Aid under fire: what policy ?
The statistics are indeed horrifying in this the 50th
anniversary of the United Nations. From only five complex emergences in 1985
involving some 8 million refugees, the international community is today dealing
with an average of 28 such emergencies annually involving more than 25 million
ret fugees. Projected to the year 2045 and taking into consideration the rapid
growth in the world's population, there would be 140 complex emergencies
annually and more than 55m displaced people thoughout the world. At the moment
some 70 countries are hosting refugees. The cost to the international community
has been enormous and it is escalating: from $5 billion in 1980 to $30bn in
1994. By the end of this decade these expenses are expected to rise to $40bn
annually, according to UN sources. The costs to development are even more
alarming as large proportions of development budgets continue to be spent on
relief and peacekeeping operations.
The changing nature of conflicts
Brian Atwood of the United States Agency for International
Development wrote recently that the world spent more on peace-keeping operations
in 1993 than it did in the previous 48 years combined and that in the same year,
investment in development declined by 8%. The share of official development
assistance (ODA) allocated by OECD countries to relief rose from less than $500m
in 1980 to $3.5bn in 1993, and this at a time when overall ODA is declining.
Last year over one billion dollars were raised for the Rwandan crisis alone,
more than the amount received in development assistance by the whole of
This situation has led to renewed interest in the linkages
between relief and development and has provoked a debate on their validity in
conflict-related emergencies. Following natural disasters, relief operations are
aimed primarily at ensuring the survival of the afflicted population and
restoring their means of livelihood as far as is practicable. Experience has
shown that this process is as lengthy and expensive as development itself.
However, the concept of a 'relief/development continuum' in conflict-related
emergencies is problematic, given the absence of peace. Hitherto, relief and
development strategies have both tended to rely on the existence of state
structures. Today, donors are increasingly being confronted with a credibility
problem, whether in their relationship with partners whose legitimacy and
accountability are questionable, or with relief agencies whose conduct in
complex political and military situations is unpredictable. The number of
'failed' states, particularly in Africa, is growing.
Although there has been an expansion of 'the democratic zone'
recently, the pattern of modern warfare has also changed. The inter-state
conflicts of the past have been superceded by internal struggles. Liberation
wars have given way to power struggles between warlords unencumbered by
ideological motives. Arms are now freely available to criminal groups and
violence is no longer the monopoly of states. Drug trafficking in conflict zones
is on the increase. Humanitarian assistance on the other hand is increasingly
coming up against issues of good governance and human rights.
With only a few exceptions, donor countries have not redefined
their policies to take account of the current situation. On the contrary, they
appear to be in disarray. Indeed, the impression is of a gradual withdrawal with
an increasing tendency to subcontract humanitarian aid to private and voluntary
bodies. As a result, we have seen a proliferation of relief agencies and NGOs
working in the field, sometimes in an uncoordinated fashion.
Defining a policy
Against this background of near anarchy and in order to arrive
at a greater understanding of the issues, a common analysis of the problem and a
definition of policy, a seminar was held at Wilton Park, Sussex, in the United
Kingdom, from 7-9 April. The title of the seminar was Aid Under Fire: redefining
relief and development assistance in unstable situations. Organised in
association with the United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs, the
Overseas Development Institute and Actionaid, it was attended by senior and
middle-ranking officials from multilateral and bilateral aid agencies, NGOs and
academics from across Europe, North America and East Asia, as well as aid
recipients from the developing world.
A key question, among the many posed by the organisers, was
whether conflict-related emergencies were still primarily a matter for relief
agencies given their proliferation in recent times and the greatly increased
costs involved. In other words, is the aid system the appropriate mechanism to
deal with the political and military dimensions of conflicts, and is it sensible
to link relief with development, in the light of the fact that the conflicts are
assuming an increasingly 'permanent' character.
The seminar naturally took stock of the politico-economic
context in which these emergencies are taking place, notably with the ending of
the Cold War and the breakdown of old alliances. This has changed the dynamics
of relations between donors and recipients (the former had promoted the economic
growth of states and provided support to leaders of questionable character and
legitimacy). It has also resulted in greater availability on the black market of
large quantities of arms from the former Communist bloc, an increase in arms
trafficking to unstable regions of the world, enormous strains on aid budgets,
political and economic pressures on governments in donor countries, and economic
failures leading to a massive increase in poverty in some parts of the
Concern was expressed that the international community had not
mobilised sufficiently to halt arms trafficking, especially when information is
available on their routes, and that it has not done enough to monitor and fight
human rights violations. The result is that a culture of impunity has developed
with relief assistance often deliberately disrupted and manipulated.
