Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Trouble with Aid

That's the name of the documentary on BBC Four I am watching right now, and it is damning of how aid during humanitarian crises can be more harmful than good.

It cites the following examples:

Biafran secessionist war and famine:  Aid effectively got diverted into the secessionist movement, which saw that images of starving women and children attracted more aid, prolonging the civil war for two more years (which resulted in defeat for the secessionists);

- Cambodian civil war/ post Khmer Rouge famine:  Hoards of people were seen starving and dying at the border with Thailand, it was thought it was due to mass famine in Cambodia.  Investigations by a couple of officials on the ground in Cambodia saw no evidence of famine (this was in the year after the Khmer Rouge regime had fallen), but this was suppressed by Oxfam and others who feared that such a picture would hamper efforts to raise money.  As the UN was not operating aid programmes (because of Western vetoes against official support for a country under a regime that was said to be an occupation force from Vietnam), NGO aid agencies saw this as a chance to establish themselves, on the basis of a lie.

- Ethiopian famines of the 80s/Live Aid:  The natural disaster was exaggerated, and the efforts of Geldof, Band Aid and Live Aid saw vast amounts of aid being taken by the Marxist-Leninist Ethiopian regime to support its war against Eritrean secessionists.  The regime purposefully denied aid to regions to ensure the images of famine would reach the West.  Live Aid was going on as the Ethiopian government was forcibly kicking thousands off of their land out of their homes to politically "cleanse" areas to support its Maoist campaign for a new communist society.  That provoked famine by destroying the agricultural sector.  In effect Live Aid and Band Aid prolonged the Ethiopian government's ruinous, murderous policies because of political naivete and blindness.  Medicins sans Frontieres abandoned Ethiopia early on because it did not want its aid supporting the government.   Oxfam and others thought that "working with" the government that caused the problem in the first place.

- Somalia:  Aid was confiscated by warlord factions who used it to support their own fighters and to sell on the black market.  Somalia's situation was exaggerated, famine was dying down as agriculture recovered.  The famine was over by the time the relief campaign peaked.  Military intervention failed miserably, was badly targeted, and after a short period of stopping warlords from confiscating aid, the Western military had to flee, after it killed demonstrators in Mogadishu, before leaving Somalia to civil war and next to no humanitarian presence.   

- Rwanda: The Rwandan genocide ended because the Hutu "tribe" were defeated by the Tutsi, Hutu fled in  large numbers.  Cholera epidemic appeared in Goma (DRC).  Aid came to Goma in substantial numbers, but Rwanda got little.  The Goma refugees included thousands of those Hutu militia who had embarked on the genocide, and they started using the aid to help rebuild and regroup.   Hutu militia effectively ran a mafia ring in the refugee camps, taking percentages of food aid, stockpiling it, training military, bullying and recruiting soldiers, even renting vehicles and equipment to aid providers.   The newly resurgent Hutu militia were effectively rebuilt by aid.  MSF, again to its credit, left, refusing to support the militia.  The Hutu militia would attack Rwanda periodically, until the Rwandan army had had enough, and invaded and destroyed them.  It was sick of the genocidal militia that had slaughtered hundreds of thousands being supported across the border and continuing attacks.  Aid had effectively supported one side in the Rwandan civil war.

- Kosovo:  NATO built refugee camps on the Kosovo/Macedonian border, a key part of the exercise being to demonstrate military capability in being humanitarian.  Aid was looking more like middle class consumer goods to people who were not starving, beyond providing tents and sanitation.  Aid agencies worked with NATO on the ground, and were now perceived by Serbia as being partisan.

- Afghanistan:  Afghan government demanded all aid agencies sign onto its policy of supporting the regime.   The Taliban treated them as targets, so all aid agencies ended up being behind militarily guarded bunkers.  NGOs started being seen as sources of cash and resources for the government.  It became impossible to work outside areas controlled by the government, but also made it impossible to operate without being a target for the Taliban.

One statement was that 95% of women and children in that situation survive without intervention, so it is simply arrogant and deceptive to claim that aid is the difference between life and death.

In short, aid can cause more harm than good.  It would be nice if the British government, which perversely has become obsessed with following the UN target of foreign aid (funded by taxpayers) of 0.7% of GDP, would think again.

1 comment:

Kiwiwit said...

Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo says the same thing in her book on the subject, Dead Aid, outlining how $1 trillion worth of aid over the last 50 years has only made Africans worse off.