Page 30 - Foreign Service Journal - March 2013

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MARCH 2013
but because they are sick and hungry. Yet
most relief operations still go under-
funded, as donors become increasingly
fatigued with the growing number of
crises in the world.
Over the years, the international
community has learned many painful
lessons about dealing with humanitarian
crises. But it does not apply those lessons
nearly as well as it should. In particu-
lar, although donors generally respond
generously to an initial emergency, they
fall short in terms of funding the care and
maintenance of the displaced and refu-
gees over the long run. And their record
is even worse when it comes to crisis
preparedness and disaster prevention.
As I look across Africa, I see more refu-
gees and internally displaced populations
than ever. Some of these camps have
already existed for more than a decade. Is
there really no way to help their occu-
pants return home safely and reduce the
chances others will take their places?
In Burkina Faso and elsewhere, USAID and other relief
agencies have been making a valiant efort to care for tens of
thousands of Malian refugees, despite chronic underfunding.
Teir caseload of Malian refugees is increasing rapidly, as an
international military intervention to oust the radical Islamists
now in control of northern Mali advances.
To paraphrase the old cliché, an ounce of prevention is
truly worth a pound of emergency response. Now is the time
to prepare for the humanitarian consequences of a full-scale
military intervention in northern Mali—and future upheavals
elsewhere in Africa.
Mark G. Wentling, a retired USAID Senior Foreign Service of-
fcer currently working in Burkina Faso, is completing
, a novel about the practical and mysterious challenges
of living in Africa during the early 1970s.
Is there really no way to help the occupants of these
refugee camps return home safely—and reduce
the chances others will take their places?
When I returned to my ofce in Ouagadougou, it was with
the same heavy heart I’ve felt many times before in such situ-
ations. I frst experienced it as USAID mission director in Dar
es Salaam from 1993 to 1994, when I visited dozens of similar
sites set up for Somalis. Ten, as USAID mission director in
Tanzania from 1994 to 1996, I observed hundreds of thousands
of Rwandans who were packed into some of the biggest refugee
camps in history.
Speaking as someone who has spent more than 40 years
living and working in Africa—frst as a Peace Corps Volunteer,
then a Foreign Service ofcer, and now a retiree—I admire the
fortitude of all refugees and internally displaced persons who
have made these exhausting and traumatizing treks. I certainly
could not be that strong were a similar disaster to befall me.
What I fnd most heartbreaking is the sufering of the
children caught up in these situations. I’ve heard far too many
young people cry at night, not only out of fear and loneliness,
Mark Wentling, at right here and on p. 29 in the blue striped shirt, talks with leaders of the
Mentao Refugee Camp in Burkina Faso in October 2012. He listens to their stories about
leaving Mali and their views on conditions in the camp, which is located 200 kilometers
north of Ouagadougou.