International Humanitarian Aid Essay

Length: 12 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Drama - World Type: Essay Paper: #38177141 Related Topics: International Monetary Fund, First Aid, Hunger Games, Bill Gates

Excerpt from Essay :

International Humanitarian Aid: Aims vs. Outcome Humanitarian aid represents a commitment to support vulnerable host populations that have experienced a sudden emergency, requiring ongoing assistance to maintain or improve their quality of life.[1] Over the past 15 years the number of humanitarian agencies, private organizations, governments (taxpayers), corporations, individuals and other stakeholders have grown enormously.[2][3] This group of diverse donors have differing mandates, values, goals, strategies, actors and activities, but most function under one universal humanitarian principle: to protect the vulnerable by decreasing morbidity and mortality, alleviate suffering and enhance well-being, human dignity, and quality of life. However, many stakeholders believe that humanitarian aid has been unsuccessful in delivering on these promises through lack of coordination and duplication of services. This results in a failure to meet the needs of those meant to benefit. Indeed humanitarian aid with its diverse mandates, roles, people, time lines and funding, as well as the absence of clear definitions to describe specific identities (purpose, principles), presents a chaotic and confusing image to the public, host governments and recipients, as well as ongoing challenges for agencies and aid workers. Since appreciable donor finances total billions of dollars annually, these critiques present serious credibility and survival issues to agencies that depend on donor funding in order to save and improve the lives of the vulnerable. It is for this compelling reason that it is important to deconstruct the roles of and linkages between emergency, relief and development aid, identify problems that impact effectiveness and sustainability, and also acknowledge progress and successes both past and present.


Humanitarian aid can help increase violence in conflicts. If diverted, these resources can be used to buy arms and thereby aggravate the conflict. The beneficiaries of aid (be they the general civilian population or detainees) may become the target of armed groups trying to get their hands on relief supplies. Such victimization take different forms:

pressure on or harassment of the aid's beneficiaries to relinquish part of the aid they have received;

the forcible enlistment of young men, or even the displacement of entire population groups, by armed groups when food distribution prompts large groups to assemble;

large groups of civilians taken hostage so they can be used as "bait" for humanitarian aid, which is then misappropriated by armed groups;

direct attacks on the people receiving aid (looting, murder); attacks on humanitarian warehouses and convoys.

Humanitarian aid often serves as a substitute for action that should be taken by the warring parties themselves, helping those parties to shirk their responsibilities. Where the State has been weakened, humanitarian aid contributes directly to exacerbating the situation, in particular by setting up a parallel economy or a non-State health-care system, run by the aid organizations. This effect is all the more serious when it occurs in a State that is already in the process of collapsing, as it hastens that collapse and increases the risk of unrestrained violence.

But humanitarian aid can also help reduce violence. We have seen how it both relieves and prevents suffering -- by providing treatment for the wounded, food supplies, sanitation, etc. -- a nd thus helps alleviate the silent forms of violence that are part of armed conflict: hunger, thirst and disease. Aid also helps to reduce violations of international humanitarian law, which are very direct forms of violence. In all armed conflicts, the ICRC reminds the warring parties of their obligations, in particular where non-combatants are concerned. For example, "the ICRC calls on all the parties involved to abide by the rules of international humanitarian law, and in particular to make a clear distinction between civilians and combatants and to respect persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities." [10 ] An appeal such as this is the first stage in the ICRC's work, aimed at actually preventing violations of international humanitarian law (so-called primary prevention). Prevention work will be all the more effective if the ICRC is present...


This presence constitutes a mode of protection for the victims, and thus helps lessen violence in conflicts. The following excerpt from a weekly bulletin of ICRC-related news, serves as an illustration: "After territories previously controlled by Fikret Abdic were taken over by Bosnian troops from Bihac on 7 August last, more than 20,000 Muslims fled Velika Kladusa heading for Vojnic in Croatia. They are clustered along seven kilometres of road and are surviving thanks to an ICRC emergency operation. Despite the aid provided by ICRC delegates in terms of medical care, food and hygiene, these people are living in very precarious conditions. They have for example only fifty houses in which to seek shelter. For more than a fortnight the ICRC, which fears for the safety of these people, has had two delegates constantly present among them." [11 ]

But the mere presence of humanitarian personnel is not always enough to prevent violence. When they witness lawlessness, they must take all possible steps not just to help its victims but a lso to ensure that the violations do not recur. This may be done by reminding States of their obligations. The following excerpt from an ICRC Annual Report is an example.

"After the mass expulsions in the Bijeljina region, the ICRC President called a meeting of all Geneva-based diplomatic representatives of the international community at the ICRC headquarters on 7 September. In his formal address, he spoke out strongly against the brutal harassment, discrimination, hostage-taking, arbitrary detention, forcible displacement, forced labour and other, sometimes worse, forms of ill-treatment suffered by civilians in the conflict areas of the former Yugoslavia, and the Muslim population of Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. The President called on the parties to the conflict to put an end to these practices and reminded all the States party to the Geneva Conventions of their collective obligation to ensure that the provisions of international humanitarian law were respected in all circumstances." [12 ]

History and Background of International Aid Agencies

The beginnings of organized international humanitarian aid can be traced to the late 19th century. One of the first such examples occurred in response to the Northern Chinese Famine of 1876 -- 1879, brought about by a drought that began in northern China in 1875 and lead to crop failures in the following years. As many as 10 million people may have died in the famine.[2] British missionary Timothy Richard first called international attention to the famine in Shandong in the summer of 1876 and appealed to the foreign community in Shanghai for money to help the victims. The Shandong Famine Relief Committee was soon established with the participation of diplomats, businessmen, and Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries.[3] To combat the famine, an international network was set up to solicit donations. These efforts brought in 204,000 silver taels, the equivalent of $7 -- 10 million in 2012 silver prices.[4]

A simultaneous campaign was launched in response to the Great Famine of 1876 -- 78 in India. Although the authorities have been criticized for their laissez-faire attitude during the famine, relief measures were introduced towards the end. A Famine Relief Fund was set up in the United Kingdom and had raised £426,000 within the first few months.

Early attempts were in private hands, and were limited in their financial and organizational capabilities. It was only in the 1980s, that global news coverage and celebrity endorsement were mobilized to galvanize large-scale government-led famine (and other forms of) relief in response to disasters around the world. The 1983 -- 85 famine in Ethiopia caused upwards of 1 million deaths and was documented by a BBC news crew, with Michael Buerk describing "a biblical famine in the 20th Century" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth." [5] Live Aid, a 1985 fund-raising effort headed by Bob Geldof induced millions of people in the West to donate money and to urge their governments to participate in the relief effort in Ethiopia. Some of the proceeds also went to the famine hit areas of Eritrea.[6

Over the past 100 years, foreign aid structures that began with European colonialism have become tied to shifting economic and political interests, as well as a growing humanitarian movement. Keri Phillips investigates the competing motives behind foreign aid, and how emerging global powers are changing the game. An ideological battle has been playing out for decades over whether foreign aid should be used to facilitate economic growth, or to provide programs that directly meet people's basic needs. As new global powers emerge as donors, a third 'horizontal' structure is now being discussed, based on mutual self-interest.

Rich countries started giving money to poorer countries in the 19th century, and by the 1920s and '30s countries like Germany, France and Britain were providing regular aid to their colonies in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Colonial powers used their money to build infrastructure -- ports, roads, railways -- and wealthy American industrialists were also involved in development aid through the Ford and Rockefeller…

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