon Harris
This paper argues that IDPs do not constitute a homogenous group and that relief agencies need to improve their analysis of the composition of internally displaced constituencies in order to plan appropriate interventions which account for, and respect, the issue of difference.
If one were to randomly select a hundred people from any disaster situation or emergency environment, the demographic composition of this group would reveal a wide range of different people from different backgrounds. The attitudes and actions of each in responding to their circumstances would be informed by the way in which the influence of factors such as gender, class, caste, race, religion and ethnicity has shaped their individual experiences.
Despite, or more probably because of, the multifarious complexity of people affected by poverty, conflict and disaster, there is a tendency amongst providers of emergency relief services to homogenise their intended beneficiaries. Whilst recognising the utility of this approach in simplifying and rationalis-ing the delivery of humanitarian services to large populations, this paper will argue that failure to account for constituency difference in programme planning and implementation may negatively impact upon the effectiveness and sustainability of such services. Furthermore, the potential effect of homogenising non-homogeneous groups may even be a deterioration of the very conditions which humanitarian agencies seek to help improve.
Humanitarian agencies working in Sri Lanka’s conflict-affected northern Wanni region generally categorise the civilian population as either internally displaced people (IDPs) or residents. There exists a set of perceptions regarding IDPs which are commonly accepted by these agencies.
Most agencies would agree that the IDPs living in the LTTE controlled areas are ethnically exclusively Tamil, that women and children form a particularly vulnerable group and that female-headed households are especially disadvantaged. There would probably also be broad consensus that loss of livelihood is one of the most significant effects of displacement and that access to food, water and sanitation provision, psychosocial care, health and education services are all extremely important factors which agencies need to prioritise. Indeed, the priori-tisation of these issues has been endorsed by the constituents themselves in a series of community consultation exercises by Oxfam GB and SCF (UK)2. Addressing one or more of these areas of concern forms the operational objectives of each international aid agency working in the Wanni.
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