Respirologist Datuk Dr Ahmad Faizal Mohd Perdaus is certainly a veteran when it comes to humanitarian work.
From first joining Mercy Malaysia as a volunteer in 2003 – his first mission was to Sri Lanka for the flood disaster – he has since served in over 20 humanitarian aid missions in various countries.
And more importantly, since 2009, he has led the humanitarian and medical aid organisation as president.
Recently, Mercy Malaysia was named as one of three beneficiaries of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, which is part of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative.
The 2018 Aurora Prize Laureate, Kyaw Hla Aung, chose to award his US$1mil (RM4.15mil) prize to three international organisations that provide medical aid and assistance to Rohingya refugees across South-East Asia, namely Mercy Malaysia, Médecins Sans Frontieres and the International Catholic Migration Commission. Approximately 375,000 Rohingya refugees will benefit from this initiative.
Having been imprisoned repeatedly for his cause, Kyaw is a lawyer and activist who was recognised for fighting for equality, education and human rights for the Rohingya in Myanmar.
“Mr Kyaw’s selfless dedication to his people’s cause makes him a fully deserving candidate for the 2018 Aurora Humanitarian award.
“Mercy Malaysia is honoured to be named as one of the beneficiaries and will utilise it to continue providing essential relief aid to the underserved Rohingya communities in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia,” says Dr Faizal during an interview at the Mercy Malaysia office in Kuala Lumpur recently.
Mercy Malaysia will use its share of the funds (US$300,000/RM1.24mil) to provide primary and maternal health care and operational support to Rohingya people through collaborations with the Rakhine State Health Department in Sittwe IDP (internally displaced person) camps and Kyauktan Village in Myanmar. Mercy estimates that more than 100,000 Rohingya people will benefit from this effort.
Mercy Malaysia has been working in Rakhine since 2012.
“Maternal and child health programmes are very important because while emergency aid is very important and necessary, a comprehensive maternal and child health programme allows us to target two specific vulnerable groups – children and mothers.
“By doing so, we hope to not just improve the current health status but also promote better development of the children in terms of physical, mental and emotional aspects, as well as better and more impactful long-term health for the mothers, who will be the ones looking after the children primarily,” says Dr Faizal, 51.
Changing face of humanitarian work
Now into his ninth year as Mercy president, Dr Faizal shares how the nature of humanitarian work has evolved over the years.
“The needs of the people whom we serve have become more in terms of amount as well as complexity.
“With that, there is also the natural evolution and development of the humanitarian sector. People are generally more aware and knowledgeable now, especially in countries regularly affected by natural disasters, or countries in conflict, so needs and expectations are also higher,” says Dr Faizal, who was the first Asian to be elected chairperson of the Inter-national Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) at its 16th General Assembly in 2015.
At the same time, he adds, over the last two decades, conflicts have become more complicated and long-drawn.
“There has been an increase of conflicts whereby there are non-state actors involved, for example. Most of the time, it’s not between two countries but between groups in a country or between a government and non-state actors.
“These are further complicated when all sides have their own external supporters and so on, resulting in conflicts lasting longer or being more complicated in terms of access,” he says, citing Yemen and Syria as examples.
The latest UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) statistics show that as of the end of last year, 68.5 million people globally have been displaced because of conflicts, an increase of three million from the previous year.
“The figures have gone up steadily, simply because conflicts are not subsiding. Even when the acute phase of conflict is over, the consequence is long-lasting, and the solution or resolution is nowhere in sight.
“Resolution of conflicts is always political, not humanitarian. When we compare that with natural disasters, although people still suffer, generally speaking in most natural disasters, people are able to pick themselves up after a few years.”
But there has been one positive development when it comes to natural disasters, he points out.
“Many countries with a predisposition to natural disasters like the Philippines and Indonesia, which sit on the Pacific Ring of Fire, suffer a lot from typhoons, earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
“But over the last 10 years especially, a lot of these countries have become better prepared, especially during the acute phase of a natural disaster.
“So, the need for acute humanitarian aid, especially acute medical relief, is less now, with a few exceptions like in mega disasters. And we are happy about that.”
However, Dr Faizal says, that also means that organisations like Mercy have had to adjust from being a purely emergency relief provider, especially medically, into other areas like disaster risk reduction and preparedness as well as building resilience of communities, pre- and post-disaster.
“The biggest challenge going forward is climate change and its effects. We have seen that typhoons and hurricanes have all become more severe.
“We have seen more droughts, as well as more floods, and every year is hotter than the previous one.
“So part of the challenge going forward for Mercy Malaysia is to get the organisation ready to face all these challenges,” he emphasises.
In conclusion, he adds that “Malaysia is at a particularly poignant juncture now, where anything is possible, and it’s about how Malay-sians take the opportunities that come along.
“So I put it to Malaysians that getting involved in and supporting volunteer work, not just humani-tarian but also for the environment and conservation, will help build a better people, society and nation. And in time, we hope that we can stand on par with developed countries in the world,” he says.