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Mercy Malaysia Director Dr Faizal Perdaus on current and emerging challenges in humanitarian health action for the Asia Pacific.

The number of globally displaced persons is unprecedented with numbers of forcibly displaced totaling 68.5 million worldwide and an estimated 44,000 people becoming displaced every day. The future is upon us – we must challenge the current solutions to meet the health needs of migrants.

Regional factors driving displacement differ globally. Migration in South-East Asia is largely disaster driven, in Africa and the Middle East, it is conflict; displacement in Latin America is largely driven by narcotic wars. Sea-level rise is affecting populations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and drought is driving competition for natural resources.

We now face multiple ‘categories’ of people who are forcibly displaced, people who are displaced for longer periods of time, more frequent and severe natural disasters, and people displaced by climate related factors are increasing in number and diversity.

There are also new challenges facing humanitarian responses. People on the move are increasingly affected by psychological disorders precipitated by the refugee experience, by infectious parasitic diseases endemic to countries of origin and chronic disease endemic to host countries. There are new actors on the scene and there are new roles for old actors, this includes governments, government agencies, militaries, the private sector, financiers and philanthropists, insurance and re-insurance. Everyone needs to do more to meet the needs of migrants and IDPs.

We need to embrace and put more focus on technology. We need to invite technical subject matter experts to contribute to HUMTECH. The Health Cluster is, and should be, a provider of last resort humanitarian healthcare, and needs to approach partnership building. NGOs need to be flexible in their approach, e.g. MERCY Malaysia’s move from emergency health to reproductive health. And WASH activities must occur in coordination with health. The World Health Organisation should also be a last-resort provider, but roles and approaches may need to change, especially with renewed assertion of state sovereignty.

While conflict remains pertinent, climate change will be the single biggest driver of forced displacement in the future. By 2025, 2.4 billion people will be living in areas of intense water scarcity and may displace as many as 700 million by 2030. Today, in Jordan, displaced Syrian’s contribute one-third of the total population. This in a country of existing water scarcity.

A human rights-based approach to emergency response remains key: a non-discriminatory approach.

It is crucial to question the financing of humanitarian health provision for displaced populations: are the usual financial mechanisms working? How? This area needs innovation and increased engagement of global financing mechanisms such as investor groups (e.g. Global Financing Facility), a recognition of the increasing importance of the World Bank, and general innovation in ways of working, such as through partnerships.

It is time to go about things differently. Giving money has its limits. Asking for money has its limits.

Refugees need to be integrated into national health systems and the technical basis of the refugee population needs to be upgraded.

Director Mercy Malaysia Dr Faizal Perdaus was the key note speaker at the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership’s Forced Displacement and Humanitarian Health Symposium in 2018.


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