The effectiveness of international aid, both in meeting urgent needs and in tackling entrenched poverty, is being undermined in
some of the world’s poorest places. While effective aid has helped save lives, protect rights and build livelihoods, some donors’
military and security interests have skewed global aid spending; and amidst conflict, disasters and political instability have too
often led to uncoordinated, unsustainable, expensive and even dangerous aid projects. Skewed aid policies and practices
threaten to undermine a decade of government donors’ international commitments to effective, needs-focussed
international aid. This paper sets out how these commitments are being disregarded, and how this trend can be reversed.
Effective aid helps save lives, protect rights and build livelihoods. Yet in conflicts and politically unstable settings from Afghanistan to Yemen, lifesaving humanitarian assistance and longer-term efforts to reduce poverty are being damaged where aid is used primarily to pursue donors’ own narrow political and security objectives. This is not only undermining humanitarian principles and donors’ development commitments; it impacts on the lives of some of the most vulnerable people affected by conflicts and natural disasters.
These problems are not new, but the impact of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as more recent aid policy shifts, have increased the trend. Both in Europe and North America, aid policies and programmes skewed by donors’ foreign policy and national security interests are beginning to be formally embedded in international development strategies and humanitarian practices. Foreign policy biases have since 2001 been written formally into aid policies and funding decisions in the USA, Canada and France. Elsewhere, including in the UK, Australia and the European Union, such priorities are at risk of being formally embedded in new international development strategies.
Policy coordination across foreign, defence and development departments can help better address common obstacles to
development: for example, tackling climate change and capital flight; protecting civilians in conflict; preventing irresponsible arms transfers. But recruiting aid and aid institutions for donors’ own national security objectives risks undermining the effectiveness of aid in meeting humanitarian needs and maximizing poverty reduction. Not only does this damage impartial attempts to provide aid and tackle poverty, but it often fails to build long-term security for recipient communities, their
governments and donors themselves.