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From dependency on international aid to sustainability and global economic equality

May 19,2017 - Last updated at May 19,2017

In 2015, an astounding $28 billion was contributed to humanitarian aid and another $131.3 billion was spent on development aid worldwide, according to OECD sources.

Despite this vast amount of funding, aid has done very little to improve the situation of the most vulnerable in their home or host countries; nor has it slowed the movement of migrants and refugees, whose rights are often compromised in their host country, especially because globalisation has resulted in national concerns over security, political stability and identity politics.

The cause of this ineffectiveness of foreign assistance is largely to be found in the way the international community thinks about humanitarian and development aid.

Currently, the neoliberal point of view is that the two types of aid are entirely distinct: the first is intended as a rapid response mechanism to crises such as natural disasters, war or conflict; the second is seen as a hopeful realisation of the long-term goal of strengthening “underdeveloped” and “developing” states.

In the end, however, neither type is sustainable; they even create an often paternalistic relationship of dependence, which prevents the much-needed transition to self-reliance.

Thus, for foreign aid to be more effective, the international community must start considering the delivery of assistance as a matter primarily related to localisation and global economic equality.

The Global Humanitarian Assistance report of 2016 shows nations with high poverty rates face the highest risk of humanitarian crisis outbreaks.

Indeed, the 2011 uprisings in Syria were largely caused by a widening wealth gap and an increasing unemployment rate, according to Joshua Landis, American academic specialised in the Middle East and expert on Syria.

While some propose developmental aid in response to issues of protracted poverty, this is a largely insufficient solution if assistance is not localised and global economic equality is not considered the long-term goal.

An unfortunate example could be found in Lebanon, since the very beginning of the Syrian civil war.

Nearly 80 per cent of Syrian refugees relocated in urban centres and created their own camps and communities.

Although officially registered individuals are provided healthcare and housing, they are unable to access legal employment. This has left families to seek other means of generating income — even child labour and prostitution.

The fact that refugees are not granted work permits can be attributed to the already rampant poverty and unemployment rates in host cities, which range from 10 per cent to 25 per cent of the local population.

Consequently, Lebanese authorities consider granting work permits as opening the doors to economic, social and political conflict within the communities.

Although international NGOs have long been present in Lebanon, they alone will not be able to solve the many challenges arising from protracted poverty and increasing competition for scarce services and employment opportunities.

Thus, instead of reproducing dependency, the international community needs to support and divert more funding towards national organisations in countries of first asylum, to assist both refugees and host communities.

Given that national, not international, actors will remain in target countries after emergencies end, assisting national civil society actors will not only cut operation costs, it will also help sustain the impact of development aid.

Empowering national actors and involving them in planning the response is key to the creation of national sustainability plans and enables communities in each country to gradually integrate into the formal economy and create more opportunities for all.

On a global scale, international action and aid must begin to work towards actively creating pathways for the integration of nations with the greatest economic disparity into the global economy, under stipulations of living wages and humane labour conditions. Corporations and private companies have a pivotal role in putting such practices into place and could be offered tax reductions as incentives.

These mechanisms need to be enforced also by international entities such as the United Nations, the European Commission and the World Bank.

Economic equality, before humanitarian and development aid, will have the power to alleviate the multiple humanitarian crises we face today, as well as to improve the social and political insecurities caused by displacement and migration.



The writer is a political scientist, human rights professor, and an expert on international and comparative politics. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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