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Price of Aid

Disturbing but worthwhile article in the New Yorker about how humanitarian aid can prolong and intensify conflict and strife. Link is just an abstract — anyone have a full copy?

16 replies on “Price of Aid”

Sadly this isn’t uncommon no matter where the aid money is going. Even in the US, some charitable agencies take a huge amount of the money for administrative purposes, advertising, etc., leaving only a small portion for those in real need.

Do not confuse humanitarianism with humanitarian aid. Humanitarianism as practiced by groups like MSF have no political motives but merely are practiced to alleviate short term suffering. Humanitarian aid often has a political context to it as when countries contribute food aid in an attempt to often coerce recipient governments to act in a certain way.

The business of aid is a complex one and often does in fact prolong conflicts or make populations and governments reliant on the international community but I agree with Joe in that we are less than human if we sit back and let political realities dictate how and if we should help alleviate the suffering of others.

It is worth a certain level of inefficiency to help those in extreme need. The questions to ask are whether more good is being than harm, and also whether any group of people is being treated in an intolerable way.

The best way to be sure that aid goes directly to people most needing it, is to actually travel to the areas involved – which is what many church groups do. Sadly, many people, including myself, are not so keen on going to the areas of the world that are really desperate and quite unsafe. So, in lieu of that, donating to small groups that travel to countries in need is a very good alternative (my sister-in-law goes with a nursing group attached to a college in NY every year). For myself, I only donate to groups that give the money directly to people – I avoid “clearing houses” such as United Way, etc. as they use a percent of the total donations in their overhead to in turn divvy up the money to other charities, who in turn, use a portion as their overhead, etc.

The benefits and problems wrought by aid is a complex problem. It is probably safe to say that long term aid can become a substitute for political development and development of grass roots entrepeneurship. Committing crimes against humanity just to manipulate aid is an extreme thesis, but it needs to get aired too.

One thing to think about. Someone in the first world is selling the guns and buying the minerals in so many Africa conflicts. Therefore I feel these crisis are global before the question of aid and refugee support hits the table.

Harping on admin costs is a kind of a conservative obsession. Of course, its a problem. But most development organizations have a substantial volunteerism element. Try spending six months working as a professional in an African country for $200 month if you don’t believe this.

Here’s another book on problems caused by Aid from a Zambian economist.
Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo

Hey Matt – if you’re interested in reading more about this, there’s a book called “When Helping Hurts: How to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself” that you might enjoy reading. The authors point out the difference between relief, rehabilitation and development. Relief is going in during or after a disaster and offering immediate assistance to people who might die without it. Think of Haiti. Rehabilitation is helping people get back on their feet, back to where they were. Development is helping them move into a better future; it is improving their long-term outlook. Might be worth a read!

Well now, if all these aid charities actually solved problems they’d be out of work, wouldn’t they? 😉

The problem is most people sit on the outside looking in. I sit on the inside looking out, I live in the Philippines people don’t understand Aid often helps keep countries stagnant in a false state. The Politicians people assume “Aid” doesn’t involve is completely unrealistic the NGO’s prop these people up because they can avoid responsibility. They do nothing to help the people and then use the money they should have been spending on helping the people in their next campaign funds. Corruption is rife throughout NGO’s and charity organisations because most of the time they ignore it. The rest of the time they are part of it, most charities have poor administration with high costs ever wonder why? Ever wonder why so many wealthy people sit at the heads of organisations? It’s a gravy train nothing more nothing less.

Thanks for sharing this article. Fascinating. So the real question is: How can we help people help themselves?

You hear a lot about the importance of education (people love to trot out the saying, “Teach a man to fish…”), but in my experience education can become as politicized as any other form of aid.

Question is what is humanitarian aid all about? I remember people looking at change in Zimbabwe with Mugabe short of cash for the election only to find he won.. why? a British company agreed mining deals and forwarded over $100million before the election. There has to be the question asked why do we pay aid with tax money yet corporations benefit by causing the problems..

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