Author Topic: What's wrong with aid?  (Read 3164 times)

Debra

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What's wrong with aid?
« on: December 13, 2006, 07:39:16 AM »
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A controversial book by the Norwegian former head of relief agency Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) says politics has hijacked humanitarianism, and accuses the top five aid organisations in his country of being something of a cartel.

Morten Rostrup's book "Felt" - which means "Field", and is so far only published in Norwegian - argues that aid agencies are increasingly colluding with politicians, soldiers and rebels in pushing humanitarian relief into a twilight zone where civilians and relief workers become targets on and off the battlefield.

Not everybody agrees with the former international president of one of the world's best-known humanitarian organisations. MSF itself has distanced itself from its conclusions, and Rostrup himself says the book is a personal stock-taking of 10 years in the field.

http://www.alertnet.org/db/blogs/22870/ ... 1036-1.htm
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skdadl

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What's wrong with aid?
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2006, 07:50:28 AM »
Really interesting article, and I suspect this is a good reading of Rostrup's book:

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Rostrup also skirts broader discussions on the complex nature of contemporary wars, where the muddled line between aid worker and soldier is perhaps only a special case of warfare's vanishing border between civilian and combatant, victim and perpetrator, friend and enemy.

We're left with a simple and heartfelt contention rather than a thorough treatise: when aid goes political and the Geneva Conventions become background music to the world's wars, civilians' and aid workers' lives are endangered.


In other words, it is important that experts on aid speak up as clearly as Rostrup has -- but at the same time, aid alone is a problem, the same kind of problem that "charities" or food banks are back here. We do need people working on deeper analysis, including political analysis. That's no defence of the analyses that are being done, mind you.

lagatta

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What's wrong with aid?
« Reply #2 on: December 13, 2006, 10:13:50 AM »
There is also the matter of who is aiding whom. A cursory look around a supermarket as local produce falls out of season will reveal asparagus from Peru and China, green beans from Guatemala - one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. I'm not opposed to trade per se - we can't grow coffee, and personally I have no objection to importing some of the wine lake - but it is grotesque to be importing food from a country where people are malnourished.

And of course there are many other examples less obvious to the consumer.
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skdadl

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What's wrong with aid?
« Reply #3 on: December 13, 2006, 10:17:51 AM »
One example of where I think Rostrup has a point:

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In the aftermath of Angola's civil war, he claims, people in rebel-held areas starved as the United Nations looked the other way to safeguard the country's peace process.


If that's true, and I have no reason to disbelieve it, then that is wrong. However much aid is a half-measure, when people are starving right now, we should be getting food to them right now. Yes, the larger political situation needs addressing, but if the UN cannot do both at once, then ... we gotta work on the UN.

I so wish the UN worked. I really do.

k'in

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What's wrong with aid?
« Reply #4 on: December 13, 2006, 11:37:48 AM »
When aid is required, following a natural disaster, the terms of repayment put the screws to the local population.  I can't find the specific case I'm thinking of (aftermath of Hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica, they were forced to import primary products they are able to grow themselves plus the onerous interest rates, mandatory "resructuring".)  Here's a lengthy Chomsky article that deals with this, though it's common knowledge.  Excerpt:
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Returned to office, Manley recognized the handwriting on the wall, outdoing Seaga as an
enthusiast for free market capitalism. "The old gospel that government should be operated in the
interests of the poor is being modified, even if not expressly rejected, by the dawning realization
that the only way to help the poor is to operate the government in the interest of the productive!"
the journal of the Private Sector of Jamaica exulted -- here the term "productive" does not refer to
the people who produce, but to those who manage, control investment, and reap profits. The
public sector is "on the verge of collapse," the Private Sector report continues, with schools,
health care and other services rapidly declining. But with the "nonsensical rhetoric of the recent
past" abandoned, and privatization of everything in sight on the way, there is hope -- for "the
productive," in the special intended sense.

sparqui

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What's wrong with aid?
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2006, 04:33:04 PM »
A very interesting topic. Humanitarian aid, whether state sponsored (CIDA, USAID), UN sponsored, NGO (MSF, IRCS, Oxfam, Care) or religious has become increasingly politicized.

Here is an excerpt on an interesting essay on the political motivations of various players in the tsunami aid response:

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THE GEOPOLITICS OF TSUNAMI RELIEF (ARI)                                        

ARI 8/2005 -- Análisis
Soeren Kern                                                                                   ( 20/1/2005 )                                                                                                                                                                   

Theme: The global response to the Indian Ocean seaquake and tsunami disaster has been unprecedented. More than 50 governments and agencies have pledged some US$5 billion in aid; companies and individuals have promised another US$1.5 billion. Although this generosity will create a number of diplomatic openings, the long-term implications for international politics will be limited.



Summary: The primary geopolitical consequence of the disaster in South-East Asia is that it gives the troubled United Nations a potentially new lease of life; it provides the organisation with an unexpected opportunity to prove its usefulness. More immediately, Australia and the United States have seized the strategic opportunity to make a major anti-terrorism and relationship-building investment in Indonesia, a country indispensable to regional security and the global war on terrorism. Meanwhile, Germany, India and Japan hope the crisis will enhance their chances of obtaining a permanent seat on a reformed UN Security Council, but it remains unlikely that their generosity will resolve intractable political problems in the countries receiving their aid. Indeed, the goodwill generated by the disaster-related cooperation is unlikely to form the basis for a long-term easing of regional tensions.

Analysis: Disaster Diplomacy and the National Interest
Disaster relief is an excellent opportunity to advance the national interest. Although disaster aid may be humanitarian by definition, decisions to grant and allocate aid are made within domestic and international political environments. And the more media attention given a particular disaster, the more likely that aid will be allocated and in more generous amounts. Indeed, it seems reasonable that countries expect their altruism to win them friends and increase their global influence. But at a time when the debate over multilateralism is the main issue in international politics, the global response to the tsunami disaster is a timely reminder that self-interest remains the key motivating force behind the ‘international community’.

The Financial Times Deutschland described international aid-giving in Asia as a ‘coldly calculated competition of mercy’. Indeed, governments around the world have engaged in a bidding war to offer higher and higher sums for disaster recovery, with pledges far exceeding both the immediate needs and the capacity of affected countries to absorb the aid. Indeed, the challenge over the next few months will be to coordinate delivery of aid rather than to raise more money. So as the largest international relief operation ever launched takes shape, the political dimension is also coming into focus...


http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/analisis/666.asp
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