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close this bookThe Courier N 152 - July - August 1995 - Dossier: NGO's - Country Reports: Belize, Malawi (EC Courier, 1995, 104 p.)
close this folderDeveloping world
View the documentAid under fire: what policy ?
View the documentEstablishing links between relief and development
View the documentDrugs in West Africa
View the documentThe chicken and the egg

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 sub-Saharan Africa.

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 developing world.

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 capacity.

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 accordingly.