#03 development cooperation
Maren Zeidler

Whose Aid Is It Anyway?

A recent Oxfam study analysed development aid to fragile states. The authors discovered many deficiencies and call on donors to act.

Development aid has been evaluated extensively and often, more thoroughly in fact than any other policy field. The debate around effectiveness is particularly controversial and development policy is under ever increasing pressure to justify itself. There is, however, general consensus that effective development aid builds livelihoods for many people in poor countries and can do even more: it protects human rights, provides food and saves lives. But development aid and humanitarian aid are often misused to push the donors’ interests though. In trouble spots and politically unstable countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, donors undermine their responsibilities in favour of security policies designed to meet their own interests. Such behaviour has the strongest impact on those who are most affected by natural catastrophes and conflicts – the poor.

In February 2011, Oxfam presented a study in which the NGO described the security policy bias of development aid as a trend. “Whose Aid is it Anyway?” explores the negative consequences of this practice on aid and humanitarian aid in part using Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, Palestine and Somalia as examples.

By focusing on security policy and fragile states, the study’s authors approached the issue of effectiveness from a different standpoint. They determined that since 2002, one third of development funds for fragile countries have flowed into just three countries: Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. According to the study, many of the projects undertaken are not designed to meet local needs and are really just window-dressing. They are supposed to win the “hearts and minds” of the people, but are poorly planned and developed. In practice they often do the exact opposite and cause damage. They also put development aid workers on location in danger. At the very least, credibility suffers. If development funds are used to buy the military cooperation of governments in Somalia or Iraq or to get specific information, we are no longer dealing with the original idea of effectiveness. “In crisis areas, too much development aid flows into inefficient and unsustainable aid projects. Generally those countries in which foreign militaries are deployed are the ones that profit. This is intended to increase the sympathy of the population for soldiers from the donor countries,” says Mike Lewis, author of the study. “This is entirely the wrong motivation. Sensible development aid must be organised to meet needs and be aimed at reducing poverty sustainably. Aid subordinated to military goals in contrast endangers aid workers and their target groups,” according to Lewis. The problems described are not, of course, new, and the study does not claim that they are. The authors do describe an increasing tendency on the part of donor countries to incorporate their security policy interests into national development strategies. According to the study, this erodes the original goals of development aid, as has happened to date with the strategies and programmes of the USA, Canada and France.

The Oxfam study did not dismiss cooperation between foreign, defence and development ministries across the board. In contrary: such cooperation can be very fruitful. It can, however, also backfire when development projects and institutions are misused to push security policy goals through. Then there is a very real danger of creating mistrust, which in turn prevents the real goal in fragile states – ensuring lasting security – from being achieved.

The study argues that needs-based development cooperation in particular – and here needs refers to those of the population in the partner country and not of the donor government – leads to increased political stability.

The authors noted that some donors are taking this approach. Here they point to the importance of extensive needs analysis, which should always be undertaken ahead of time – such as the Global Needs Assessment from the European Commission. This is intended to prevent neglect of aid orphans and forgotten crises as the lion’s share of aid continues to flow into just three countries.

While the study took a very critical stance, it also made recommendations.

First of all, donors should ensure that reducing poverty is the primary principle behind all development projects and programmes in all recipient countries. The same applies to emergency aid: it must follow the primary objective of eliminating the humanitarian state of emergency.

The authors also called on donors to act in accordance with need. Some close collaboration with local administrations and a sustainable approach are essential here. At the same time, projects and programmes must be evaluated regularly to prevent human rights violations right from the outset, for example.

The study also views it as essential that troops involved in a military deployment follow civil and military agreements. Mixing civilian and military tasks should be avoided whenever possible. DC should never be used to achieve military objectives or fight terrorism.

Aid organisations also need to ensure that their activities do not provoke or exacerbate conflicts. The authors felt this ideal should be incorporated into the guidelines of every organisation. Additionally, they should refuse any kind of financing that is tied to specific security policy goals.

Click here to read the study: