art03-magazine01-ELECTRICIENS-SANS-FRONTIÈRES
New Route Publié le 01 mai 2019

Electriciens sans frontières: Intervening in the most dangerous areas

Given the political and social environment of some of the countries where we operate, it can be difficult for our volunteers to go on location. But alternative types of actions remain possible.

When the security context allows it, volunteers living close to the area in question can go on-site to monitor the project. Another option is to manage the project remotely, relying on the support of a local company carrying out the works. Finally, there is also the option of relocating local actors and trainees to France, for a limited duration, or to a neighbouring and non-risky area, in order to train them.

Nevertheless, maintaining our activities

“There is no development without security, there is no security without development” – Kofi Annan, World Summit 2005

“This is the equation faced by the big NGOs who, like us, want to contribute to the development of the most vulnerable countries: development is one of the keys to achieving security, but how do we intervene in risk-prone areas? The risky environments affecting many of our projects lead us to review, as others have, our methods of intervention. But unlike others, it did not lead us to give up on those areas. It would be nothing less than a double punishment for those who, in places like Niger, Mali or Burkina Faso are kept hostages by dramatic situations, and who still expect from us the support in helping them gain access to light and water, that changes lives.

A number of countries in Africa have been affected by the colours of international risk-assesment maps, from the green of stability to the darkest red, effectively closing them to the rest if the world. In areas where the risks are known, but limited, our procedures have been strengthened, and our missions are authorized on a case-by-case basis, following a strict protocol. But these risk aversion procedures for our operating teams are not enough. Whenever the context requires it, we must change the ways we operate, and resolve to rely directly on local actors and support them remotely and to abandon our doing together, on-location model, and with it, the vocational training opportunities that represented unparalleled sources of knowledge and skills transfer. However, these training opportunities have already, for many years, enabled our partners to acquire a considerable number of skills. It’s now up to us to pass on the baton and to allow them, finally, to become the key actors of local development. It is still up to us, if necessary, to ensure that they have the space to strengthen their skills, by organizing trainings in safer areas: Dubai for a team from Somalia, Saint Brieux (France) for our Nigerian partners and other places beyond the borders for Syrian engineers from the Idlib region. It remains up to us to make best use of the available communication techniques to train, advise and collaborate remotely. It is also up to us to promote and support the network of local companies that have worked with us over the years, and whose competencies rise to the upgrade technical requirements of our projects. Working in this insecure environment, it is, when all is said and done, up to us to discover new ways of working with local actors, and to bring to life that magical word: cooperation.

‘Even though you are now no longer so close to us, don’t you forget us …’A village chief

The people of northern Burkina Faso are now living through dark times, but we do not forget that, almost everywhere else, the most vulnerable are facing permanent food insecurity and a degree of isolation that make them powerless to stop the vicious circle of poverty, to halt the unceasing juggernaut of globalization, and to stop the climate change disasters that dry up wells and shrivel harvests. The actions that we are taking with them do not, of course, suffice to mark the end of their daily difficulties, but they do give them access to new water resources and to improved health and education services. All of these are an open door to hope. The projects that we build together with those at risk of being left behind, attest, in not a small way, to our core value of solidarity.

A governing principle that does not waver. No matter the times or the circumstances. And even in the most dangerous areas.”

Jean Pierre Cerdan, General Secretary of Electriciens sans frontières

Photo: Electriciens sans frontières