International Aid and Development Issues


The Humanitarian’s Dilemma: collective action or inaction in international relief?

Source: Overseas Development Institute (ODI), Date: Aug 2010

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January of this year and the intense media coverage of the subsequent aid operations, the UK’s The Lancet journal published an editorial entitled ‘The growth of aid and the decline of humanitarianism’. The piece described aid agencies as:

‘…highly competitive with each other. Polluted by the internal power politics and the unsavoury characteristics seen in many big corporations, large aid agencies can be obsessed with raising money through their own appeal efforts. Media coverage as an end in itself is too often an aim of their activities. Marketing and branding have too high a profile. Perhaps worst of all, relief efforts in the field are sometimes competitive with little collaboration between agencies, including smaller, grass-roots charities that may have better networks in affected counties and so are well placed to immediately implement emergency relief…’ (The Lancet, 2010)

The article concluded: ‘…But just like any other industry, the aid industry must be examined, not just financially as is current practice, but also in how it operates from headquarter level to field level.’

The supposed lack of examination of the aid sector is also a key theme in a widely publicised critique of aid agencies published in 2010 by Linda Polman, a Dutch journalist. In War Games, Polman cites numerous examples of humanitarian aid agencies making things worse in the countries in which they operate by furthering war economies and sustaining the need for aid (Polman, 2010).

What is perhaps most surprising to many of those working within aid agencies is that these arguments have been presented as breaking scandals, as if the messages were new insights. Despite the rather sweeping accusations to the contrary, humanitarian aid organisations do examine their work. Many of the critiques cited above were first identified in efforts that were commissioned, funded and managed by the humanitarian system itself – from the Rwanda evaluation published in 1996 (Danida, 1996) to the Tsunami evaluation published in 2006 (TEC, 2006). For well over a decade now the humanitarian sector has been exploring various dilemmas of aid, and doing so in a way that is arguably much more systematic and less anecdotal than Polman, and less partial and sensationalist than The Lancet editorial.

That is not to say that the anger and frustration expressed in The Lancet and by Polman is not understandable. However, the question that humanitarians should be asking themselves is not how to defend the sector against these critiques – although of course this may be necessary. The burning question is: why do these findings, many of them identified by aid agencies over a decade ago, still have traction?

This is what we explore in this Background Note, first by examining the stated reasons for the apparent lack of change put forward by those within the sector. We then move on to introduce analytical frameworks which we believe will help uncover some important underlying and often neglected issues. Following a preliminary application of these ideas to the sector, we reflect on the implications for its future and suggest how change might be brought about.


A Community based peace-building approach

Please check out this fascinating new collection of testimonies from the Afghan organization Cooperation for Peace and Unity:
Nomadic and Settled Communities, A Community based peace-building approach

This is the introduction to the study from CPAU project manager Khibar Rassul

We are pleased to present testimonies of nomadic and settled community members which CPAU has collected since November 2009. CPAU has been working with nomadic and settled communities in Nangarhar, Laghman and Wardak towards the promotion of a community based approach to conflict resolution and conflict transformation. This program has involved training workshops for members of these communities and the gathering of 30 personal testimonies from members of the two different communities. The testimonies have been gathered in-order to give voice to the people and bring out their perspective on this conflict which enable greater understanding of the
conflict and of potential common ground were progress can be made towards stability. All 30 testimonies can be found online in English, Dari and Pashto at

The testimonies give us an insight into the deadly and violent conflict which has occurred against both sides, building an understanding of these people’s experiences, perspectives and perhaps even the feeling they have towards each other. The testimonies have also shown us that there is potential for stability between these people. Their past experiences prior to the 1979 revolution tell of beneficial mutual trade and good relations between elders of both communities. These relationships enabled them to solve their disputes internally, limiting the level of violence and the magnitude of the conflict.

As one nomadic participant said; “previously when conflicts occurred between us and the Hazaras, for example if our cattle crossed over to their agricultural lands and inflicted damage, we would pay for their looses and the conflict would be solved; now they ask us to leave the area and never return”.

