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humanitarian aid

As reported by The Guardian a few days ago, Israeli security forces have arrested the Gaza director of World Vision (one of the world’s largest Christian charities) accusing him of diverting tens of millions of dollars to Hamas. The main Israeli concern is probably not the mismanagement, but that these funds were allegedly used to build a military base, dig military tunnels and pay salaries in Hamas’s military wing.

Reading the related articles (AlMonitor, Haaretz, +972Mag, others) and reports on similar cases (UNDP or here; Save the Children) the most surprising is the international surprise. The management of World Vision, other donors, diplomats and journalists  claim that they were not aware of the mismanagement of funds. Hamas officially denies the accusations condemning “the Israeli detention campaign against staff of international organizations working in the besieged Gaza Strip” (Ma’an). However, it is either a pure lie (since it is more or less known how things are usually going on under a sort of authoritarian rule, military occupation or simply tough economic conditions; big international donor charities have been quite visible in Gaza for the past decade) – or donors really did not know anything about these practices and their surprise is genuine. But then they have been simply blind/deaf, so to say, cheated…? Would it be so simple? Is it possible that international donors, being present and witnessing what has been going on in Gaza for years, really do not know the rules of the game? As proposed by a related journal article (by Neil Narang in International Studies Quarterly), ‘aid can inadvertently increase each combatant’s uncertainty about the other side’s relative strength, thereby prolonging civil war (…) so policymakers need to carefully consider whether the specific benefits provided by humanitarian aid outweigh the risk of prolonging civil conflicts.’

Our interviews conducted last summer (see previous post) did not touch upon this subject, my colleague did not heard about similar cases during the interviews (we did not ask about it). It is probably very difficult to investigate and prove these claims (by academic means). But to run an aid organization or a humanitarian charity without ‘compromises’ is equally very difficult under such circumstances, if not impossible. And while one can only guess how or why someone, an individual working at an aid organization “gets into trouble” this way, it is hard to believe that donors are not aware of such attempts.

Empirical data collected in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (last summer, so far unpublished) reveal that (at least) two “aid industries” exist in parallel. As expressed by one of our respondents (leader of an Islamic charity, Sept 21, 2015, Gaza Strip):

“We don’t get any support from European and American donors, these donors don’t deal with us, they are ashamed to deal with us. While they know the we are association providing services for wounded people, they think that the wounded people are military personnel; on the contrary, all the wounded people are civilians. They have been injured during the years of the Intifada and during the wars or the bombing of the Israeli army for many places and houses in Gaza. There are is a very sensitivity to the word ‘wounded’ or ‘injured’ or ‘prisoner’ by those donors (European and American), these donors are boycotting all the Palestinian associations dealing with these category of people wounded or prisoners.”

The one which is “ashamed” to deal with the other has also been accused of promoting neoliberal ideas at the expense of local, Palestinian national (nation-building) interests.

With reference to this complex world (of opinions and realities) two recent publications deserve attention:

Marie Juul Petersen (2015): For Humanity Or For The Umma?: Aid and Islam in Transnational Muslim NGOs. London: Hurst and Co

The book explores how Muslim NGOs conceptualise their provision of aid and the role Islam plays in this and offers insights into a new kind of NGO in the global field of aid provision. It also contributes more broadly to understanding ‘public Islam’ as something beyond political Islam. The book is based on empirical case studies of four of the biggest transnational Muslim NGOs, and draws on extensive research in Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Bangladesh.

Linda Tabar and Omar Jabary Salamanca, eds (2015): Critical Readings of Development under Colonialism. Towards a Political Economy for Liberation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Ramallah: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Birzeit University’s Center for Development Studies

The point of departure of this latter publication is to elaborate on “the critical development discourse in Palestine” that has “become part of the overall debate of development under colonial settings.”

 

Chatham House has published a new research paper (The ‘myth’ of a Palestinian economy by Sami Abdel-Shafi) on the EU’s donor policies (based on the Oslo Peace Process). The core objective of the paper was worded as “to persuade the European Union (EU) to shift its policy from supporting the current framework of Palestinian economic development, which in effect subordinates the economy to a political process that has become stalled and dysfunctional. It calls for the decoupling of economic development from the peace process, irrespective of the political roadblocks – or possible future progress – in the latter.” One of its recommendation (p25) concerns “a joint review by the EU and the PA of the extent to which aid has achieved its aims seems timely. Similarly timely would be an assessment of how effective it has been for the EU to divert funds from development aid to humanitarian aid and budgetary support to the Palestinians.”

