Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Crisis in Humanitarian Aid

There was a great duet of programmes on BBC 4 on Sunday - the first entitled, "The Trouble with Aid", was followed by a debate around the issues raised by the documentary. The debate was chaired by Ed Stourton of Radio 4's Today before he left it in 2009.
The double edged nature of crisis aid relief is an underlying sore in the work of the big aid agencies. The programme illustrated this well using a number of celebrated case histories. Aid can often be used by one side or another to bolster its own campaign, feed its fighters, and pay for its weapons. Malnutrition, carefully and intentionally nurtured can be used as a powerful tool to attract aid.
The Aid Agencies are faced with enormous difficulties. How much do they tell the public about the problem of getting the aid to the right people? If they tell the whole truth about the percentage of aid hitting the target, then giving will dip, and less good overall can be done. The counter argument goes like this: in some cases we need to do less good, perhaps withdraw altogether, as this will result in far less harm ultimately, and may save more lives in the long run. There was another thought which ran through the documentary and rippled the following debate a little too, which is that the Aid Agencies are now businesses which need to be self perpetuating. They have a big staff to support, ongoing costs to pay for, and so on. They need us to keep their coffers full, and not just for the purpose of supplying aid.
I was very impressed with Medecins sans Frontiers, both from the documentary's perspective and also in the debate which followed. They seem to stand head and shoulders above many, with a keen sense of the need to remain independent, and to act with integrity in each crisis.
Hopefully the insights won't stop those who give thoughtfully from giving, but there were some nice touches of realism from the Medicins sans Frontiers Director. He said that if we the donors thought we were trying to save the world and make it a better place, don't write the cheque. "All we are trying to do," he said, "is trying to stop someone from dying."

No comments: