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Nonprofits in the Time of Wars

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sharif Shamroukh
March 21, 2022

Throughout all of history, there has never been a specific period of wars and weaponry conflicts, when civilians, who usually have no say in initiating the fight, have not been affected. At the same time, since wars result in the destruction of infrastructure and a loss of human lives, all wars inevitably result in disastrous circumstances for civilians and innocent individuals—regardless of how the parties involved choose to justify their decisions to go to war.

Therefore, in the modern history of wars—specifically during the past century or so—plenty of examples have shown how the international community, represented mainly by the United Nations, responds to the civilian trap in war zones. Their responses have primarily included providing access to food, shelter, medical supplies and care, along with other humanitarian-related aid critically needed by those who fall between the various war parties.

Protection spaces are some of the most essential resources relief organizations can provide to aid civilians trapped in war zones, shielding them from paying the ultimate price for being locked in these areas: their safety and their lives. Therefore, relief organizations must take a critical approach to helping millions of civilians escape to less dangerous areas where they may be granted a temporary safeguard from war zone areas.

The point that I would like to highlight in this regard is related to the role of the international community, represented by the United Nations and other relief organizations, during the time of active war and afterwards. Furthermore, how important it is to learn about this role, especially when witnessing the current disasters and deadly environments created by more modern wars, involving the use of heavy weaponry and employing strategies such as the “scorched-earth policy.”

 The founders of the United Nations stated that its purpose is to achieve international cooperation in solving worldwide economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems, which they then applied in the aftermath of the second World War in Europe as it was the main continent affected by the war. In the decades that followed, the United Nations relied on the international community to support these humanitarian relief acts to respond to natural and man-made disasters, especially in areas affected by weaponry conflicts and wars.

As a practical example, the United Nations designated the Office of Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to respond to emergencies and provide essential assistance efficiently and quickly to those in need, most notably those who were trapped in the war zones.

Those relief efforts during and after the wartime were not limited to the United Nations and its affiliated international organizations. Across multiple sources, examples have shown that other relief organizations have also acted in response to the urgent needs of civilians who were trapped in these zones. These relief efforts covered the need for food, temporary shelters, medical supplies and aid, warm clothes when aid is required during severe weather conditions and even just clean water.

Talking about humanitarian aid leads me to point out specific materials and logistical assistance also needed by people affected by war conflict. Usually, humanitarian aid uses as a more temporary approach, setting up refugee camps and providing food, medical care and a safe environment until more permanent solutions are set up by either governments or other nonprofit organizations; or until a solution is reached that returns people to their original areas after the war is done and safety has been restored.

Further, it is essential to always remember that the primary objective of humanitarian aid is to help save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity, which enforces a fundamental expression of the universal value of solidarity between people, regardless of any differences. Therefore, when it comes to wartime, humanitarian aid may come from any local or international community since the main goal of this effort is to reach a worldwide understanding of human value even when governments and national leaders decide to initiate armed conflicts.

Since humanitarian aid efforts are essential during and post-war, countries and war parties should not prevent or slow down these efforts. Fortunately, any sign that relief efforts are being diverted is usually faced with international criticism. Providing aid to insecure environments—and there is no place or time of greater insecurity than that of wars and armed conflicts—comes with a heavy price that may cost relief organization workers and volunteers their lives. Even still, nothing will stop charitable organizations from taking the lead and helping civilian people in need, especially during times of war.


Author: Dr. Sharif Shamroukh is a Senior Lecturer at the American Institute for Philanthropy Advancement and frequently writes about various public policy issues. Also, Dr. Shamroukh provides consulting services to nonprofit organizations covering a wide range of topics that help achieve their missions. Contact Dr. Shamroukh via e-mail: [email protected] or Facebook / LinkedIn / Twitter @DrShamroukh

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