Humanitarian assistance, some participants warned, risks becoming a camouflage
for inaction-diverting attention from tackling the fundamental problems.
Compassion, they said, is no substitute to taking up the challenge. There is a
need for the international community to reappraise its understanding of the
nature of conflicts and of peace. Poverty, injustice, environmental changes and
population pressures are not the only causes of civil conflicts. Historical
animosity and memories of such animosity, as Bosnia and Rwanda have shown, are
also important factors.
As preventive measures begin to prove effective in dealing with
natural disasters, some participants pointed out, a similar 'insurance policy'
against manmade ones needs to be taken out, especially when it is possible to
forecast where and when they will occur. Some practical measures can be taken.
These include a commitment to fight illegal arms trafficking, a ban on the
production of mines, promotion of good governance, the development of a free
press and encouragement of press freedom, strengthening of indigenous capacity
to manage and resolve conflicts within society and, where necessary, support to
those local, national, regional and international organisations that are best
placed to resolve conflicts using a multi-track approach.
Significantly, there were few voices advocating the advancement
of democracy, even though aid is now often linked to it as a matter of policy.
Democracy, especially in multi-ethnic societies, is proving a risky undertaking
as the experience of Rwanda and Burundi shows.
The conference agreed that although information is available,
there is often a lack of understanding of the root causes of conflicts and a
lack of understanding of the local culture. This highlights the need to
strengthen national crisis management capacity. Indeed many were of the opinion
that the international community should assist more in conflict management than
in resolution, 'because some conflicts are cyclical and unresolvable.' Rwanda
and Burundi, they said, have enjoyed periods of peace and stability only because
their leaders were able to manage the crisis during those periods.
The growing shortage of funds did not escape the attentions of
the participants. While there was regret over the increasing costs of relief and
the dwindling funds available for development, the conference agreed that there
is an enormous amount of waste, as was clearly illustrated at the height of the
Rwandan crisis. Although efforts are being made at the United Nations to find
ways of raising funds, the current situation calls for a more rational use of
resources. A suggestion by one speaker which attracted widespread support was
that a proportion of the huge funds normally generated internationally during
large-scale disasters of the type suffered by the Rwandans and the Iraqi Kurds,
when public sympathy translates into substantial donations, should be set aside
for long term humanitarian aid and development.
Inherent link between relief and development
In discussion groups, opinions were divided as to how far relief
agencies should be involved in conflict management. There were those who felt
they should adhere to the principle of 'nonintervention', restricting themselves
to saving lives and creating 'a human space', on the basis that they have
neither the skills nor the capacity to mediate. Others believed they should be
part and parcel of the multi-track approach to conflict resolution. In either
situation, there was a general recognition of the danger of donors indirectly
increasing tensions, legitimising otherwise criminal groups, influencing the
dynamics of the conflict and compromising their neutrality. The uncomfortable
relations between relief organisations and military authorities in recent
conflict situations, with the former obliged to negotiate with the latter to
gain access, as exemplified in Bosnia, Sudan and Angola, was emphasised as being
a negative aspect. The majority of participants, however, agreed with the idea
of agencies being involved in prevention and for an international body to be
responsible for gathering and disseminating information in an early warning
On the fundamental question as to whether there is an inherent
relationship between relief and development, the seminar concluded that there
was. It noted the failure of policies in this post Cold War period where the
tendency is to separate relief from development. The idea behind this is that
civil conflicts are temporary interruptions to normal development processes. But
today we are witnessing conflicts of very long duration and of great intensity
and destructivenesss. Those that do end leave little or no infrastructure as a
basis for the resumption of production and development. The seminar deplored the
lack of planning at the relief stage which meant that the development aspects
are ignored. Relief in the current global context, must have a clear 'window' on
development. There must, in short, be an interface between the two, and
institutions should devise their relief and development policies