Texto en Español
Fred Cuny was a disaster relief specialist who used his training in engineering to do humanitarian work. He worked in countries such as Biafra, Guatemala, Ethiopia, Iraq, Somalia, and Bosnia. In March 1995, he disappeared in Chechnya and was never found. His life was featured on the PBS documentary program Frontline.
Most of the information contained herein is drawn from the Frontline documentary on Fred Cuny, the Cuny section of the PBS web site, and Professional Responsibility: Focusing on the Exemplary by Michael S. Pritchard of Western Michigan University.
You can find more information on these materials and other Cuny-related sources in sections 9 and 10.
In 1969, Fred Cuny visited of Nigeria. Biafra was trying to
break away from Nigeria, and thus became a war zone. Cuny
volunteered his disaster-relief skills to the Nigerians, but
his services were rejected. So Cuny offered to help Biafra,
where many different aid groups were working.
He saw many problems in the way disaster relief was
administered -- for example, there was a lack of concern about
public health and a fundamental flaw in the way food was
distributed. All in all, Cuny felt that the so-called "experts"
knew very little about practical ways helping the people. But
what could Cuny do? Should he tolerate the ineffective
practices? How much could he, a newcomer, hope to change? How
could he establish his credibility in order to make
improvements? What should he try to change first?
Cuny decided to make his presence felt right away; he
started by improving the drainage system and the methods of
food distribution. He fought to bring in more engineers to
build better drainage systems, and arranged to ship food to the
people in the countryside, instead of forcing those in need to
come to the airports to receive the food. Overall, Cuny
believed strongly that merely sending more food did not help,
and that disaster relief agencies needed to include more
engineers. He decided to devote his life to full-time
humanitarian work; and to help achieve the level of
independence he needed to revolutionize the field, he started
his own crisis-management firm, INTERTECT, in 1971.
Pictures from Biafra