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USAID rejects NGO concerns over aid militarization

NGOs are worried about the growing involvement of the military in civilian aid activities

Aid agencies have increasingly been expressing concern about the “militarization” of aid to Afghanistan by big donors such as the USA, but the US Agency for International Development (USAID) says counterinsurgency helps aid workers to operate in insecure areas.


Humanitarian organizations such as CARE International and Oxfam International argue that too much aid has been diverted to counterinsurgency activities and to areas where donors have troops.


“If we are forced to be involved in counterinsurgency activities and work with [NATO-led] Provincial Reconstruction Teams and military entities, our acceptance in the communities will be demolished,” said Lex Kassenberg, country director for CARE International.


“This is a risk we cannot take and as a result, we have turned down funding opportunities which require working with the military and involvement in counterinsurgency,” he said.


NGOs have particularly accused the USA and Canada of diverting more and more aid through military channels and primarily for military and political purposes.


“The militarization of aid in Afghanistan is a reality but not across all donors,” Lynn Yoshikawa, a humanitarian policy and advocacy specialist with Oxfam International, told IRIN.


Dozens of aid workers have been killed, kidnapped and wounded over the past few years and independent access to large swathes of the country has been lost.


While condemning those that attack aid workers and impede humanitarian activities, some NGOs say the blurring of civil-military lines and the politicization and militarization of aid have seriously damaged their distinct identity.


“The military are part of the conflict so they are unable to provide aid without jeopardizing the safety and security of civilians,” said Hashim Mayar, deputy director of ACBAR, a consortium of over 100 Afghan and international NGOs.


“Gross mischaracterization”


With over US$38.6 billion of civilian and military aid having been dispensed since 2001, according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office, the USA has been the biggest donor to Afghanistan.


A big portion of US funding has gone to the build-up of Afghan security forces, but over $7 billion has been spent by USAID on civilian development and humanitarian activities.


Aid workers say humanitarian assistance must be apolitical and should not serve military and counterinsurgency purposes

Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Aid workers say humanitarian assistance must be apolitical and should not serve military and counterinsurgency purposes
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
USAID rejects NGO concerns over aid militarization
Aid workers say humanitarian assistance must be apolitical and should not serve military and counterinsurgency purposes

Photo: Akmal Dawi/IRIN
Aid workers say humanitarian assistance must be apolitical and should not serve military and counterinsurgency purposes

“‘Militarization of aid’ is a gross mischaracterization of what actually happens on the ground,” William Frej, head of the USAID mission in Afghanistan, told IRIN.


According to Frej, the main objective of counterinsurgency is to rid an area of the insurgents and pave the way for the distribution of aid by civilian and military actors.


“Without COIN [counterinsurgency] and without the military’s support, many of the humanitarian agencies - such as Oxfam - that raise such complaints [about militarization of aid] would not be able to enter the areas once controlled by insurgents,” he said.


However, NGOs do not think the military and counterinsurgency are helping them.


“We have worked here for a long time and the military presence has not positively impacted our work,” said Oxfam’s Yoshikawa.


The 2009 USAID budget is estimated at $2.1 billion and a “significant portion” of that aid goes through civilian agencies, according to Frej.


Needs based


Wael Haj-Ibrahim, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Afghanistan, thinks aid can be divided into various categories such as aid to the security sector, governance, economic recovery, development and humanitarian assistance.


He said while political considerations play a role in determining priorities, such aid must be apolitical and entirely based on needs.


“By definition, for aid to be humanitarian it must be needs based - addressing community and population needs - and must be provided without expecting anything in return whether it is information, political support, etc,” Haj-Ibrahim told IRIN.


“Should the humanitarian assistance be in effect, or perceived to be, serving purposes other than the wellbeing of the population, then the natural reaction of the opposition is to counter that strategy by targeting the assistance, the aid providers and the beneficiaries,” warned Haj-Ibrahim.


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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