Wednesday, May 29, 2013

politicization of humanitarian aid

Introduction Humanitarian aid has been an important concept in the world for a long time. It has been defined as the material or logistic help aimed at humanitarian reasons, basically in response to humanitarian crisis. These crises can either be man-made disasters or natural disasters. Humanitarian aid was designed with the aim of alleviating human suffering, saving lives, and maintaining human dignity in times of crisis. While this was basically the aim of humanitarian aid, things have been changing in as far as this aid is concerned. Jansen (2012) holds the sentiment that humanitarian aid has come to be a victim of its “success.” This is what is suggested to be one of the reasons why it has become politicized . This paper discusses the issue of politicization humanitarian aid in terms of why, how and what are the reasons that made it has become politicized. The main principles of humanitarian aid are consent, neutrality, impartiality and the independence of aid. The primary objective in the development of humanitarian aid by non-governmental organizations was to be impartial in the areas facing humanitarian crises. The main aim of impartiality was to allow humanitarian aid to remain free from politics such that it would continue benefitting those in need . Being free from politics, humanitarian aid would effectively address the needs of those people and societies that were suffering. The main aim of humanitarian aid was a moral obligation to offer help where it may be required as well as to alleviate human suffering in the event of humanitarian crisis. This was the fundamental principle and basic motivation in the development of humanitarian aid. There were pronouncements and practices of those providing humanitarian aid that their actions present any military advantage. The providers of humanitarian aid would be driven by the needs of the people or societies . Since the time the humanitarian aid started to be provided by ICRC, it has been changing. While the initial organization had the aim of providing the humanitarian aid was only one, things have been changing such that it has become a huge market with diverse actors. Increasingly, the line between military intervention and humanitarian aid has become blurred, if not completely eliminated, as military forces, in the disguise of a strategy that is aimed at being more holistic, have started to include development and reconstruction into this general rubric . In the decades following the successful development of humanitarian aid, its principles started being misused by the politicians, the military as well as the private sector (non-governmental organizations). They started to use the humanitarian principles for their own selfish interests. The fundamental principle of the humanitarian aid, guaranteeing important identification of need-based autonomy and objective humanitarian assistance, has been eliminated by political objectives threatening this important course . One of the factors that have led to the politicizing of the humanitarian aid is its success since inception. This is what caught the attention of politicians. It became an attractive area for the political player to promulgate their political policies and expand their military objectives . The political community was invited into the humanitarian aid after its significant was revealed by the humanitarian community; Jansen (2012) argues that there is no one with political interests who would not be interested in such an attractive field. The need for funding has also been suggested by authors such as Atmar (2001) the other reason making humanitarian aid a political field. The humanitarian aid community invited political interests into the arena in exchange for finances. Humanitarian aid became highly politicized as it involved participation of authorities in countries affected by conflicts or depending on the financial support from other nations, particularly in the West. Humanitarian aid cannot work without financial support. It is this need for financial support that led to the engagement of political actors. The financial support can be influenced by the political considerations of the actor providing the support. Additionally, dealing with the humanitarian issues that were becoming more and more also led for the politicians to be welcome in the humanitarian aid arena . The complexity of addressing the humanitarian issues in various countries around the world is due to the increasing level of human rights abuses as well as the targeting of civilians, even the working in the humanitarian efforts. In conflict-torn regions, it is not possible for humanitarian aid workers to operate without the help of political actors. ‘When international assistance is given in the context of a violent conflict, it becomes a part of that context and thus also of the conflict’ (Anderson 1999, p. 1). This is because of the increase in militia groups and factions that target civilians, with humanitarian aid workers not being spared. These factions have always viewed the help of those who are suffering by the humanitarian aid workers as support for the enemy or taking sides in the conflict. This perspective opposes the “provide aid but take no sides” principle of the humanitarian aid community. Worse still, the politicization of humanitarian aid can lead to people representing the humanitarian aid community to become targets in an armed conflict. The militia groups have in the past attacked non-governmental organizations giving aid in the field with the aim of acquiring more services and good as well as to prevent the support from reaching the civilians in need. In some societies, foreigners become immediate targets and this it becomes hard to provide aid without military intervention . However, the requirement for help has blurred the line between the humanitarian aid ad military interventions, rendering the humanitarian aid to appear as though it is