The BBC ran and excellent article yesterday regarding the World Food Programme’s recent move toward ending dependency on food aid. The article asks important questions about how we can juggle our search for effective development without dependency, while at the same time protecting the most vulnerable populations.
As with most shock incidents, development aid has recently been injured by widespread drought and famine in the East and Horn of Africa regions. Like most development workers, I often ask myself,
How can we strike a balance between providing sustainable tools for long term development and at the same time provide immediate assistance to those in need?
Those of us in the West have a belief that it is our moral duty to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need. Whether this is driven from some spiritual, religious, or historical motivation, it remains a strong part of our political culture. Think about the recent advances to help move money – for example the “text donations” that started with the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. We are constantly finding new and innovative ways to provide aid to those in need.
But there are two distinct types of aid. As Westerners, we also tend to be short-sighted. When disaster strikes, we are always ready to open our checkbooks and to send volunteers to help, whether at the local blood bank or thousands of miles overseas. However, when it comes to development assistance, the kind that can help people build long-term insurance against the type of shocks that require immediate action, philanthropic motivations tend to be limited to monthly donations for child sponsorship and other personally rewarding devices. Few people really care about purchasing seed for farmers in northern Kenya or developing supply chains for vegetable sellers in rural Uganda. These sorts of donations are left to bilateral, government-to-government and government-to-NGO aid.
What happens when a humanitarian emergency strikes? What impact does this have on long-term efforts for development? And once again, how do we balance these two competing yet equally important interventions? Despite decades of simultaneous development and humanitarian assistance, development experts still grapple with these questions.