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    by Robert C. Orr
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    by John Robb
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    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
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    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
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    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
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    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
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    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press
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Entries in Human Development Report (1)

Friday
Jul132012

Humanitarian Aid vs. Development

Humanitarian aid and development are two distinct but related fields.  They are connected because the places where international humanitarian assistance is required are often places where development is too.

 

Bottom line is that humanitarian aid is providing emergency, live-saving assistance, to people in need, and other activities meant to alleviate suffering.  There are three types of humanitarian emergencies aid workers respond to:  man-made disasters, natural disasters, and complex emergencies, which are a combination of both man-made and natural disasters (i.e. a conflict induced famine).  These emergencies can be rapid onset (an earthquake) or slow onset (a famine we know is going to happen because of a drought the previous growing season).  The difference is rapid onset occurs in minutes, hours or days following an event, whereas slow onset emergencies develop over a period of months and years, and can be planned for, though they usually aren't.  Some of these emergencies are highly publicized (such as Haiti or Bosnia) and receive lots of assistance while others are hidden or forgotten, such as the decades long war in the Congo which no one seems to care about (in part because journalists don’t go there since it’s difficult to get to and you can’t stay in a nice hotels or take a quick R&R to the U.S. or Europe).  As previously mentioned in another post, this media attention is important because one single New York Times article can equal 1,500 lives saved since the press influences the level of political action.

 

Development is simply improving the quality of life for populations, and doing so in a matter that is sustainable over the long-term.  There isn’t much that is lifesaving, though development does extend the amount of time people live by improving health, which is usually a function of decreased poverty levels and increases in education.  Traditionally, development interventions have been about stimulating economic growth, with increases in GDP per capita being correlated with higher education levels and life expectancy, which are assumed to be proxies for people being able to live long, creative and productive lives, which is the ultimate goal of development.  If you look at the UN’s Human Development Index, which ranks countries by their level of development, you’ll see that they focus on GNI per capita, (up until 2011 it was GDP per capita), life expectancy at birth, and the mean and expected amount of schooling a population receives (the previous indicator was a combination of adult literacy levels and school enrollment rates).

 

Nowadays a lot of emphasis has been given to the health and education sectors, with the belief among some practitioners being that improving these two areas leads to increased GDP per capita and an improved quality of life.  Others, such as myself, place more importance on having the right economic policies (a stable macroeconomy and a business enabling environment), internal security and the rule of law, and honest and effective governing institutions. 

 

Bridging the gap between humanitarian aid and development is an undefined field that can be described as “transition assistance.”  It’s essentially about helping to build the capacity of state institutions to respond to their own humanitarian emergencies without substantial international involvement.  This is because the actor with primary responsibility to responding to emergencies is the nation in which it occurs.  Yet often the systems of these governments are overwhelmed (and the less developed you are, the quicker that happens).  When these systems break or are stretched to their limit, then the international community has a responsibility to get involved in order to alleviate suffering.  The idea behind transition assistance is that if you can get states to handle the emergencies on their territories internally, then you can move on to other emergencies and help build the capacity of those states, thereby placing less stress on the aid system, and start working on long-term development issues, which is next to impossible if you’re focused on actions to save lives.