connected to the overall political response of the donating nations and other organizations to complicated crises. With time, the political actors took over the humanitarian aid activities leaving the relief organizations with less and less control over the environments in which they are supposed to operate because of the increasing military and peacekeeping interventions of the United Nations, regional non-governmental organizations and other major Western nations, especially in armed conflicts . The factors discussed led the humanitarian aid area to be viewed as a lucrative area changing the new humanitarian aid into a multiple-billion dollar market. The politicians and other players who are responsible for promoting and propagating the new humanitarian aid failed to effectively manage the success it was achieving. Rather than being active in the management of the success as well as committing to the humanitarian principles, the actors were enticed by the finances offered and answers that politics promised . Cornish and Glad (2008) argue that the welcoming of the political players into the humanitarian aid community has remained counterproductive as they have not been in a position to provide impartial assistance or answers to the problems causing human suffering. An important consequence of politicization of humanitarian aid has been unequal development due to a form of humanitarian aid which is utilized for political leverage and provided in a strategic manner so as to prevent enemy support. This means that this is a kind of aid which is anything but based on the needs of the society getting the aid. According to Cornish and Glad (2008): “Aid has become overtly politicized and used as a tool to stabilize fragile states in the name of anti-terrorism. Comprehensive approaches to stabilization, where political, military and development are complimentary instruments, have changed the nature of aid. Development and humanitarian assistance is no longer based on criteria of need and aid effectiveness, but is used as a strategy to appease communities and win ‘hearts and minds’” . This means that ‘aid’ when applied in a manner directly related to military intervention has come to be merely a strategic instrument, utilized in propping up weak nations or to curry favor when required. For example, in Afghanistan providing humanitarian aid to regions that are most politically unstable or of politically or military strategic is the norm, and not essentially to the people who are in most need of the humanitarian aid. One of the countries that have mentioned for this kind of humanitarian aid is Canada, which has been argued to spend an inexplicably high sum of its humanitarian aid budget in Kandahar, while there are other provinces in the country that have a greater need compared to Kandahar, but this is not taken into consideration . Shannon (2009) discusses foreign policy by the western governments as being based on the disguise of humanitarian assistance. Most of the efforts by these governments have been viewed as a foreign policy tool by the western government. There is evidence from past humanitarians assistants that the providing nations remain in the course as long as they are benefiting, probably to keep their foreign policy untainted. After all, any failure on their part does not go well with the internal as well as international politics. This is evident in the case of intervention in Somalia. The expectations of those providing humanitarian aid are at times overstated. For example, expecting that a failed state such as Somalia can become stable overnight was overstated. This at some point in the mission seemed like the objective of the United States in the efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Somalia. In case the United States was successful in the efforts, it would be a significant boost for its foreign policy. On the other hand, failure to achieve the desired results had effects on the countries future humanitarian aid decisions. While the mission seemed a success at the beginning, things started to change and it ended up as failure . Though the truth regarding the mission is a lot more complicated, there is evidence to suggest that that its failure had considerable effects on future humanitarian assistance by the united states. For example, it is a source of understanding of the reasons why the United States remained uninvolved during the Rwanda genocide as people were being killed and their human rights violated. It also explains why the United States remained uninvolved in Somalia regardless the fact that not much was achieved in the country in terms of restoring peace and stability in the failed state. This also reveals that the United States as well as other players providing humanitarian aid is involved as long as the move does not affect their political and economic interests. This was not the case in Somalia and caused lack of intervention in later crisis such as during the Rwandan genocide . According to Cornish and Glad (2008): “Aid has become overtly politicized and used as a tool to stabilize fragile states in the name of anti-terrorism. Comprehensive approaches to stabilization, where political, military and development are complimentary instruments, have changed the nature of aid. Development and humanitarian assistance is no longer based on criteria of need and aid effectiveness, but is used as a strategy to appease communities and win ‘hearts and minds’”. This means that ‘aid’ when applied in a manner directly related to military intervention has come to be merely a strategic instrument, utilized in propping up weak nations or to curry favor when required. For example, in Afghanistan providing humanitarian aid to regions that are most politically unstable or of politically or military strategic is the norm, and not essentially to the people who are in most need of the humanitarian aid. One of the countries that have mentioned for this kind of humanitarian aid is Canada, which