For those suffering from disease, warfare
or disaster, even a small bag of seeds can go a long way toward re-building
shattered lives. Seeds provided by International Medical Corps represent
a source of food, potential income, and hope for tens of thousands of people
in regions around the world being served by IMC.
When a humanitarian crisis erupts in a country or region of the world as a result of widespread violent conflict, IMC's first priority is to save lives by providing critically needed medical care. But after the immediate crisis abates, communities often remain vulnerable due to the damage caused by strife. Livelihoods - particularly those based on agriculture - are readily destroyed by war, displacement or natural disaster, leaving families destitute. When family food stocks are low, children quickly succumb to malnutrition and disease. Those already in precarious health, including millions who live with HIV/AIDS, need special food and care. But without an income, their relatives cannot afford such care. Across the globe, the story is the same: countless families hang on the edge of survival because they have no income or savings to serve as a buffer when an emergency strikes.
IMC's economic development programs are designed to strengthen the resilience of affected communities by initiating programs that are sustainable and help build economic self-reliance. The principle is simple: people that can generate income and feed themselves are better able to confront the consequences associated with widespread regional conflict, particularly increased health threats. Economic development may sound complex; however, for those IMC serves, it can be as elementary as providing fertilizer for a family farm, goats for a milking cooperative, or a cash grant to fund community garbage collection services. Through these simple, low-cost, but vitally needed programs, families can begin to provide for themselves and protect against future difficulties.
IMC economic development projects typically encompass four types of activities:
Agricultural development: In areas where drought or displacement has severely affected food production, IMC provides seeds, tools and fertilizer to help communities revitalize local agriculture. As food production increases, so too does the health and economic well-being of the population. In Angola, for example, IMC's food security activities complement the work of its health and feeding centers. In war-torn Afghanistan, IMC has launched a similar program. In Central Africa, IMC distributes goats and grain mills to local women's associations in Burundi, and then provides training on livestock cultivation to ensure the women's efforts are successful. IMC also has launched 22 community gardens in Burundi next to its therapeutic and supplementary feeding centers. Local residents are given seeds, tools, and training in gardening techniques, as well as food demonstrations and nutritional information. Those who are discharged from the feedings centers (or their caretakers) are given seed packets so they can grow their own food at home.
Microfinance initiatives: IMC provides local communities with the financial means to facilitate production by offering small lines of credit to individuals or small associations. Mechanisms such as a revolving fund help small-scale entrepreneurs purchase the supplies needed to start their businesses. In Eritrea's Gash Barka region, for example, IMC established a revolving fund, avail-able to IMC-trained volunteer health workers, female headed households and vulnerable families, to launch small income-generation projects centered on agriculture, such as grain markets and animal restocking. IMC also provides basic business management skills to these credit holders to improve their chances of success.
Basic infrastructure rehabilitation: In Somalia, IMC provides small grants to community groups to help rebuild health facilities and provide garbage collection, both of which contribute to improved public health. In Afghanistan, IMC recently launched cash-for-work programs to employ local laborers in the rebuilding of irrigation systems and the cleaning of canals, activities that are necessary to prevent water-borne diseases. Meanwhile, in the Southern Caucasus, IMC has started a series of community-financed public health projects (waste disposal, water drainage, sanitation, repair of health care facilities) that are improving the health of displaced, impoverished residents. In addition to acquiring improved health services, local communities in Georgia and Azerbaijan are benefiting from the hands-on experience acquired from managing these public projects in a participatory manner.
Health care innovations: IMC has helped create community-financed health insurance plans in Azerbaijan to improve the availability and affordability of health care services for local residents. In addition, IMC is using cost-recovery mechanisms to provide for the sustainable financing and expansion of community-based primary health care services. One of the exciting by-products generated by the success of activities has been the creation of new employment opportunities, which arise from the need for fund managers, new health staff, and ancillary support staff at health clinics. These jobs represent sustainable long-term employment.
From the rain-parched lands of Eritrea to the harsh mountainous countryside of Afghanistan, IMC works closely with local communities to restore self-reliance. Regardless of location, all communities are expected to contribute a reasonable amount their time, labor and available resources to complement any assistance provided by IMC. Active community participation helps ensure the optimal relevance and sustainability of a program, which leads to greater efficiencies in the use of what are undeniably limited resources.
IMC's economic development activities are integrally linked to the organization's focus on health care for the most vulnerable. With these programs, IMC is addressing the link between armed conflict, poverty, population and disease, thereby providing new hope for those who suffer in the wake of health emergencies and humanitarian crises.