Rethinking aid donations
March 25, 2008 5:45 AM   Subscribe

40% of Afghan aid returns to donor countries. In today's guardian, it has been reported that 40% of the money promised/delivered to aid Afghan has been spent on "corporate profits and consultancy fees" and that "Much of the money earmarked for aid is diverted to political or military purposes."

It make one think about the realities and purposes of aids especially when one considers the conditionality the aids entail, such as world bank's conventionalities which includes liberalisation and privatization of public goods etc in addition to the amount of tax deduction companies and individuals get.

These problems have been addressed, such as UK charity organisation asking their government to withhold money from the world bank until it changes the conventionalities of funds, which unfortunately did not succeed. Last year UK's development secretary, Douglas Alexander handed £2bn-plus to the institutions no strings attached.
posted by insatiablehee (23 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Saddened, but not shocked. Not a bit.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:07 AM on March 25, 2008

Trans-national aid groups: giving the lie to humanitarian aid since 1945 (at least).
posted by valkyryn at 6:21 AM on March 25, 2008

So the World Bank is still pure evil? Good to know.
posted by chunking express at 6:33 AM on March 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by quonsar at 6:46 AM on March 25, 2008

"40% of the money promised/delivered to aid Afghan"

Did you mean Afghanis or Afghanistan?
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:56 AM on March 25, 2008

As much as we all like to be hatin' on religion here, out of all the big charity organisations, I would trust my coin with The Salvation Army the most. Grass roots, charity begins at home, and all that.

Recently, there was a mini scandal where the Australian Red Cross had to admit that a pittance of its Tsunami Relief Appeal had been forwarded on. Their PR crew put some nice spin on it, of course. And godammit, I still can't say no to the crooks when one of their innocent minions comes a door knocking! Doing some quick Googling for links and it seems the Canadian Red Cross are of similar dubious nature.

Huey Lewis and the News were the first peeps to set me straight and knock some reality into that naïve head of mine. So, yeah, not surprised in the least.

Mistaking pop culture for epoch-making events came to a head in 1985 with the international Live Aid concerts. Organized with the best of intentions by Bob Geldof, the idea was to finally rid Africa of starvation, malaria, AIDS and, for all I know, restless leg syndrome. Frank Zappa refused to participate, declaring it the biggest drug-laundering scheme in history. Huey Lewis and the News took a pass as well, believing the whole thing wasn't very well thought out to do any good.

I can't vouch for Zappa's opinion, but the "Hip to be Square" boys were proven correct when the food meant for starving children wound up in the hands of corrupt African leaders and their equally-corrupt military--when it wasn't just rotting on the docks, that is. If a bunch of muscleheads like Huey Lewis & the News smelled something rotten in Ethiopia, why didn't anybody else?

That was a ballsy stance at the time, make no mistake. ps: Care Australia is a front for the CIA.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:00 AM on March 25, 2008

I'm surprised that as much as 60% gets through, honestly.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:03 AM on March 25, 2008

Obviously this doesn't help with government aid, but if you're planning on giving to charity, a good resource for USians is the American Institute of Philanthropy's Top Rated Charities list, judged by the criteria of "putting 75% or more towards program cost while generally spending $25 or less to raise $100. These groups also receive an 'open book' credit from AIP for willingly sending the financial documents we request."

Obviously not the only factor to consider, which they say so themselves, but an important one.
posted by bettafish at 7:12 AM on March 25, 2008

I'm sure they manage to get it back into Republican hands.
posted by lathrop at 7:16 AM on March 25, 2008

or... we could always just check out these charities through GiveWell....
posted by HuronBob at 7:18 AM on March 25, 2008

Hrm. I've been cynical about aid organizations ever since I watched their staff in Laos spend the majority of their time tooling around from bar to bar in shiny SUV convoys. Spring break writ large, only with that lovely frisson of "Doing Good Work". some time spent getting billboard signs repainted to correct their misspelled name. Gotta make sure the right group gets credit for this nonexistent project, ya know.
posted by aramaic at 7:20 AM on March 25, 2008

posted by blue_beetle at 7:39 AM on March 25, 2008

I would recommend Paul Theroux's "Dark Star Safari" for his particular views on aid charities. He also takes a dim view of NGOs that seem to regard parachuting in foreign workers with new Landcruisers as their first priority.
posted by rongorongo at 7:41 AM on March 25, 2008

rongo -- you beat me to it. I just read Dark Star Safari (Theroux's trek from Cairo to Cape Town) and was also struck by his encounters with the field reps of various charities -- bastards wouldn't even give him a lift when he was temporarily stranded. He also gave kudos to a few individuals, usually religiously-motivated, who spent longer periods living in needy places and genuinely giving their skills and help.
posted by binturong at 8:28 AM on March 25, 2008

Let me guess. Manifest Destiny? Imperialism? Racism?
posted by Student of Man at 8:33 AM on March 25, 2008

Hum - difficult one to call, Student of Man, and maybe best if you go out there and have a look yourself. It's very difficult to know what to say about this - I tend to get defensive. I worked in Afghanistan for two and a half years in the aid industry, and left completely confounded. I went there with a brain and no experience as an unpaid intern, and came out with a great deal more experience, having worked pretty hard, and an advanced case of development existentialism. Many of the people working in the aid industry are very competent and very motivated, and I have met some of the best people I know out there; some are adventurers and chancers.

There are very good reasons why the aid architecture is the way it is. You have a choice: give to the Afghan government, and see it leak away into the pockets of people you may not want to be financing; or give it to the international development NGOs, who at least get an audit now and again; or you give it to local NGOs - if there are any (which there weren't in Afghanistan, unless you count the mujahideen parties).