And as one settled participant said; “the conflict with the nomads in Behsud region goes back in time. During the revolution for 10 to 15 years the nomads could not come to the area. During the government of Taliban and Karzai, the nomads arrived to the area, the people of the area had no problems with them. In fact, we spent 100,000 USD on building karezes and canals and allowed the nomads and their livestock to use these. If any problems occurred between the people of the region and the nomads our elders and leaders would discuss it and the problem would be solved. The fighting began with the 1387 (2008) nomad attack on upper Kujaab Valley”.

In November CPAU will publish a conflict analysis report about the conflict between nomadic and settled communities in the Behsud region of Wardak which will draw upon the testimonies published today as well as additional primary research amongst the communities.

The project is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). CPAU does not endorse the views of any particular community in the project but seeks to provide a platform through which the communities can engage one another and explore ways of addressing their conflicts.

CPAU is an Afghan non-governmental organization and has been working in
conflict resolution and transformation in Afghanistan for the last 14 years.
More about CPAU’s approach to community conflict resolution and our ongoing
research programmes can be found at <> . Please feel free to
pass this email on to any contacts who may be interested.

Kind Regards,
Khibar Rassul
Project Manager and & PR Coordinator
Cooperation for Peace and Unity (CPAU)
Kabul, Afghanistan
+93 (0) 788092387


Afghanistan Tops “Food Risk Index”

The Press Association, 19 August 2010

EXCERPT: “Afghanistan is at greater risk of suffering disruption to its food supplies than any other country, new research has found. Poverty, poor infrastructure and the ongoing war between Nato forces and insurgents mean the central Asian nation is ranked top in the ‘food security risk index‘ compiled by global analysts Maplecroft. Afghanistan was judged to be at highest risk despite the billions of pounds of aid pumped into development projects since the 2001 US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban. Maplecroft said the food security situation there remained precarious because of the continuing violence, failing road and telecommunications networks and the country’s vulnerability to droughts and flooding. The index is based on 12 factors, including nutrition and health levels, cereal production and imports, GDP per head, natural disasters, conflict and the effectiveness of governments.”


Afghan refugees homeless again in Pakistan floods

Source: Agence France-Presse (AFP), Date: 20 Aug 2010

By Sajjad Tarakzai (AFP)

AZAKHEL PAYAN, Pakistan — Afghan refugees who fled their homeland when Soviet troops invaded 30 years ago are now homeless once again — this time due to the floods that have devastated Pakistan.

“Nothing is left. Everything is destroyed,” Muhib Ullah, 40, told AFP, sitting on the debris of his home at Azakhel refugee camp.

Originally a giant tent city for Afghan refugees, the camp morphed into a permanent village. Today the settlement lies in ruins close to the Grand Trunk road heading to the northwestern city of Peshawar.

The smashed remains of what were once brick and mud homes lie scattered across the muddy ground for several kilometres, as if the area had been carpet-bombed.

Ullah, a teacher in a madrassa, who migrated from Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet occupation, has moved his five boys and five girls into a nearby tent.

Wearing wet clothes and a traditional white Muslim cap, he bundled bedsheets, cushions, quilts and pillows to one side and tried to dry them out.

Broken beds, stools and other furniture were visible under the debris of Ullah’s house while a ceiling fan full of mud and dirt lay on one side.

Millions of Afghan refugees fled three decades of civil war and turmoil, crowding into camps in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran.

The Pakistani government says 20 million people have been affected by the country’s worst flooding in 80 years, which has struck an area the size of England, ravaging villages, farmland, infrastructure and businesses.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR said Azakhel accommodated around 6,000 Afghan families but the villagers who lost everything said the number was closer to 11,000.

“Ninety-nine percent of the camp has been completely destroyed by the floods. Clearing the rubble will take at least two months,” said UNHCR shelter coordinator Werner Schellenberg.

“I saw a handful of people trying to rescue their belongings but most of the Afghans have left to live with relatives or camp along the roadside, where a makeshift site has sprung up,” he said.

For Islam Gul, 30, who lost his medical store and his home, the future in Pakistan is so bleak that he’s contemplating a return to Afghanistan, convinced that his native city Jalalabad in the east can now afford more comfort.

“All the medicines are buried. I have nothing to feed my family with,” he told AFP outside the wreckage of his shop.

Children paddled barefoot in filthy water. An awful stench stung the back of the throat and made breathing difficult.

