The scale and spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, combined with the large number of deaths it has caused, have created a toxic mix of rumour and innuendo – further complicating aid operations that already face significant obstacles in delivering vital humanitarian assistance. At a time when medical personnel have been both applauded and subjected to hostility as potential vectors of the virus, aid staff face real security risks – risks that their organisations are obliged to take seriously.
Although the Geneva Conventions have been successively revised since 1864, norms regarding the protection of medical care have been frequently disregarded. Despite current claims of international humanitarian law in crisis, comparing historic levels of violations with contemporary incidents is quantitatively challenging. Reviewing past reactions and justifications used by perpetrators of attacks on medical care can, however, be revealing.
In December 1899 Honolulu-based physicians attributed two deaths to bubonic plague, and a local paper duly announced that the ‘scourge of the Orient’ had arrived. Within months a first plague fatality was reported in continental U.S. as Chinese-American Chick Gin (Wing Chung Ging or Wong Chut King depending on the transliteration) succumbed to the disease in San Francisco. The cause of death was based on a classic plague symptom of swelling around the groin, but was disputed even after rudimentary bacterial analysis.
Whilst there is indeed a trend towards the strengthening of State sovereignty, this concept is more multifaceted and ambivalent than it might appear. The author invites us to take stock of its developments, its complexity and the implications for humanitarian work.
Decrypting the dynamics of continuing conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is challenging at the best of times, more so given the profound political uncertainty that currently reigns at the national level.
In Saving Lives and Staying Alive, the authors look at the drivers of the professionalisation of humanitarian security and its impact on humanitarian practices, with a specific focus on Syria, the Central African Republic and kidnapping in the Caucasus.
As the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues its dreadful march, Duncan McLean looks at the 600-year-old practice of isolating individuals and communities in order to bring an end to epidemics and assesses the effectiveness of such measures.
West Africa is still paying the price for its poor response to the Ebola epidemic. Where an early response could have prevented the worst, failures on all levels allowed Ebola to spread, exposing a deep rift between the population and political class of the countries affected. Unless all actors learn from the crisis, a similar disaster may be just a matter of time.