has been argued to spend an inexplicably high sum of its humanitarian aid budget in Kandahar, while there are other provinces in the country that have a greater need compared to Kandahar, but this is not taken into consideration . This new kind of humanitarian aid is at times known as 3D: Defense, Diplomacy and Development. Most of the time, it is the last two, Diplomacy and Development that in service of the first, Defense. Cornish and Glad (2008) also suggests that following the September 11tyh attacks on the United States, security paradigm poverty and lack of development are currently viewed as two of the main original factors of terrorism. While this is could be correct, problems emerge people begin to view aid simply via the lens of the way it can be utilized in augmenting Western the security strategy and not as a valuable Endeavour for its own sake . Particularly striking in this aspect are the Provincial Reconstructions Teams (PRTs). The Provincial Reconstructions Teams are the construction and projects which are led by the western military. While their main mission is supposed to be development, they are most focused on security strategy. In a sense, the Provincial Reconstructions Teams are not merely an illustration of the line between development military actions and become blurred. Rather, they are an illustration of its effacement . In a 2009 briefing paper written by eleven NGOs operating in Afghanistan highlighted a number of limitations: “(1) Being military-led, PRTs are an inherently unsuitable means to promote development. (2) Given the particular cultural and social mores of Afghanistan, and mistrust of foreign forces, Western military-led institutions are unable to achieve a sufficient level of local engagement and ownership necessary for effective long-term development. (3) PRTs divert funds away from Afghan civilian development processes and institutions, whose weaknesses ultimately prolong the military presence: annual funding available to US PRT commanders exceeds the Afghan national budget for health and education. (4) As highly variable and intrinsically unsustainable institutions, PRTs are an impediment to the establishment of a coherent and consistent national development framework, and have resulted in major geographical disparities in the distribution of aid. (5) The PRTs’ hearts and minds approach to assistance, drawn from counter-insurgency doctrine, is not only at odds with accepted principles of development, but, given that it is so often ineffective and unsustainable, it is highly unlikely to achieve its intended security objectives” . The receiving governments have a role to play in the politicizing of humanitarian aid. Some governments, during crises times will want to be seen as doing their best to address the problem without international intervention, for instance, during the latest earthquake in southwestern China the government put a lot of efforts to prevent humanitarian aid from outside. While the authorities in the country were prepared to receive humanitarian aid, (and were as a matter of fact praised by governments from the West for their ‘exemplary’ response to the crisis), they did not allow entry of humanitarian aid workers suggesting that they had the manpower and experience to address the disaster. This is a clear evidence of the politicization of humanitarian aid by the receiving authorities and has also been evident in other countries such as Haiti . There is no denying that selfish politicians in the receiving countries are benefiting from the humanitarian aid at the expense of the suffering humans in their communities. Organizations offering humanitarian aid have always faced the challenge of their aid being co-opted for political purposes by the receiving authorities, regardless of their efforts to uphold the principle of neutrality. For example, during the political mayhem which affected Zimbabwe in the recent past, one of the interesting stories has been the seizing of twenty tons of food aimed to alleviate hunger among the suffering members of the community. This food was seized by the state security forces. The food was aimed for the deprived and was being delivered by three charities operating with USAID. Instead of being taken to the targeted populations, it was given at a rally to those supporting president Robert Mugabe . The mass media has had a great effect on the opinion of the public on humanitarian aid. Audiences are bombarded with information and opinions through the mass media. It is interesting to note that most of the people are not aware of the effect this has on their lives. Operating in the mass media provides an individual with a very powerful, and at times unrealized, power over the opinions of the public. The main theory that is applied in relation to humanitarian aid is the “CNN Effect.” The theory suggested by Piers Robinson, the Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester suggests that that persuasive television images, particularly those in humanitarian crisis, cause the policy makers in the united states to intervene in a crisis situation when such a crisis would otherwise not be in the interest of the United States. The theory suggests the great influence of the mass media . From the research, it is revealed that different governments and organizations came to the aid of those countries whose people are suffering due to various crises as a result of the media effect. Many examples can be provided of humanitarian aid provided to countries in the past. Some good examples are Haiti and Pakistan. However, it is important to note that the aid for the two countries is not comparable . Compared to Pakistan, Haiti received more media coverage thus explaining the level of humanitarian intervention in Haiti compared to Pakistan. This is regardless the fact that the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan might have greater devastating effects compared to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Pakistan