Books Worth Reading
  • Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    Winning the Peace: An American Strategy for Post-Conflict Reconstruction (CSIS Significant Issues, No. 26) (Csis Significant Issues Series)
    by Robert C. Orr
  • Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World
    by Ashraf Ghani, Clare Lockhart
  • The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Vintage)
    by Rupert Smith
  • Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
    by John Robb
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
    by Paul Collier
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
    by Francis Fukuyama
  • When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    When States Fail: Causes and Consequences
    Princeton University Press
  • Building States to Build Peace
    Building States to Build Peace
    Lynne Rienner Publishers
  • Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    Making States Work: State Failure And The Crisis Of Governance
    United Nations University Press

Entries in Humanitarian Aid (5)


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.  


The GOP Landslide and Aid to Africa

Todd Moss and Stephanie Majerowicz over at the the Center for Global Development predict that starting soon, as a result of the recent election, aid to Africa will likely drop by $900 million per year beginning in 2012.  They analyzed U.S. aid flows to Africa between 1961-2008 and found that aid decreases significantly when the Presidency and Congress are controlled by different parties.  

This result is driven by different parties in the White House and on the Hill–not because Republicans are structurally anti-aid.  Yes, the GOP has plenty of vocal foreign aid critics, but the record is pretty clear.  In fact, ODA flows to Africa are highest under all Republican control, followed by all Democratic control.  The combination for the next two years–Democratic White House and Republican/split Congress–is actually the lowest configuration.

I would be interested in learning why it is that aid decreases.  My guess is that when a Democrat is in the White House, the Republicans pretty much oppose any increase in spending, regardless of what it's for.  Not sure what the cause would be when the situations are reversed. 

As for the why aid is greater when the Republican's control Congress and the Presidency, I'm guessing that (in the past) it has to do with increased aid to non-aligned countries during the Cold War as we competed against the Soviets for influence in Africa.  More recently, however, there was a dramatic increase under Bush the Younger who quadrupled aid to Africa, mainly to fight HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.



1,500 Lives = One New York Times Article

From a 2005 study on “The Politics of Humanitarian Aid: U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, 1964-1995,” published in The Journal of Politics.  The study looks at how political the decision to grant assistance is, in addition to how politics influences “how much” aid is ultimately given.  But as we know, the media always has a vote.


“A striking finding, however, centers on the powerful impact of a disaster’s media salience, with one New York Times article being worth more disaster aid dollars than 1,500 fatalities.”


In other words, a humanitarian emergency which involves greater loss of life and significantly more human suffering may get the short end of the stick if it lacks advocates who can garner media coverage or journalists willing to go to the center of the storm.  I guess this is why the U.S. ignores the Congo. 


Reporters don’t really like traveling the middle of Africa where conditions suck and where you can get a mosquito bite, despite the fact that millions have died there in the bloodiest intrastate conflict this century and that alone should make it worthy of substantial coverage.  Journalists are much happier reporting on places like Palestine, where they can do a story in the morning and grab a falafel and hit the clubs in Tel Aviv at night, or as they did in the nineties, spending their time in Sarajevo, a short airplane ride to the rest of Europe.  So they go there instead. 


Chris Blattman’s African Poverty and Western Aid

For those who don’t know him, Chris Blattman is a Professor at Yale and a blogger who works on development issues (he’s also a consultant at the World Bank and UN Peace Fund).


He’s got advice for you on everything from getting a job in development and the consequences of child soldiering to the great debates surrounding the role of evaluations in international development.


I mention him because I’ve just discovered he’s teaching a course right now on “African Poverty and Western Aid” that is partially open to the general public.  He won’t be grading your papers and you won’t be sitting around with him and the other students discussing the subject matter, but you will learn a thing or two, especially if you’re like me and didn’t discover you wanted to work in post-conflict stabilization and international development until later in life.   


If you’re real hardcore you can probably set up some sort of study group with colleagues or interested friends.  That will offer the chance to further discuss the readings and you can even do the papers and then have each other read and evaluate them.   


There’s also available an already completed course on The Political Economy of Civil Wars and Terrorism that he taught last fall and which should be of greater interest to those studying post-conflict stabilization and COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan right now.


How to Get a Job Working in Development or Humanitarian Aid

If you lack the experience and qualifications necessary to get hired on by the federal government for a position in Iraq or Afghanistan (and you don’t want to be a contractor handling logistics or life support), you may want to consider working for an NGO doing development or aid work.  There are generally more of these jobs available, however, the applicant pool is a lot larger because you are not only competing with individuals who don’t want to work for the U.S. government, but also with all of those who can’t get a federal job because they lack U.S. citizenship or the ability to get a security clearance.


The best place to look is on Relief Web, where you can information on hundreds of openings, training opportunities, and reams of documents on best practices in conflict mitigation, humanitarian aid and development.  It’s free and you can query by location and job type.  (Check out the training courses and see if you can take any of them . . . a great way to build your skill set and increase your chances of being hired, not to mention the opportunity to do a little networking).  Another site to get some great information on breaking into the business is Aid, though they don’t list any job openings.


If you’re willing to pay a membership fee, you can also join DEVEX.  I don’t know if it’s worth joining as a paid “premium” member, but at the very least you can sign-up and create a free profile with your work experience, expertise and career objectives, which is searchable by recruiters and potential business contacts from development agencies, non-profits, and private sector companies in the development business.  DEVEX also claims a network of over 100,000 development & aid professionals and over 1,500 job openings, most of which aren’t accessible unless you have the paid membership.   I find DEVEX useful for the career advice it provides and the regular updates on what’s going on in the world of development and humanitarian aid via their free weekly Global Development Briefing newsletter.  


If you have little to no experience in development or aid work and don’t have any special skills that would help get your foot in the door, you may want to consider working as a volunteer or intern.  I’ve know quite a few people who started out working for free and after several months, once they had proven themselves, were hired on into paid positions.  One of my friends from college who had no experience in development or aid work ended up doing this and several years later became the Country Director for a large NGO operating in Iraq.   If you feel you need to be paid (and you’re a U.S. citizen), then join the Peace Corps.  You’ll get the experience you need and some new language skills, as well a paycheck. 


Finally, don’t forget to constantly network, network, and then network some more.  If you’re in the DC or New York area, (or London or Paris or just about any other major city), there’s going to be fundraisers, conferences, and speaking events at NGO headquarters, think tanks, and universities where you can meet like-minded people who will be able to steer you in the right direction and help give you a shot at the job you want.  Just remember that even after you get hired you need to keep networking.   Doing so will make it easier for you to move on if your job isn’t working out, or move up the ladder once you build up the necessary experience and skill sets.


Good luck.