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Aid organisations part of the problem, NGO report says

[Niger] Niger, Tahoua, A young malnourished child hangs in a scale harness after the mother came to an MSF admission center where the mother came seeking help for her starving child. [Date picture taken: 2005/08/08]
(Edward Parsons/IRIN)

Inappropriate aid policies are partly responsible for the Sahel region’s poverty according to a strongly-worded report issued jointly by 10 international NGOs to be released on Wednesday in London.

The report, which is called ‘Beyond Any Drought', is supported by a network of high-profile international NGOs including Oxfam, the British Red Cross, CARE International, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger, breaks with the usual positive image of the work of aid agencies to say donor-funded projects in the region are often based on “shallow analyses” that ignore common sense.

"[Aid projects in the Sahel] are almost always driven by externally imposed ideas for development” and the majority of aid organisations develop their programmes “on the basis of their own priorities and their own visions” the report says. When designing aid projects the views of locals are usually ignored because they are “unpredictable”. Once projects are set up, aid agencies often manage them in “narrow and inflexible ways” that are focused more on looking good to donors than measuring real improvements to people’s lives.

“This report is not just an appeal for more money, it is an appeal for more and better aid,” said Vanessa Rubin, Africa Hunger Adviser at CARE International, one of the ten NGOs that backed the study.

The report is the latest in a string of stinging critiques of established aid practices in the Sahel in the last two years that come from within the NGO sector, as well as from the World Bank and various UN agencies.

Funding disconnect

The report highlights a disconnect between the fact that donors and aid agencies recognise that the problems of the Sahel are long-term while most projects are only funded for one or two years. Even when projects are extended they are still “far too short to bring about the kind of changes that the projects envisage,” the report said. Donors require results after every year, even if that is not realistic.

''...There is a shocking antagonism between development and humanitarian workers in Niger ...''

More specifically, the report says that donor pressure means aid agencies focus too much on measuring the production of heavy, nutrient-scarce staples like millet and sorghum while ignoring basic economic issues such as whether people can afford to buy them. “Food security is too easily seen as a set of technical questions, but is in fact based on profoundly political issues... related to power and interest.”

For over 15 years UNICEF has stressed the importance of nutrition in children’s survival yet that too is often ignored in the design of aid projects, the report said.

The American government’s aid agency USAID is singled out for specific criticism. It undertakes what the report calls “risky” policies including the dumping of thousands of tonnes of American surplus food stocks on the continent. The report says that CARE, another of the NGOs behind the report, is going to stop accepting USAID food on “ideological and practical” grounds.

Shocking antagonism

The report also wades into the long-running policy debate over whether the Sahel region's extremely high malnutrition levels mean it should be treated as an emergency or just “under-developed”, a distinction that has important implications for donors as to what types of agencies and projects they are willing to fund.

Emergency agencies who rushed to Niger in 2005 after a flood of publicity about child malnutrition there have complained that they are now being used in the country as “fire-fighters for under-development” because emergency-level rates of child malnutrition, child deaths, and ill health, are the norm, not the exception.

Meanwhile, development-oriented agencies have argued that national development is the real emergency and accuse gung-ho emergency relief organisations of jeopardising their long-term relationships with governments in the regions.

The NGOs’ report says there is a "shocking" antagonism between development and humanitarian workers in Niger and that the divide is a barrier to successful development initiatives.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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