Everyone being familiar with the history of aid to Palestine knows that there are serious problems with the way how the EU supports the Palestinian statebuilding. The EU – the international donor community – has been busy with “building” a Palestinian state, the territories of which is partially occupied by Israel and controlled by the Hamas. For some more or less obvious reasons the EU has been pouring money to the Palestinian territorries (adminstration, statebuilding, security cooperation with Israel, supporting refugees, and victims of the Gaza wars). From an academic perspective the exciting question is why policy-paper writers, activists, scholars, researchers constantly feel compelled to write papers on the EU’s incompetence and urge it to change its policies? The EU – let it mean anyone – knows well the situation, each and every fact created on the ground; the EU has closely monitored and documented the “developments” since the early 1990s. Various European bodies and authorities published exhaustive “self-reflective” reports and papers throughout the years (see for example the evaluations prepared by the European Court of Auditors), to mention only the most recent one prepared to the EC:

Evaluation of the European Union’s Cooperation with the occupied Palestinian territory and support to the Palestinian people 2008 – 2013, Vol I (main report) + Vol II (Annex). Evaluation carried out on behalf of the European Commission, May 2014

This paper sincerely and explicitly concedes that “notwithstanding ardent declaratory policies, massive financial support, dialogue and deployment of other instruments, EU Cooperation had little demonstrable impact on the main obstacles to achieving the Two-State solution. The Evaluation collected abundant evidence that the goals of the EU have been seriously hampered by “binding constraints,” the most significant being the Israeli restrictions in relation to occupation and allocation of resources for settlements, but also including Palestinian political divisions and an absence of democratic process. While these binding constraints have been highlighted in EU statements, the evaluation findings indicate that the EU has been neither willing nor able to address these constraints squarely, with an effective political response” (Vol I. page VIII).

The EU knows everything. The Palestinians – Israel alike – know that it knows everything.

There is an unbridgeable, but largely unappreciated gap between the neat rationality of development agencies’ representations which imagine the world as ordered and manageable and the actualities of situated social practice” – Mark Hobart, 1993, ‘Introduction: The Growth of Ignorance?’ in M. Hobart (ed.) An Anthropological Critique of Development: The Growth of Ignorance. London: Routledge, p.16.

Equally, there is a(n) (un)bridgeable gap between the ‘humanitarian’ and the ‘development’ (policies, practices, assistance, aid, agencies, etc). In many parts of the world they just can not be separated. In preparing for the World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, 2016), the organizers have held regional consultations, workshops and various other events (in the Middle East as well) to map the regional and global (humanitarian) needs, problems, views and priorities. Within this framework organizers of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) – in preparing for a consultation for the Middle East and North Africa – commissioned a research on local stakeholders’ and people’s views. Not only a summary of the regional consultation (Amman, March 2015, see Scoping Paper) is available, but an illustrative ‘whiteboard animation‘ can be accessed too.

As far as the interviews are concerned  they were conducted with a mix of men, women, youth and community leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen between November 2014 and February 2015. Majority of the focus group interviews were conducted face-to-face (bits of them were recorded and posted on youtube), but an online questionnaire was also applied. Quite a bit part of the published WHS/Mena report (Preparatory Stakeholder Analysis) is about how and what respondents think about aid agencies and the (non-)existing (?) differences between the humanitarian and political dimensions of problems in the region.

According to the report – as summarized by IRINNews – aid agencies are partial, unaccountable and potentially corrupt, and they fail to meet refugees’ most pressing needs; there is a systematic lack of consultation about people’s needs, a failure to protect the most vulnerable, confusion over which agency was responsible for what, duplicated aid, as well as instances where help was perceived to be withheld or prioritized due to political or religious affiliation.

To be con’t…

 

An OECD-chart reporting on 2014 ODA (as percentage of GNI, DAC and non-DAC donors alike) shows that the biggest donor is the United Arab Emirates (1,17%). Indeed, the Gulf states have become increasingly important (humanitarian) donors in recent years, providing hundreds of millions of dollars to emergencies across the globe. Interesting data – at least in light of the topic of its blog – esp. because most countries (Gulf countries included) tend to fail to deliver aid to the Palestinians.

A recent IRIN-article (referring to a World Bank report to be presented to the AHLC meeting in Brussels next week) says that Gulf Arab states and Turkey have spectacularly failed to fulfill their pledges to Gaza since last Summer (well, since September). Qatar has delivered just 10 percent of the $1 billion it promised, while Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait between them have handed over just over $50 million of the $900 million they pledged, according to a World Bank report seen by IRIN ahead of its release.

Donors pledged  $5.4 billion formally in Cairo (last September), although only $3.5 billion of it was actually allocated to Gaza. As of late April 2015, donors had given only 27.5 percent of the promised $3.5 billion, or $967 million.

