In 2009, I led a mission to assess the food insecurity situation of pastoralist in Isiolo (northeast Kenya). One of the elders refused to meet with me and asked the community members not to talk to me. He later explained that his community has been visited and assessed on the average of six times a year in the last decade, but nothing has changed. ‘We are not for show’ the translator told me he said. I have his picture here and I told him I will tell his story to reduce the form of exploitation of his community. He agreed.
I was reminded of the 2008 incident recently while participating on a mission to Ethiopia’s Somali region. As the international mission team geared to start taking pictures, decked out in their designer’s sunglasses and kakis, a woman called out covering her face in embarrassment. ‘This is not how I planned my life, but this is where I am now. I am so embarrassed to be like this. Mama (I called her mama because she reminded me of my grandmother) told me through a translator that she had lost her possessions and has been displaced for close to two and half years from the 2016-2017 El Niño drought.
She also told me that she and her displaced community members have been assessed continuously for close to three years, but her situation has not changed. I know she is right because I have participated in quite a good number of those missions with different international actors. I also asked for her permission to share her story of assessment fatigue, and she also agreed.
When disasters strike it is critical to assess the level of damage and what would be required to address the humanitarian needs, but how many of such missions are too much, and for what purpose? Over assessing the humanitarian needs of disaster or conflict affected people without response is dehumanizing, this is not a humanitarian action.
The image of the humanitarian actor in the midst of disaster and conflict affected people has become the standard way of branding potential humanitarian action and assistance. Contrary to what we Humanitarian actors think, disaster affected people in deplorable conditions are people with pride and dignity just like us. We must guide against humanitarian tourism, it is a disrespectful and undignified way to treat people already affected by disasters. Unending assessments in disaster affected communities without a response leads to assessment fatigue.