How Can We Prevent Humanitarian Aid from Worsening Contexts?

November 19, 2013 | Jasmine Walovitch

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Aid has impacts on the threats to peace and stability (Dividers) and on the supports to peace and stability (Connecters) in a society. We have learned that there are predictable Patterns of Impact that assistance has on the Dividers and Connectors. These patterns are identifiable through Resource Transfers and Implicit Ethical Messages.

1. The way aid is delivered can increase Dividers when:

  • Only those belonging to a particular area, religion or group receive assistance, jobs and other benefits while others in the same or nearby community with the same needs are left out.
  • There is not enough assistance to meet the needs of all who are affected or vulnerable.
  • Refugees or IDPs are assisted, but not those who stayed behind during the crisis.
  • Different agencies use different approaches, have different policies or compete with one another.
  • Goods meant for distribution are stolen or diverted.
  • Staff members use goods and support systems for their own purposes or pleasure.
  • Aid undermines or substitutes for existing and functioning local structures or support mechanisms.

2. The way aid is delivered can increase Connecters when:

  • Neighboring people and/or communities are also assisted.
  • Communities are involved in decision-making, implementation, and evaluation
  • Everyone has access to information.
  • Capacity is built as part of the process, especially in analyzing local conflicts.

When planning and reviewing a project, ask yourself questions such as:

When Considering Who to Assist:

  1. Do all people who are meant to benefit from or participate in the aid effort share an identity?
  2. Do those affected or participating in the effort share an identity with your staff?
  3. How are intended beneficiaries selected (political, technical, geographical, economic criteria)?
  4. Who is involve din selecting beneficiaries or participants in the effort? What biases may they bring to the decision making process?
  5. Do the selection criteria bias the assistance toward one group?
  6. Whom did we leave out and why?
  7. How will our selection choices be explained to beneficiaries and participants?

When Considering Partner Organizations:

  1. Does the organization come from an area with only one identity group?
  2. Is the staff of the organization biased?
  3. How do we select partners?
  4. Does the organization have military or political interests?
  5. Whom did we leave out and why?

When Considering Hiring Staff:

  1. Do all staff share an identity?
  2. Are all staff from the same area?
  3. How do we select staff?
  4. Are there technical criteria for hiring that favor one identity group?
  5. Are staff selected by authorities?
  6. Whom did we leave out and why?

When Considering What is Distributed:

  1. Are goods being stolen or diverted by non-beneficiaries?
  2. Are the goods of broad usefulness?
  3. Does the distribution make one group better off than others?
  4. Is there a surplus of goods meant for distribution?
  5. Are goods delivered in a timely way?
  6. Is the project or program substituting for an existing and functioning local structure?
  7. Who Benefits?
    1. Individuals
    2. Families
    3. Entire communities/groups

When Considering Authorities:

  1. Are authorities stealing or diverting goods meant for distribution?
  2. Do authorities say when and where projects take place?
  3. Are authorities using interactions with the organization to create legitimacy?
  4. Are authorities using interactions with the organization to create the appearance of serving people?

Adapted by Jasmine Walovitch, Communications Associate, CDA from CDA’s response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake: Lessons learned from Past Experience for International Agencies in Haiti in light of international response to the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

This is part two in a three part guidance note series on Effective Disaster Response from Haiti to Haiyan. This particular post includes key lessons from the Do No Harm Program.


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