Friday, December 13, 2013

Aiding who?

Imagine. You're an international humanitarian aid worker in a war zone and faithful to the principle of the Red Cross, as any good humanitarian should be. In other words, you're impartial neutral and independent. it's your responsibility to relive human suffering , irrespective of the people involved and the situation on the ground. You do what you can for the victims, but soldiers exploit your efforts. The demand money for every well you dig and levy sky-high taxes, thought up on the sport, on all the sacks of rice and tents and medicine you arrange to have flown in. They consume a slice of your aid supplies and sell another slice.  Among the items they buy with the proceeds are weapons, which they use to drive yet more people into your refugee camp or even to their death. What do you do?

In Somalia al-Shabab, considered a "terrorist" group by the US, sought to control aid agencies through a system of regulation, taxation and surveillance. Aid groups were forced to pay as much as $10,000 to 'register' their work. They would then have to disclose project details, their budgets and even staff members' names. They were sometimes forced to pay so-called additional 'taxes', and in many cases al-Shabab insisted on distributing aid, and kept much of it for themselves. Aid agencies have to make deals and accept unpalatable conditions from all sides just to function, and at times simply to survive. That means they sometimes end up paying the ransom that armed groups demand. But the alternative is to do nothing, and see many more people suffer and die.

“The al-Shabab group had set up a government, they had policies around there. They had a humanitarian coordinating office. They are acting as a local authority. And we negotiate with them.” explained Marc Dubois, executive director, Doctors without Borders

"These famines, particularly war-caused famines, are amazingly good opportunities for fundraising. If you [as an aid agency] can get your logo there and say we are helping out, your funds will just go through the roof ...I am just very suspicious about aid agencies who make huge claims for what they are doing without mentioning this dark side, the difficult side, where they know may be 20 to 30 percent or 40 percent or more perhaps is actually being siphoned off - may be spent on guns, will be spent on war - and they have to accept that. I think the only option is to be completely open about it." said Richard Dowden, director at the Royal African Society

Nor is it only the terrorist groups that take advantage of aid organisations.  In the weeks before the al-Qaeda leader was killed, the CIA told a Pakistani doctor to set up a fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad so they could try to gain access to Bin Laden's house. When news got out it cast doubt on the integrity of aid workers in general, 200 US aid groups wrote to the CIA blaming the ploy for a polio crisis in Pakistan. Since then at least one aid group, Save the Children, has had to pull out their staff because of concerns over their safety.

From AlJazeera

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