The Dark Side of Development Aid | Aids | Humanitarian Aid

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An article examining the role of Aid and NGO's by C R Sridhar
  The Dark Side of Development Aid 'Public money is like holy water: everyone helps himself to it' - Italian proverb.The stereotyped image of a western aid worker is part of media folklore: a white woman dressedin pale blue frock, tired but pretty, measuring the circumference of black children's arms or distributing biscuits to listless children with distended bellies. She is also seen on the scene of appalling epidemics directing workers to dig pit latrines. This powerful image is reinforced by theelectronic media making the aid worker a potent symbol of the fundamental decency andrightness of international aid.The emotional appeal of mass suffering is strong and direct. The Pavlovian reflex is to reach for the chequebook and make contributions to voluntary charitable organizations such as Oxfam,World Vision, CARE Incorporated and Medecins Sans Frontieres. Voluntary agencies rake inhuge funds estimated to be in the region of $2.4 billion a year to finance humanitarian aid work inpoor countries.1 The media attention on the Ethiopian famine raised the contributions to $ 4billion in 1985. Total aid in 1987 was just over $50 billion. In the nineties it rose to $60 billion andtoday it is still growing.Hancock's book, The Lords of Poverty is a passionate denunciation of the freewheeling lifestyles,prestige and corruption of the multibillion-dollar aid business. He points out that the charitableimpulse is often exploited with appropriate media hype to make refugee crisis, earthquakes,floods and other catastrophes into money-spinners. The impulse, argues the author, is a double-edged sword as it on one hand raises huge money and on the other it stifles questions about theuse of the money.The author is at his polemical best when he demolishes the myths of aid agencies. For instance,the Hunger Project received donations totaling $6,981,005 in 1985. Out of which a sum of $210,775 was passed on as grants to organizations involved in relief work. But the rest astaggering sum of around $6,770,000 was spent on enrollment services, committee activities,and fund raising and phone bills.2 In 1984 The Hunger Project's British office raised Britishpounds 192,658 from the public of which a paltry sum of pounds 7,048 went to the third world.3In 1985, International Christian Aid (ICA), a large US voluntary organization, failed to send asingle cent to Ethiopia out of the $16 million raised for famine relief.4 A close analysis of ICA's1983 expenditure showed that just 41% of its income went towards its humanitarian objectives. Asimilar example is that of Dallas based relief organization, Priority One International, which spent18 cents out of every dollar it received for charity.5Disillusioned with his own experience as aid worker in Ethiopia during the famine in 1984-85,Hancock wryly observes that contrary to media reports that play up the relief workers as hardpressed saints, recipients of charity have expressed doubts about those who come to help. Asone African refugee cheekily asked, 'Why is it that every US dollar comes with twenty Americansattached to it?'6 The truth of the matter is that in many third world disasters, considerable amountof money is spent on the expertise provided by the Americans and Europeans. According to a detailed report on refugee relief in South-East Asia most of the Red Cross staff enjoyed the food imported from Europe while the refugees starved. In Thailand the Swiss went inair-conditioned cars and spend their weekends on the beach.6 At the height of the drought inSudan in 1985, the Hilton Hotel in Khartoum (room rent of $150) was full with aid workers toassess the tragedy.7'The folly, irrelevance- and sometimes dangerous idiocy of much that passes as humanitarianassistance' writes Hancock 'are not publicized by the agencies.'8 Hancock cites documented  proof of relief work in Somalia where refrigerators flown in from US proved useless as theyoperated on 110 volts while in Africa they had to operate on 220 volts. Laxatives and anti-indigestion remedies were other favorites among aid agencies that were required to provide relief to the hungry. A Public Health Official in Nicaragua exasperatedly said, 'whenever anybodydonates a medicine, there just seems to be an overdose of milk of magnesia. We said we coulduse it to whitewash the building.'9 Other useless items shipped to hot African countries wereelectric blankets and frostbite medicines from USA. Huge consignments of Go-slim soup andchocolate flavored drinks for diet conscious consumers were sent to starving Somalians.10Flimsy shoes were sent as emergency aid to Mozambique where woman have to walk severalmiles to fetch water.More controversially the author asks a question which is central to the economies of thedeveloping world, is aid helping the poor countries? Or is it creating dependency, which isexploited by the West? Hancock addresses the issue with a bluntness that is both honest andrefreshing. According to him if all financial flows from North (Rich nations) to South (Poor nations)and from South to North are totaled an interesting fact emerges: since the early 1980's as a resultof decline of new lending by private banks coupled with repayments of high interest rates on oldloans, the wealthy countries have been net recipients of funds from third world and not net donorsto it even when Overseas Development assistance is taken into account. The amounts paidtowards debt servicing by the poorer countries to rich countries between 1980 and 2001 came to$4,500 billion.11 Thus the notion that the Rich countries aid or help third world countries is highlysuspect on the basis of the negative transfers alone.'In these closing years of the twentieth century', concludes the author, 'the time has come for thelords of poverty to depart. Perhaps when the middlemen of the aid industry have been shut out itwill become possible for people to rediscover ways to help one another directly according to their needs and aspirations as they themselves define them.'12 Only then we shall repudiate the falseclaims of the lords of poverty and discover the true meaning of economic empowerment.----------1 Aid for Development: The Key Issues, World Bank, Washington, DC, 1986.2 National Charities Information Bureau, New York, 29 April 1986.3 Sunday Times, London, 7 December 19864 Daily Mail, London, 14 January 1985.5 Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock, page 6.6 Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock, page 7.6 Quality of Mercy, William Shawcross.7 Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock, page 8.8 Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock, page 12.9 Plain dealer, quoted in Lords of Poverty, page 13.10 Help Yourself: The Politics of Aid, Third World first Links Magazine no 20, Oxford, September 1984.11 Who owes who, global Issues, page 83.12 Lords of Poverty, Graham Hancock, page193.C R Sridhar 
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