meaning of vulnerability
The International Federation and Liesl Graz,
who wrote the cover story in the last issue of Red Cross,
Red Crescent (Issue 3-1997), are to be congratu-lated
for taking another hard look at the concept of vulnerability.
Understanding why and how people suffer is at the heart of
providing effective, caring humanitarian assistance that not
only helps people through an immediate crisis, but also supports
them as they reduce their vulnerability to future crises.
As the magazine article points out, vulnerability
can only really be understood in relation to people’s
capacities. Everyone is vulnerable to some things. Everyone,
and every group of people, also has capacities — experience,
knowledge, talents, skills, resources, networks, ideas and
attitudes — that enable them to plan, work, love, learn
and live. A full understanding of who is vulnerable, and why
and how, can only be achieved in relation to an understanding
of capacities. Often, people who provide humanitarian and
development aid talk of “capacity building.” From
experiences with many groups once deemed vulnerable, I have
become convinced that it is more salient to recognize and
look for ways to support existing capacities. Perhaps people
will develop new capacities — but they will do so from
the base of their existing strengths and knowledge.
For aid agencies to address vulnerabilities,
they must start from the premise that they cannot “do
development” or “build capacities” for anyone
else. People and societies will do these for themselves. Our
task as aid providers is to help people reduce their own vulnerabilities
by supporting and building on their capacities. Thus it is
that the focus of the Federation on vulnerability leads to
a renewed and strengthened focus on capacities — and
how to support them with aid — as well.
Mary B. Anderson
Director fo the US-based Collaborative for Development Action
and author of Do No Harm.
AIDS and vulnerability
I have read with interest the article published in Issue
3 -1997 on “A question of vulnerability” by
Liesl Graz. I wonder if the author is familiar with the
concept of vulnerability which Jonathan Mann and myself
have developed since 1992 in several publications.
The first presentation of the concept appeared in
AIDS in the World (Mann/Tarantola/Netter eds, Harvard
University Press, 1992). This was further elaborated in
AIDS in the World II (Mann/Tarantola eds, Oxford
University Press, 1996), and translated into guidelines
for action in the context of conflicts in “Effets
des conflits sur le risque et la vulnérabilité
vis-à-vis du VIH/SIDA en Afrique: Ebauche d’une
méthode analytique” (D. Tarantola in: A. Decaux,
C. Raynaut eds, Urgence, Précarité et Lutte
Contre le VIH/SIDA en Afrique, L’Harmattan, Paris,
The concepts laid out in the Red Cross, Red Crescent
story are strikingly similar to those presented in our publications,
and I wonder if they formed part of the materials reviewed
by the author while preparing the article for your magazine.
If yes, I regret that our publications were not referenced.
If not, I am happy to note the convergence of thoughts.
Daniel Tarantola, M.D.
François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human
Harvard School of Public Health
Eds: Although the author used many sources in her research
for this article, these did not include any of the above-mentioned
publications. However, we are happy to make their existence
known to readers who would like to further their knowledge
of the subject.
Died in the line of duty
12 September 1997 Mr Shabani Nsanzebahiga
and Mr Bucyensenge, two Rwandan Red Cross workers, were
murdered in an ambush while escorting an employee of the
Ministry of Youth, Miss Espérance, from the Red Cross
youth camp in Nkamira to hospital in Gisenyi. She was also
killed. The vehicle in which they were travelling was clearly
marked with the Rwandan Red Cross emblem.
18 October 1997 Mohamed Bashir, a mechanic
employed by the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Mazar-i-Sharif,
Afghanistan, was killed when three ICRC vehicles were caught
in the crossfire of an armed clash.
10 January 1998 Mr Gnapiragasam Thimoty
Raveenthiran, 37, night watchman at the ICRC sub-delegation
in Vavuniya, Sri Lanka, was murdered when the sub-delegation’s
offices were robbed and ransacked.
12 January 1998 Mr Sylvain Mutombo, 43,
a driver employed by the ICRC delegation in Kinshasa, was
killed by gunmen while on official business in the Congolese
capital. His attackers then stole the ICRC vehicle he was
The world map on landmines contained in Issue 2-1997 of
Red Cross, Red Crescent incorrectly showed Mexico
as a mine-affected country. This was an error which does
not reflect the information provided in the landmines database
of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,
which was the source of information for this map.
Top | Contact
Us | Credits
© 2003 | Copyright