You Decide: Humanitarian Aid


What are the negative aspects of humanitarian aid?

One criticism of humanitarian aid is that the process of allocating aid is too political. Humanitarian aid plays a huge role in foreign policy. As explained in Douglas Belle's article, there are four main factors that affect a countries decision to give aid and if so, how much. The factors are whether the needy country is an ally of the donor country, whether the donor country is in a war and needs allies, the regime type of the potential recipient country, and the potential recipient country's level of development (Belle 457-458). Countries make decisions about allocating aid based on their foreign policy needs. All the while they are doing this, innocent people are suffering and dieing because they did not receive any aid. Critics of humanitarian aid argue that you can't have such a politicized policy when people's lives are at stake. As stated in the book Does Foreign Aid Really Work?, Unless there are agencies who are 'non-political', it is argued, the provision of relief items to those caught up in conflict and unable to survive without external assistance can never be assured. Greater good will result, it is submitted (more lives will be saved and more suffering alleviated), by upholding and acting on this principle, notwithstanding individual (exceptional) instances where such action has self-evidently led to perverse outcomes" (Riddell 328).

A second criticism of humanitarian aid is that it is not getting to the countries nor the people who need it most. As stated by noted NYU Professor William Easterly, "[A tragedy of the world's poor has been that] the West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get four dollar bed nets to poor families. The West spent $2.3 trillion and still had not managed to get three dollars to each new mother to prevent five million child deaths" (Shah). Basically, critics argue that the countries who need the money are not getting the money resulting in thousands of preventable deaths. Because the money is not being used properly, it is a waste of the taxpayer's money. As stated by former Presidential candidate Ron Paul, "Our annual foreign aid bill is one of the most egregious abuses of the taxpayer I can imagine." So, while the taxpayer's may think at least some of their money is going toward a noble cause, the truth is, it's not.

A final criticism of foreign aid is that those in charge of allocating the relief often disagree on how it should be allocated resulting in an inefficient use of the aid (Riddell 332). The definition of aid varies from one country to the next so when multiple countries are trying to figure out how to allocate the aid, a lot of time is spent arguing over how exactly it should be allocated.