was swamped by the worst floods in history of the country. The effects in terms of human suffering were immeasurable. More than 20 million individuals were rendered homeless or if not affected by the flood. About 1.7 million homes were damaged as well as 5.4 million acres of land destroyed. It is argued that the humanitarian crisis that was caused by the floods is far from complete . On the other hand, Haiti was affected by an earthquake. Compared to the more than 20 million individuals were rendered homeless by the floods in Pakistan, less than one million people were rendered homeless by the earthquake in Haiti. National governments and other humanitarian organizations from different parts of the world coordinated humanitarian aid to help the people who were affected by the disaster. Some of the countries like the United States sent relief, rescue personnel and humanitarian supplies to the areas that were affected, while others organized funds that were sent through humanitarian organizations that were working in the country. The governments that are reported to have sent help directly into the affected areas were the “United States, Israel, the Dominican Republic, Canada, Brazil, Italy and Cuba” . The largest contributor of relief and personnel was the United States. The international community is reported to have committed a lot of major assets like “field hospitals, naval vessels, a hospital ship, aircraft carriers, transport aircraft and emergency facilities” (Siddique & Weaver, 2010:3 42) immediately the extent of the disaster was realized. Appeal for help was made by the country’s ambassador to the US. The United States Red Cross also ran out of supplies and appealed for help. This is when countries especially in Europe organized help through humanitarian organizations. When the extent of the problem became evident, the UN secretary general reported that “There is no doubt that we are facing a major humanitarian emergency and that a major relief effort will be required” . The organization sent a response team that would help in coordinating the rescue operations. After the appeal for help and realization of the magnitude of the disaster, countries like Britain and Ireland organized fundraising to raise funds and help the people of Haiti through non-profit organizations. Ireland, which is a nation with a history of assisting people in Haiti to construct houses and has a considerable relationship with the country through charities Concern and GOAL, changed its charitable efforts towards helping the country . While the humanitarian help that came to the people of Haiti who were affected by the disaster cannot be said to be timely or effective, it cannot be compared to the delayed and minimal help in Pakistan. One of the most worrying elements of the present humanitarian mission in the country and others such as Pakistan and Afghanistan is the flawed role played by those political players who have infiltrated humanitarian aid. But the media made the case of Haiti somewhat requiring more priority compared to the coverage of the floods in Pakistan. The humanitarian aid, most of it from the United States, has saved many lives through provision of humanitarian aid. Compared to the two countries, both in need for humanitarian help, Haiti received more help assistance compared to Pakistan. The great coverage of the Haiti crisis caused more humanitarian response compared to Pakistan. More countries and organizations heeded to the call of humanitarian support in Haiti, as the media continued to cover the crisis. Media coverage on the Pakistan crisis, on the other hand, was not as much. For the Haiti case, more international media coverage was available, leading to help from most, if not all nations in the West. The media coverage of the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan was in a positive light as was the case in Haiti. This is also because of the politicization of humanitarian aid in the country. Millions of individuals in Pakistan still require humanitarian help because of the recurrent floods, as well as unrelenting insecurity and restrictions on humanitarian aid workers by the government. The factors are making hunger and poverty worse in the country. However, given the fact that the media reports these negative effects more than the need for humanitarian aid in the country, many countries and organizations would not be willing to take the risk . Conclusion Humanitarian aid is a topic of research, especially in the past few decades, given the effects politics has had on it. The engagement of political players due to financial and military support of slowly killing the humanitarian aid as it was originally known. The line between humanitarian aid and military intervention has been blurred due to the engagement of the political actors. As noted in the discussion, humanitarian aid is founded on the principle of autonomy. Thus, humanitarian aid will work best if it is allowed to operate autonomously and as neutral actors; that is, without political interference. The autonomy or independence is the main source of its legitimacy. It is thus important that governments and non-governmental organizations in the West acknowledge the important role played by the humanitarian aid community. Additionally, the line between humanitarian aid and other interventions such as military intervention should be accurately drawn to protect the needs of those societies targeted for the humanitarian aid. BIBLIOGRAPHY Anderson, Mary B. Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace – Or War, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers (1999), Atmar, Mohammed Haneef. "Politicisation of Humanitarian Aid and Its Consequences for Afghans." Disasters 25, no. 4 (December 2001): 321 Cornish Stephen & Glad, Marit. Civil-military relations: No Room for Humanitarianism in comprehensive approaches, Security Policy Library 5-2008 EMBARGO FOR MEDIA. 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