Beyond aid dependency

Elissa Jobson

The scenes of emaciated men, women and children, displaced by war and drought in the Horn of Africa, streaming into the refugee camps of northern Kenya, are tragic and traumatic, and all too familiar. The 2011 crisis is the latest in a long list of famines to strike the region – Sudan 2008, Somalia 1991-2, and worst of all, Ethiopia in 1984-85, in which almost one million people lost their lives. 

Aid agencies began raising the alarm two years ago, long before malnutrition and hunger took their toll in Somalia. But the response to a UN appeal, launched in December last year, for $550 million for food aid was poor, with a 50 percent shortfall. So why, when it has been clear for some time that there would be food shortages, wasn’t it possible to avert a crisis in the region? And why is it that news of the drought only hit our TV screens and front pages when the body count began to rise? 

“No TV, no money. No dramatic pictures, no TV, ” is the explanation given by an ex-journalist currently working for a British NGO, in Glenda Cooper’s analysis of the relationship between the media and aid agencies. This may not come as too much of a surprise – how often have we heard the complaint of ‘famine fatigue’? But to discover that the US government’s response to disasters is also influenced by the extent of media coverage is a little shocking and disappointing. 

If finding the right moment and the right medium to launch an aid campaign are vital to its success, then what is the key to the effective distribution of that aid? According to Geoffrey Dennis, Chief Executive of CARE International UK, the essential ingredient is local knowledge. By employing fewer expatriates, understanding the political and social issues in the area, and listening to local communities, NGOs can ensure that their development programmes are targeted to the actual needs of those they are trying to help and not simply the wants perceived by well-meaning but ill-informed charity workers. 

This notwithstanding, organisations like CARE International, Save the Children, Caritas and Oxfam, as well as a raft of governmental and intergovernmental agencies, have been providing assistance to people in desperate need across the developing world for decades, without, it seems, the ability to bring an end to the grinding poverty they live in. Reporting from Karamoja in northeast Uganda, Humphrey Hawksley laments the fact that the region’s inhabitants are among the poorest in the world, despite having received support from the UN World Food Programme since 1963 and currently playing host to more than 40 aid agencies. 

Hawksley points to Taiwan and South Korea as models of successful development. Drawing on their example, he questions the validity of the mindset that pits aid against trade in the battle for development with only one victor able to set the true course for sustainable economic growth. Both are needed: aid agencies and multinational corporations should work together and learn from each other. 

Increasingly, it seems, this is happening. CARE International works with a wide range of corporate partners, as do many other NGOs and international development organisations. In an exclusive interview with Global, Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile and now Executive Director of the newly created UN Women, explains that her agency is not relying solely on UN member states to fund its programmes but is seeking fi nancial support from a variety of sources, including the private sector. UN Women, which is charged with holding the world to account for its treatment of women and girls, is also working directly with companies to create principles and standards that promote equality in the workplace. 

But eliminating discrimination against women and girls in employment, political representation, education and health – the key indicators on which the Millennium Development Goals for gender equality are measured – is still a distant dream. Less than 20 percent of seats in parliament worldwide are held by women, girls are more likely to drop out of school than boys as a result of poverty, armed conflict or disease, and more than 1,000 women die each day in pregnancy or childbirth. Depressing statistics. But until governments, aid agencies, international organisations, the private sector, and you and me find a way to ensure that the female half of the world’s population no longer disproportionately bears the burden of poverty and hunger, scenes like those in Dadaab, Kenya, will remain an all too familiar sight.

About the author:

Elissa Jobson is the Editor of Global: the international briefing


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November 21, 2011 4:53 pm

We need to stop giving away all this money, it hasn’t done any good. We definitely need to move away from this dependency, especially with all the world being in debt.

November 29, 2011 10:45 am

Why waste taxpayers hard earned cash on this, when we need to cut our deficit!!!!

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