More about it:

Annie Slemrod: Which countries are failing to deliver Gaza aid?// IRIN Middle East, May 22, 2015, http://www.irinnews.org/report/101530/which-countries-are-failing-to-deliver-gaza-aid

The Quartet-report (to be presented next week) is available here: May 2015 report to Ad-Hoc Liaison Committee, http://ht.ly/NbmZm

Both the original World Bank report (Economic monitoring report to the AHLC, May 27, 2015) and its executive summary is available online.

The UNSCO report is also available online as well the IMF-report.

 

 

 

The last post has been about the EU’s ‘perpetual’ position and argument on the necessity of keeping the peace process alive. People in the region are much less sure about the viability of this idea:

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

Arab Barometer, wave III (2012-2104), q708 on the future of the peace treaty/process vis-a-vis Israel (Jordan, Egypt, Palestine)

The public opinion is the most critical in Jordan and Palestine. It is interesting that such numbers (opinions) are not incorporated into foreign and aid policy decisions and aid continues to flow for sake of the ‘peace process’ – or keeping silence and stability – without interruption.

There are eight relevant questions asked by Nora Murad (posted by al-Shabaka):

1. Does aid to Palestinians help Israel evade its Fourth Geneva Convention obligations?

2. Do aid actors “give effect” to Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza when they accommodate procedures that hinder humanitarian or development assistance?

3. Is providing military aid to Israel, which it uses to violate Palestinian rights, a violation of Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention?

4. Does aid actors’ accommodation of discriminatory national anti-terrorism policies violate the humanitarian principle of impartiality?

5. Does aid to the Palestinian Authority entrench denial of Palestinian rights?

6. Do aid procurement policies that allow Israel to profit from its abuse of Palestinian rights actually incentivize further violations?

7. Does treating Israel as a “special case” erode the fundamental notions and universality of international humanitarian law?

8. Does international disregard for humanitarian principles send a message that Palestinians have no rights and Israel has no obligations?

 

One more question can be added in light of the public opinion: does aid promote something which is not desired by the majority? Or does it serves externally defined donor (Western) objectives, interests and values?

 

Sources: Nora L. Murad: ‘Donor complicity in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights‘ Al-Shabaka Policy Brief, October 2014; Arab Barometer Data is available at: http://www.arabbarometer.org/instruments-and-data-files

 

 

All knows that there is ‘good aid’ and ‘bad aid’, but it is very difficult to separate them, since aid is not purely a technical term. Humanitarian aid is said to be apolitical serving only principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence to mention only the most relevant ones), development aid is about belief (in economic growth and/or poverty reduction), and military aid is explicitly about common interests (making allies). Regardless to its objectives or the motives behind foreign aid, even humanitarian aid, is deeply embedded in politics. Humanitarian aid can be offered purely on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Resource scarcity – money being at the disposal of the donors – leads to certain selectivity even in terms of the disasters and catastrophes let them be natural or man-made. The scope and magnitude of the humanitarian activities surrounding, for example, the Syrian civil war (compared, for example to similar cases in Africa) says at least as much about donor preferences in terms of being good, as about the negligence of the Syrian government or about the preparedness of the neighboring countries to manage such crises. Foreign (mainly, but not exclusively Western) commitment, competencies and professionalism is needed in order to prevent larger catastrophes (measured by higher rate of mortality, lower rate of school enrollment ratio or that of vaccination, etc).

As the Syrian case will probably show in the future, ‘conflict resolution and post-war reconstruction concerns (…) could be seen as ‘the riot control’ end of a spectrum encompassing a broad range of ‘global poor relief’ (Duffield 2001: 9). The reasons – let them be economic or political, strategic or moral, developmental or humanitarian – for participation in form of foreign aid are secondary to the fact, that foreign assistance brings the ‘establishment’ of global governance closer to the recipient societies. This ‘closeness’ leads to further tensions among local stakeholders – as well as to further opportunities to intervene – by delegitimizing indigenous leadership and by alienating leaders from their own people, even in Syria. This argument, applied in the Palestinian case too (Paragi 2012b), can be formulated this way too: ‘the [donor] policy is most effective when objectives are more or less similar on both sides – (…) – where foreign aid support reforms which the [recipient] government itself wants to carry out’ (Stokke 1995: 79). If the recipient government does not really care about its own people (regardless to the question of democratic representation) further tensions will emerge in terms of implementing donor policies. Mark Duffield formulated it in the following way: ‘the condemnation of all violent conflict by liberal peace means that the leaders of violent conflicts are automatically problematized’ regardless to their motives and acts (Duffield 2001: 128–129). It is strange enough, but people usually tend to favour their own problematic (or problematized) leaders over foreign helpers. It is the ‘foreign’ adjective which would deserve more attention – not the effects, effectiveness or efficiency of any foreign help.