Fred C. Cuny


Fred C Cuny was killed in Chechnya in April 1995, trying to help mitigate the effects of Russian bombing on the civilian population of Grozny.    Cuny had worked on crises in over 50 countries.  Wherever he cast his attention, he demonstrated the value of sensitivity, initiative, courage, innovation, flexibility, and foresight, missing elements in most response.
Three new books reflect his work & vision. (courtesy of the Humanitarian Times)

- "FAMINE, CONFLICT & RESPONSE, A BASIC GUIDE" BY FRED CUNY
(posthumously) & Rick Hill (1999  Connecticut:  Kumarian Press) pulls together a wide range of practical information relevant to a comprehensive response to food crises, including early warning, social & environmental assessment, market interventions, food distribution systems, logistics, & cross-border aid into a conflict zone.  Its value is in placing  different aspects of an intervention into a larger perspective; for example, "food aid can only relieve food needs, it cannot eliminate the
causes of famine.  Furthermore, unchecked food aid can have adverse consequences, delaying agricultural recovery & creating dependencies."  It serves for the first time to draw into one volume the variety of  market based interventions that include food loans, food for work,  price supports for livestock, barter, grain for animal exchanges, food subsidies, price controls, monetization, and internal/local purchase.  "Counter-famine interventions are based on the premise that employment
& income are the central issues that must be addressed in a famine.  If sufficient income can be provided, they will not need to liquidate family assets, & their ability to purchase food can be restored." A multitude of diverse, small-scale activities should be spread throughout the area."  Cuny's strategies for Tigray (1984) & Sudan (1990) are recounted.  This deserves to be a basic text in any field office involved in relief or college course that touches on crises or food aid.

-  "THE MAN WHO TRIED TO SAVE THE WORLD"
by Scott Anderson  (1999 Toronto:  Doubleday) tells of Fred Cuny's life while also educating about many of Cuny's insights & program approaches.  From his social work along the Texas-Mexican border & brief air transport aid into Biafra, to his extensive work retrofitting the urban water supply in Sarajevo, this biography explains how Cuny found his own way through
trial & error..   In response to the ponderous, band-aid approaches taken by most relief groups, Cuny saw the need for someone to interject creativity, to ask the big questions about root causes & long-term prospects, to think out of the box.  His urban water system in Sarajevo, for instance, was a radical measure to reduce the need for citizens to risk going to the river for water, where they were easy targets for Serb snipers.   Cuny was the first to emphasize seeing disasters as opportunities to do proper development, for example rebuilding homes to be earthquake-resistant. Anderson properly captures Fred's attention
to the poor.  The biography gives most of its attention to Cuny's work in Chechnya, Iraq & Bosnia, only briefly mentioning a few of his dozens of other assignments.   In just a few sentences it mentions Cuny's local- purchase of foods from one region to assist in famine-affected regions of Ethiopia, & missions to Somalia, El Salvador & Sri Lanka.  In Iraq in 1991 Cuny was instrumental in getting the Kurds to return home in rapid manner, educating the US military along the way.  The biography
does not fully describe the great number of lives Cuny inspired.  Nor does it cite Cuny impressive publication achievements -- his strategy papers, blueprints for new organizations, or the books he co-authored on refugee & IDP return & repatriation.   Anderson devotes several chapters to the mystery of Cuny's disappearance on his way into Chechnya.  Anderson speculates that Chechen leader Dudayev may himself have ordered Cuny's execution, perhaps because Cuny observed sensitive
nuclear missile facilities in Bamut.


-"HEALING COMMUNITIES IN CONFLICT -INTL ASSISTANCE IN COMPLEX EMERG'S"
by Kim Maynard (May 1999, NY: Columbia Univ Press) is an excellent primer on the characteristics of complex emergencies, pulling together many recent theories & observations about the preconditions of conflict as well as factors conditioning post-conflict resolution.  She explains how internally displaced person flight patterns are different from cross-boundary refugees.  Maynard touches on a wide variety of economic & social consequences of emergencies.  "Children who grow up in chaos-ridden countries as Haiti, Nicaragua or Palestine often have few influences beyond the culture of violence; eventually,
fighting becomes a way of live."   Based on her first-hand involvement over the years with the Red Cross, Mercy Corps, & USAID, Maynard describes the various ways that aid can inadvertently fuel conflict or "it can divert energy away from traditional occupations such as those in agriculture, cottage industries."  She recommends that routine humanitarian action expand its scope, "for example, the typical field coordination structure should include the sectors of conflict management
& human rights.  Unfortunately, many policymakers & field practitioners are reluctant to delve into the more controversial & ambiguous areas such as psychological trauma, conflict mitigation & even human rights protection."  Maynard acknowledges Cuny's influence in her introduction; Cuny advised & reviewed early drafts.  She quotes Cuny extensively, particularly his framework for understanding the phases of refugee flight & return.

FURTHER LEGACY
-Cuny set up, or helped set up a number of important humanitarian organizations that are still actively promoting solutions to disasters.  His primary commercial firm, InterTect plans relief programs in many countries; the Univ. of Madison Disaster Management Training Program (a university program) & InterWorks train NGOs, UN & government relief & rehabilitation organizations. A non-profit think tank Cuny set up in 1987, that produced a series of books on relief & repatriation is being
re-named in honor of Cuny and will be called The Cuny Center for the Study of Societies in Crisis.

-The International Crisis Group (ICG) was being created at the time Cuny disappeared; his vision was that it would provide comprehensive country-wide approaches to relief and rehabilitation.   The ICG has published dozens of timely reports on active humanitarian crises,  including Algeria, Zaire, Bosnia, Cambodia & the Balkans.   ICG was among earliest and most persistent voices for assertive intervention in Kosovo. including their 1998 "Kosovo Spring" or more recent "Sidelining Slobodan" or "Unifying the Kosovar Factions."  Most ICG products & publications are easily available on the web: 
http://www.intl-crisis-group.org/.


-The US Public Broadcast Service Frontline series aired a documentary biography of Cuny's life which is available on videocassette which can be purchased from PBS.  Their website about Cuny: 
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/cuny/.


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