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“Front lines” can be behind the scenes

Anne O'Mahony, Concern's country director for Kenya, explains what humanitarian work can mean in this blog post.

Last Thursday in Nairobi, Kenya, Concern Worldwide marked the second World Humanitarian Day with colleagues from NGOs, Red Cross societies, the UN and government representatives from both Kenya and Somalia.

It was uplifting and hugely important to recognise the contribution and sacrifices that humanitarian workers make in this troubled world of ours. Here in Kenya, this day could have gone very differently.  

Potential consequences

On 4 August, Kenya held a constitutional referendum. For two months leading up to this event, the humanitarian community was planning for potential consequences: it was feared that the referendum could trigger outbreaks of rioting and violence.

Preventing violence

This was the case following the last general election here. Building on the experience we gained during that crisis in 2008: meetings were held, scenarios developed and outlined, conflict hot-spots identified, humanitarian relief supplies prepositioned, communication networks and plans set up, transport and logistic hubs identified, staff vacations cancelled and potential relief centers earmarked. 


We shared tools and information in conflict management with community leaders. The government engaged with these efforts and security was beefed up.

Preparedness and prevention

Humanitarian work is not just about the front line stuff in Haiti, Pakistan, Somalia or Afghanistan. It’s as much about preparedness and prevention as it is about response. It’s about the quiet, unsung work carried out by humanitarian workers with varying expertise behind the scenes. This enables us to be ready to respond adequately to humanitarian situations to limit the suffering of the most vulnerable in our society and our world.


If the Kenyan referendum had not gone smoothly, we could have been marking a very different World Humanitarian Day here in Nairobi. But I am happy to say that instead, we were able to see the results of our hard work and honour our colleagues as well as the people we work with.