One major problem is in the staffing choices using internationals - Afghanistan is really not an easy place to work. If you live out in the bases (as I did for a year), you're pretty much excluded from anything you know from the West. It's a hard society, and if you're a guy, you're excluded from female society. The Afghans are lovely, specially when they know you, but it takes a special sort of person to deal with the life long-term. Some folk are. I wasn't. Who wants to spend two years in some remote town in Afghanistan? Not so many people, and of them, how many of them will be mature folk with kids or a family? Very very few. So you're down to the younger generation - and they're less experienced, by definition. So aid is less effective, because the managers are out of context - and in Afghanistan you need at least two years in-country before you start making good decisions and start operating properly. Often, it's when people are effective that many find that they are reaching the end of their tether. So why not hire more Afghans? - sure, but then, there were not so many who had the capacity to manage budgets, use computers, speak English, etc, which is what most international donors/NGO required of them (although that's changed dramatically as Afghans pick stuff up pretty quick).

I've heard a lot of reporters get stuck into the aid workers and take pot-shots for living a Life of Excess in Kabul. And some do, to an extent - it may not be acceptable, but there are reasons for it. From my own experience, my house was hit by a rocket, which sent shrapnel through the window. I've been stuck in a house inside which the temperature was minus fifteen in mid-winter. I've had the shit kicked out of my car in a riot in Herat while I was in it(triggered by the Danish cartoons). The agro means you want a social life - the key is how you do it. You keep within the culture at work and in public, you work hard, but in the privacy of your own gated compound, you want to live a normal life...

And there we have it, the glorious seclusion thing, which runs alongside the white land-cruiser comments. The usual justification is that because if you're not in a car, you run security risks - a vague acquaintance was kidnapped and had a rough time of it. But it's not really the security, I don't think. I used to ride around Kabul on a pushbike, and for a long time it was OK, but it started to get tired when the police started pulling me over regularly to try to get a bribe out of me, including being threatened with a pistol on one rather upsetting occasion. Afghans started swearing at me in the street because I was a foreigner. It's just the agro and the stares, and after a while it gets tiring. In fact, toward the end of my stay (I left in September 2006) it did get security-wise nastier, which is why I left.

I'm still not sure if I was right to stay out - I worked hard, and I had some input into a couple of great projects. But maybe the choice should be: live as the AFghans live, with Afghans, or go home. There won't be many Western people out there who can do that, but maybe that's OK. My reading of the situation is that in such circumstances, without the international NGOs, you will be financing organisations and activities that are often unattractive politically, but maybe that's the way it goes.
posted by YouRebelScum at 8:59 AM on March 25, 2008 [12 favorites]

Interesting stuff, YouRebelScum!
posted by jmd82 at 9:28 AM on March 25, 2008

William Easterly argues that Education and Investment are fads?!?1 wtf you gotta be kidding me. He's just another blowhard who writes a book trying to be controversial. His book is titled The White Mans Burden. pfft, the white mans burden is cowardliness in owning up to genocide. If your going to let 2 million people die from Famine, fuel war for some precious rocks, colonize and exploit a whole continent for centuries you might as well acknowledge you are king. After all, whose going to stop you?

What I love the most is propping up of fresh faced representatives who have been plucked from the ranks of the oppressed. Have a conveniently handsome New Guinea man speak at a UN convention, Assign a wetback to run immigration, throw a coupla niggas in the white house and presto! everybody's conscience is appeased and the masses stop questioning. Meanwhile it's business as usual behind the scenes, While the tokenized rulers...err figureheads are stripped powerless.

Most Countries in that continent are still de-facto colonies of Europe and the West. You will hear of Africom soon. Strongarm tactics of the World Bank and IMF, NED, IRI, All crooks and liars, the lot of them! NGO's and the such prevent democracy and undermine government. But you don't have to feel guilty. T

hose who have decadence of the soul love company and they partner with traiterous and unpatriotic, selfish minorities whom believe in their own inferiority and thus adapt "you can't beat 'em, join 'em countenance. they accept the admonishment and riches while they help to crush their own. And the well meaning amongst the powers that be are often blocked and unceremoniously tag-teamed out the door.

The self-delusion and circular reasoning of most people disgusts me. But it reflects a crucial part of being on the other side of poverty. "Of course people are dying in that country it's a barren wasteland". yeah a country that produces 24% of Americas oil and fuels De Beers Monopoly of diamonds and tropical ecology.
posted by Student of Man at 9:37 AM on March 25, 2008

"Much of the money earmarked for aid is diverted to political or military purposes."

Hey, Warlords need aid too. You think those opium poppies just plant themselves?
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 9:52 AM on March 25, 2008


quonsar, I don't know what your idea of "economic stimulus initiatives" are, but I do not think neo-liberalist economic policies of liberalisation/privatisation of markets/public goods are the only method of stimulating economy, especially when one looks at the side effects of privatisation and liberalisation of the market - such as decrease in employment, working conditions/wages of workers, which may lead to worsen services or accidents, restricted accessibility of services for low income classes, increase of social division, decrease of social solidarity, equality etc.
I think especially for the countries where market systems are just developing. it may lead to develop a market where people are secured from the risks they may face in/outside the market and greater polarisation is made. it kills all chances of developing of a social democratic solidarity based reformed market systems, like the ones seen in Nordic countries.....
posted by insatiablehee at 10:44 AM on March 25, 2008

What I want to know is, what are all these donor countries doing with only 40% of an Afghan? That's not enough to keep you warm.
posted by mullingitover at 2:16 PM on March 25, 2008

remember the next time you hear that the usa has increased it's aid spending to some oil rich nation (nigeria is the latest to come to mind) that almost all of the aid the usa offers to anyone is military, not humanitarian, in nature.
posted by altman at 10:18 PM on March 25, 2008

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