Whose Aid Is It Anyway?

Politicizing Aid in Conflicts and Crises

The effectiveness of international aid, both in meeting urgent needs and in tackling entrenched poverty, is being undermined in some of the world’s poorest places.

While effective aid has helped save lives, protect rights and build livelihoods, some donors’ military and security interests have skewed global aid spending; and amidst conflict, disasters and political instability have too often led to uncoordinated, unsustainable, expensive and even dangerous aid projects.

Skewed aid policies and practices threaten to undermine a decade of government donors’ international commitments to effective, needs-focussed international aid. This paper sets out how these commitments are being disregarded, and how this trend can be reversed.

Key recommendations

  • To meet their existing commitments to development aid effectiveness and principled humanitarian action, donors should ensure that all aid – in conflicts, stable countries and within countries themselves – has as its principal purpose the reduction of either poverty or humanitarian needs.
  • Donors should ensure that the development projects they fund or plan in conflicts and stable settings alike are responsive to the needs of communities, aligned where possible with the policies of local and national administrations, and sustainable after foreign development workers have left. Donors and aid agencies alike must ensure that aid does not contribute to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
  • All armed forces should adhere to existing, internationally agreed civil-military guidelines, setting out the effective and appropriate roles of military and civilian actors responding to humanitarian needs in conflicts and disasters. Their doctrines and rules of engagement should prohibit the allocation or restriction of humanitarian assistance for military or counter-terrorism objectives.
  • Aid organizations likewise need to ensure that their activities do not exacerbate or provide resources for conflict. They should implement standards and guidelines to ensure that humanitarian aid ‘does no harm’, and that development aid is sensitive to conflict. They should refuse any donor funding which is conditional on them cooperating with military forces or providing information to them, or which requires them to distribute aid or allocate development resources based on the political or military cooperation of recipients.