“It’s because of dead cattle. Hundreds have died here,” Gul said.

All around, parents and children were busy rescuing their belongings from the filthy water.

An eight-year-old boy clutched a toy in his left hand, having walked through muddy, contaminated water to retrieve it.

“Everybody is facing skin problems and allergies. We’re also facing gastro discomfort and other stomach problems,” said Gul.

The lack of electricity and miserable conditions in the nearby displacement camp means Gul is now considering taking his parents, five brothers, their wives and children, as well as his own offspring, back home.

“I’m living on that roof over there but plan to go to Jalalabad along with my family. There are so many mosquitoes here,” he said.

Exhausted and weighed down with bags on their shoulders and in their arms, schoolteacher Mohammad Ali, 45, and his 12-year-old daughter Salma walked out of the camp with bundles of household goods and a bag of clothes.

They were going back to their family, now relocated to the nearby small town of Akora Khattak, famous in Pakistan as the location of a pro-Taliban madrassa.

Ali’s house and the school where he taught were destroyed.

“For me the real problem is the destruction of the school. I’m worried about the future, both the future of our children and my own,” he said.


Kabul blames most corruption on Western allies


KABUL – Afghanistan said Monday blame for most of the corruption plaguing the impoverished country lies with its Western backers who dole out “illegitimate” contracts that have created an “economic mafia”.

Afghanistan, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, is under intense pressure from its foreign backers to end endemic graft.

Presidential spokesman Waheed Omer said Afghanistan’s foreign allies were responsible for the vast bulk of corruption in the country, which is mired in extreme poverty despite receiving tens of billions of dollars in Western aid over the past decade.

“Our international partners provided the ground for some people in Afghanistan to become unbelievably rich. Some people (have) become an economic mafia in Afghanistan,” he said.

Security deals between U.S. and NATO troops and private security companies operating in the troubled nation since 2001 were chief among the “corrupt contracts” that saw cash drain out of Afghanistan, Omer said.

“One of those is private security companies who have earned billions of dollars in contracts and are threatening sustainability of peace here in Afghanistan,” he said.

Karzai last week ordered the 52 private security firms operating in Afghanistan, local and foreign, to disband by the end of the year.

Despite concerns among the international community about finding an alternative source of security, Omer said the Kabul government was “determined” the decree would be carried out.

Private security firms in Afghanistan are employed by U.S. and NATO forces, the Pentagon, the UN mission, aid and non-governmental organisations, embassies and Western media.

They employ about 26,000 registered personnel, though experts say the real number could be as high as 40,000.

The tenor of the decree has been largely welcomed as the presence of tens of thousands of armed private guards is seen as potentially undermining government authority.

Afghans criticize them as overbearing and abusive, particularly on the country’s roads, and Karzai has complained they duplicate the work of the Afghan security forces and divert much-needed resources.

But there are concerns about the tight deadline, which allows little time to negotiate an alternative to private contractors in a country were security is a priority and police are generally not trusted.

Omer said the government would integrate employees of private security firms into Afghan state security forces and other government institutions.

He conceded that some government officials were involved in graft, but said that a much greater share of the corruption was caused by Western allies.

“From every 100 dollars that have come to Afghanistan, 80 dollars was spent by the international community, the remaining by Afghans,” he said.

“From that 80 dollars the international community have spent, there are Afghans who have turned into economic dragons. They’re not the ones who have (received) bribes working for the Afghan government,” he said.

Most of the graft within Karzai’s administration was in “service delivery” such as customs and the courts, although some Afghan politicians had used their positions to obtain military lucrative contracts, he said.

“Like the war on terror, we want corruption to be addressed at its roots. The roots of corruption are in the big contracts,” he added.

Omer defended the release of a presidential aide from jail reportedly at Karzai’s order after he was arrested late last month by a U.S.-backed anti-corruption taskforce.

Mohammad Zia Salehi, a senior official in Karzai’s national security council, was arrested on allegations of soliciting a bribe to close a probe into a money-transferring contract deal.

Omer said Salehi was being investigated by Afghan prosecutors but Karzai had opposed the nature of his detention, which he said contravened his human rights.

© Copyright (c) AFP

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