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Week 11 Politics of international aid S1 2012 Politics of humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid. “humanitarian aid is aid or action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies”. Humanitarian aid vs development aid .

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Week 11

Politics of international aid S1 2012

Politics of humanitarian aid

humanitarian aid
Humanitarian aid

“humanitarian aid is aid or action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies”


Humanitarian aid vs development aid

Development aid – planned, long term, aiming for structural change, targeted (mostly) to poorer countries

Humanitarian aid – reactive, incidental and short-term, aiming for remediation and relief, targeted to any countryexperiencing

  • natural disaster – flood, earthquake, famine etc
  • human disaster – war, civil conflict, genocide

Shifting goals of humanitarian aid

Historic - Relief of human suffering or need

Evolving - Transformation of the structural conditions that cause or contribute to human suffering, through (for example)

  • Development
  • democracy promotion
  • establishing rule of law and respect for human rights
  • post conflict peace building
  • Link between humanitarian aid and development
principles of humanitarianism
Principles of humanitarianism

ICRC principles

  • Humanity
  • Impartiality
  • Neutrality
  • Independence
  • Voluntary service
  • Unity
  • Universality

Have come to be considered as ‘core principles’; and create ‘humanitarian space’


Humanitarian aid as apolitical

Some humanitarian organisations and workers insist the core principles are sacrosanct for humanitarian aid – aid should be apolitical, in particular to guard the ‘humanitarian space’.

This is traditional ICRC stance – all politics and political influence as anathema. HR, democracy promotion, peacebuilding – all are political activities because they propose to treat the cause not just alleviate symptoms


Humanitarian aid as political

Others believe that

  • aid is inherentlypolitical and all actions have political motivations and consequences
  • the absolute application of humanitarian principles is contingent on how effective they are in specific situations
  • if the intention of aid is to alter the conditions that cause suffering, there is a need to work with States and to engage in political systems
  • boundaries blur between States and aid agencies/ humanitarian workers

Challenges for humanitarian aid

  • Chaos
  • Fragmentation in the aid sector – too many actors, poor economies of scale, duplication (also in development aid)
  • Poor coordination and communication between agencies, with State agents and with recipients of aid
  • Weak or weakened state actors
  • Damaged (or already poor) physical, communication, security and governance infrastructure – so poor access to those affected by an emergency
  • Humanitarian agencies often working in unfamiliar contexts – language, culture, geography, politics
  • Difficult conditions for accountability and evaluation
  • The influences of local and international politics – different agendas and priorities of different stakeholders

Humanitarian aid and development aid

Differences– but both occur in a political context and have political drivers and political consequences.

Political influences can come from the local context, or be far removed from the immediate situation but still exert a strong influence on the delivery of aid

case study 2005 p akistan earthquake
Case study – 2005 Pakistan Earthquake

Political influences and consequences

  • Military rule since 1999 – powerful military and weak civil and civic infrastructure – earthquake entrenched military power
  • Interdependence of the US and Pakistan (long history of aid transfers) - led to close cooperation between military government, UN and INGOs – sidelining of local agencies and ‘affectees’
  • Location of quake in politically sensitive areas PaK and NWFP – lack of immediate assistance from India, and lack of attention to citizens needs as the military ‘looked after its own’ and attended to security concerns first – also fostered growth of Islamist groups
  • Closely followed other disasters – donor fatigue

War in Afghanistan and concerns about compromised security and increased influence of Islamists - need to keep Pakistan military government as an ally during humanitarian activities

  • Long history of unaccountable government activity including reporting on/ accounting for aid flows (which was largely for military aid) - Relief and compensation directed along social and ethnic lines, and to military or other gov’t interests – unaudited ‘presidential fund’ – relief money used to fund controversial dams, ports resulting in exacerbation of tensions between provinces and military
  • International financial institutions providing rebuilding funds as loans – debt burden on already damaged economy and on top of already high debt

Human rights

  • Lead for many activities taken by military – not known for commitment to HR. Reports of violent treatment of residents and forced closures of camps
  • Extreme power imbalance between aid staff and affected population
  • Loss of dignity in allocation of aid
  • Failure to provide gender appropriate health teams and services including options for gender segregation – serious protection issues for women and girls
  • Lack of consultation with local groups and people affected by the quake
  • Limited linkage between humanitarian and development agencies – low priority given to, and poor transition from, emergency to recovery

International resources and agencies “fed into existing political fault lines”, and unwittingly contributed not to a community development approach to disaster recovery in Pakistan, but to processes that continued to inhibit secular democracy, inclusiveness, equality and human rights.

Tom Bamforth, (2007)

Political Complexities of Humanitarian Intervention in the Pakistan Earthquake. Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, January 16.

humanitarian aid and power relations
Humanitarian aid and power relations

Humanitarian organisations have power and authority

- resources; information; expertise and moral standing; ambitions; relationship to global structures

Humanitarianism based on ‘charity’ (vs rights based approach)

Who’s interests and priorities are primary? – increasingly strategic use of humanitarian assistance

What power and influence does the recipient have? Most aid agencies act without much input from the peoplewho are supposed to benefit from their intervention – issues of power, dignity, capacity, and agency.

the nexus between humanitarian aid and development aid
The nexus between humanitarian aid and development aid
  • Development as an integral part of the overall response to a natural or humanitarian disaster – in part a response to the assessment that humanitarian relief creates dependency and reduces capacity of local groups
  • Emphasis on early recovery and capacity building for withstanding future shocks
  • The development of the UN led ‘Cluster approach’, with ‘early recovery’ one of the clusters, led by UNDP, aimed at linking immediate disaster responses to medium and long-term recovery efforts.
some issues relating to the nexus between humanitarian aid peace and security
Some issues relating to the nexus between humanitarian aid, peace and security
  • The validity of neutrality – should all parties to conflict be entitled to humanitarian aid?
  • Military as agents of aid and development – political motivations and humanitarian implications
  • Is aid and development possible without security?
  • Responsibility to protect, R2P

Background to darfur – sets political context

Australian military in development

Dafur slideshow

Dafur aid to mountain displaced camp

examples of unintended consequences of humanitarian aid and icrc principles
Examples of unintended consequencesof humanitarian aid and ICRC principles
  • Aid prolonging conflict and/or being circumvented for the benefit of active agents of conflict – eg Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan
  • Human rights abuses in the belief that outcomes are in the best interest of the majority – eg forced relocation in Ethiopian famine
  • Failures to act or react to human rights abuse – eg Rwandan genocide, holocaust, Dafur