Three questions for Alain Boinet, Founder of Solidarités International

Partnering with the private sector allows a change of scale
Published in the dossier of November 2017

After forty years of humanitarian action, what changes are you seeing?

Alain Boinet

There is a lot of talk about perpetual states of emergency. Behind this observation, we are becoming aware of the length of certain conflicts and their consequences. Think of Angola, where the civil war lasted for twenty-seven years! Afghanistan, which is still at war, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have also gone through or are still experiencing very long conflicts. Nowadays, crises are extremely “flammable”; conflict situations may have eased, but they can degenerate into deadly wars overnight. I’m also struck by the humanitarian consequences of climate change, even if the Sahel has always faced major droughts. Finally, we have a better understanding of the link between emergencies, reconstruction and development. The United Nations and international institutions are beginning to realize the importance of this link in crisis recovery management.

Have response plans changed in the light of this new awareness?

This emerging context is dictating new response plans. The gradual specialization and professionalization of humanitarian organizations are improving the response as a whole. The diversification of roles that we are observing in humanitarian organizations is clear. At the outset, we saw primarily doctors and then logisticians. These professions have been joined by regional managers, coordinators, administrators, agronomists, hydraulics engineers, etc. This increases efficiency. The resources available are changing, with an increase in humanitarian financial aid, making it possible to offer a more comprehensive solution to populations’ basic needs, in collaboration with other players. In the 1980s, we thought about tackling the lack of drinking water through an educational approach among the populations, such as teaching them to boil water before drinking it. Nowadays, we are better equipped to provide drinking water to populations, raise their awareness regarding hygiene, and ensure the longevity of the facilities through community-based management. Knowledge is advancing. We know that dirty water kills.

NGOs are prioritizing multi-year partnerships with companies… Is this a good response to emergency situations?

The humanitarian – and more generally, the development – world is thinking above all in terms of added value, efficiency and innovation to come to the aid of vulnerable populations in danger. Setting up partnerships with companies provides expertise to match the technical complexity. With the Veolia foundation, we can now mobilize mobile drinking water production units such as Aquaforce 500, as well as surveyors. In the DRC, we are working on more structural solutions intended to fight waterborne diseases in the long term. The partnership with the private sector allows us to change scale both technically and qualitatively, set up long-term programs and manage the move from an emergency situation to reconstruction, then from reconstruction to development, handing over the reins. It’s crucial.