Reuters AlertNet Analyzes Humanitarian Aid Debate

Reuters AlertNet analyzes a recent debate that addressed the complexities and challenges associated with humanitarian aid. The panel included two authors who have written about the topic. 

“Humanitarian principles and the reality of delivering aid in poor and often lawless environments create real dilemmas for relief workers, difficulties discussed in two recently published books, ‘War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times’ by journalist Linda Polman and ‘The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War’ by aid worker Conor Foley,” the news service writes.

The books highlight how aid groups, which are “expected to help anyone in need irrespective of which side of the conflict they are on,” can end up assisting murders. Reuters AlertNet provides examples from the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the more recent Somalia food aid situation. Foley’s book tackles some of the difficulties the arise from getting aid into conflict areas, which might require paying off local rebels. “For Polman, one of the main reasons relief agencies rarely make the hard but in her view right decision to withhold aid is the competition between them for media attention and for the funds it brings. ‘If they make a moral choice of not aiding someone, the competition will do it. So what’s the point of making a moral choice if it doesn’t change anything?’ she said.”

Debate panelists also discussed how the current system could be changed and suggested that it “should start with a more open discussion among aid agencies about the effects of aid diversion and corruption – both extremely sensitive subjects in an industry whose funding and jobs depend heavily on its reputation,” Reuters AlertNet reports (Dmitracova, 5/13).