We’ll all be rooned: Solving the relief/development divide, part 1

I’m publishing a short series of posts as the definitive word on tackling the root cause of the failures of humanitarian and development practitioners to reconcile, resolve and otherwise deal with their differences in approach.  There is certainly much more that can be said, and probably volumes that can and will be written, but it will all be wrong.

Saundra and Dennis have been sharing some poetry. I’m going to join in, as there’s a poem that provides a useful longitudinal perspective with which to begin exploring one of the many long standing problems in aid slash international development today.

Why, oh why, are rapid-onset emergency responses and longer term development programmes such uneasy bedfellows? Apart from the former stomping in with their water trucking, the mountains of GIK, the local partner and partner-staff nicking, the smelly loggies, the cavalcade-of-CNN, the carnivale-of-wannabes, and/or the occasional stupidly well funded public mega-appeals of late. Apart from the latter being left to pour a neat gin and weep (by candlelight please, to complete the image) as they draft unfortunate letters about force majeure and project suspension and think about where their work of the last two years went.

Oh, no. Those are simply proximal causes. We need to bulldoze the problem tree, tie a chain around its stump, and yank it out of the ground. We’ve got to get a good look at the root cause here.

To that end I have a poem that provides the first evidence in a three-part deductive exercise. And as alluded to above, I have broken this into a series of blog posts in order to draw out the tension and leave you gasping with awe at the perspicacity of my conclusions. By golly I’m getting the hang of this blogging malarkey already!

Ahem. Exhibit A is the poem Said Hanrahan published in Australia in 1921 by a gentleman poet going by the nom de plume of John O’Brien. That he was really a Catholic priest by the name of Patrick Hartigan is completely tangential. Still, you can’t help thinking about whether it was his respectability as a priest that was threatened by his poetry, or his respectability as a poet that was in danger from the denomination of his cloth.

As you’re reading, I want you undertake a close textual interpretation to come into a full and contemplative realisation of the deeper meaning of the text. If you want a bit of a leg up with that, here’s the gist. The nameless church at which the men gather is actually the metaphorical token for the same one referred to in J’s recent post; the congregation are you and your colleagues; and the dour protagonist Hanrahan is in fact your organisation’s Disaster Risk Reduction adviser.

Without further ado then, ‘Said Hanrahan’ by “John O’Brien”.

“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, in accents most forlorn,
Outside the church, ere Mass began, one frosty Sunday morn.

The congregation stood about, coat-collars to the ears,
And talked of stock, and crops, and drought, as it had done for years.

“It’s lookin’ crook,” said Daniel Croke; “bedad, it’s cruke, me lad,
For never since the banks went broke has seasons been so bad.”

“It’s dry, all right,” said young O’Neil, with which astute remark
He squatted down upon his heel and chewed a piece of bark.

And so around the chorus ran “it’s keepin’ dry, no doubt.”
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “before the year is out.

“The crops are done; ye’ll have your work to save one bag of grain;
From here way out to Back-o’-Bourke, they’re singin’ out for rain.

“They’re singin’ out for rain,” he said, “and all the tanks are dry.”
The congregation scratched its head, and gazed around the sky.

“There won’t be grass, in any case, enough to feed an ass;
There’s not a blade on Casey’s place as I came down to Mass.”

“If rain don’t come this month,” said Dan, and cleared his throat to speak–
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “if rain don’t come this week.”

A heavy silence seemed to steal on all at this remark;
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed a piece of bark.

“We want a inch of rain, we do,” O’Neil observed at last;
But Croke “maintained” we wanted two to put the danger past.

“If we don’t get three inches, man, or four to break this drought,
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out.”

In God’s good time down came the rain; and all the afternoon
On iron roof and window-pane It drummed a homely tune.

And through the night it pattered still, and lightsome, gladsome elves
On dripping spout and window-sill kept talking to themselves.

It pelted, pelted all day long, a-singing at its work,
Till every heart took up the song way out to Back-o’Bourke.

And every creek a banker ran, and dams filled overtop;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “If this rain doesn’t stop.”

And stop it did, in God’s good time; and spring came in to fold
A mantle o’er the hills sublime of green and pink and gold.

And days went by on dancing feet, with harvest-hopes immense,
And laughing eyes beheld the wheat nid-nodding o’er the fence.

And, oh, the smiles on every face, as happy lad and lass
Through grass knee-deep on Casey’s place went riding down to Mass.

While round the church in clothes genteel discoursed the men of mark,
And each man squatted on his heel, and chewed his piece of bark.

“There’ll be bush-fires for sure, me man, there will, without a doubt;
“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out.”

This poem was published a full ninety years ago in 1921, which brings us in a direct and unimpeachably logical both-boots leap towards our first finding.

Finding  1: DRR practitioners are now, and always have been, a bunch of miserable buggers.

Think about it. In first phase humanitarian response you can at least always have the narrative and/or reality that you’re all cracking on and making things less worse. In longer term development programming, somewhere deep down you’ve got your belief in communities and social change and the arc of history and development-as-freedom/ponies and so forth. DRR bods? Their very professional existence requires a great deal of thoughtful work, beneath the shadow of a stone cold belief in the inevitability that it’s just aaalllll just gonna get proper fucked up again someday, and probably soon. This tends to come with the corollary belief that will be all the worse because nobody ever listens to them. Whether this is caused by a superlative level of professional inculcation, or the field just attracts misery-guts Cassandras, is left as an exercise for discussion.

Stay tuned now for further findings and their integration into a logic model in this acclaimed new series, Solving The Relief/Development Divide:

(ii): evidence from British popular culture & statistical analysis of European ODA ; and

(iii): shocking conclusions and implications for further research.

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4 Comments on “We’ll all be rooned: Solving the relief/development divide, part 1”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cynan Houghton, Cynan Houghton. Cynan Houghton said: Blog post: analysis of the relief/development divide, through early 20th century poetry. http://wp.me/p1juQE-t @saundra_s @viewfromthecave […]

  2. […] We’ll all be rooned: Solving the relief/development divide, part 1; evidence from doggerel ve… […]

  3. zoeplankton says:

    Nice use of Hanrahan! It’s interesting that we encounter a variant on the same thing a lot in digital publishing – ‘it didn’t work then, it won’t work now, I will go with your mad scheme but we I want you to know we’re all doomed’.

    And maybe we are.

    The sticky bit for publishing is that if ‘then’ is anything more than five months ago, it doesn’t really count. But we deal in technology – I wonder if the same or similar is ever true of aid?

  4. […] part one of this series, we established that the abject failure of economists, anthropologists, sociologists, ethnologists, […]


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