Monday, March 28, 2011

Direct aid = Good aid?

Quite often when aid is given, whether it be humanitarian or otherwise, there is pang of regret that goes along with it. Usually it is something like:

"If only the governments weren't so corrupt..." or
"If only the NGO's weren't so self serving..." or more generally
"If only aid made it through to the people it is intended for."

These related problems are well documented by the likes of or and many others.

There are situations where the aid itself is perpetuating the problem, and the answer is to not give any aid directly, but rather to support efforts that end up relieving the problem indirectly.

To highlight this (and also to elicit some responses...) was really the purpose of my last post.

Sometimes trying to give directly, though attractive for its simplicity, is not the right course of action. Giving directly to an organization that treats the wounded, in say eastern DRC, does tug at the heart strings and sound like a good idea. However, if you read my last post, it may not be the most effective way to alleviate the problem. There are many approaches to healing the wounds of war.

Giving direct food aid to Ethiopians during famines, as we have seen in the past, is the true humanitarian's response. However, other avenues for aid may have been, and surely will be, more effective at creating a lasting change in the broken food allocation systems in Ethiopia. (Lets not get started on the weapons that food aid bought.) After all, there are many, many ingredients to development.

Perhaps solutions that involve supporting political negotiations, or the development of infrastructure, or children's initiatives might, in a round about way, help to alleviate the problem. These might also be crucially, free from creating the perverse incentives that maintain the problem. We do not want warlords supported by the international aid system; we do not want Ethiopians to waiting for food aid.

We all want aid to be more effective. Sometimes the answer is to give indirectly.