Thursday, January 30, 2014

NGO alert: EU report wants caste-based discrimination be included in donors' funding norm

A Dalit household during Bihar floods of 2007
By Our Representative
In a fresh move that will have a major impact on the way international donors support NGOs in countries like India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the European Union (EU) has suggested that funding agencies should be sensitive to caste-based discrimination issues while disbursing humanitarian aid. A new EU-sponsored report, “Equality in Aid: Addressing Caste Discrimination in Humanitarian Response”, authored by Katherine Nightingale, has advised “international donors” that they should “ensure accountability” of NGOs in addressing “caste-based discrimination in all the programmes they fund, with a particular emphasis on supporting measures to address caste-based discrimination.”
The EU report has been prepared by Copenhagen-based International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN), which claims to work on a “global level for the elimination of caste discrimination and similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent”. It significantly comes close on the heels of the European Parliament resolution, passed in October 2013 (click HERE), which calls for “the inclusion of caste-based discrimination as a human rights issue in future EU human rights policies, strategies and action plans … for development projects.” The resolution, for the first time, treated caste-based discrimination on par with discrimination based on “ethnicity, race, religion, gender and sexuality”.
Laying down the basic principles which the donors should follow, the report states, the they should “allocate specific funding to local national, regional and international organizations” only if “caste-based discrimination as part of a comprehensive commitment to implementing HAP in programming” are addressed. Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) has been recognized as an international standard for organizations which are working with people affected by or prone to various forms of crises, including disasters. HAP helps design and implement programmes that are accountable especially to the vulnerable sections of society.
The report underlines, “States, civil society and international agencies should all address caste discrimination when providing humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian stakeholders are called upon to follow the recommendations listed in this report”. Giving specific examples ranging from the 2001 Gujarat earthquake to the 2007 Bihar floods, the report says, “The experiences of Dalits during the relief and rehabilitation that follow disasters have demonstrated the degree to which caste discrimination by default can entrench and enhance inequity.”
It says, “While caste discrimination – despite laws and policies – continues to exist in day-to-day life in many countries, caste-based discrimination during disaster relief and recovery is also highly predictable. Yet humanitarian minimum standards do not currently require or guide providers of humanitarian assistance in caste-affected countries to understand and respond to caste discrimination.” Hence the need to address “caste-based discrimination in humanitarian aid and a growing recognition within the humanitarian sector of the need to be much more consciously addressing caste and issues of exclusion”.
“Any failure to adequately address underlying causes of vulnerability“, the report points out, would mean that, “whilst emergency aid may be becoming more inclusive, Dalits and vulnerable groups will continue to require the bulk of it as they will continue to be the hardest hit.” It adds, “Unless there is a comprehensive and long-term approach to addressing caste-based discrimination in resilience-building and development across the region, millions of people, particular in South Asia, will continue to be at risk from preventable disasters.”
Suggesting that this is particularly important against the backdrop of climate change, “which is increasing the frequency and severity of weather-related hazards”, the report says, “For vulnerable communities like Dalits this places even greater strain on their adaptive capacity; the ability to deal with shocks, stresses and change.” Other factors which might aggravate the situation include “rapid unplanned urbanisation, eco-system decline and population growth”, it adds.
“The pre-existing conditions of vulnerabilities posed by ‘untouchability’ practices and discrimination are magnified into various forms of systemic and societal exclusion of Dalits in emergency situations”, the report emphasizes, adding, “As pointed out in the case study by National Dalit Watch – National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (several reports, click HERE), neglect in understanding the caste structures and how they work in disaster situations invariably result in discrimination and exclusion of Dalits and other marginalised communities in disaster response.”

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