Humanitarian aid has become a victim of its own “success” which is partly responsible for its politicization. Since the onset of its provision by one organization – ICRC – humanitarian aid has evolved into a market with hundreds of actors involved. Its “success” caught the attention of politicians as an interesting concept to co-opt for the promulgation of their policies and in support of their military goals. The humanitarian aid community showed the usefulness and invited politicians to join, in exchange for funding and for politicians to deal with the source of the humanitarian problems. Humanitarianism transformed into “new” humanitarianism and the related aid into a multiple-billion dollar market.
Those who promote, propagate and are active in this “new” humanitarian aid are guilty of not managing the success of humanitarian aid. Instead of managing the success and adhering to the humanitarian principles, the majority was seduced by funding provided and solutions promised by politics. Decades later, humanitarian principles are appropriated by politicians, the military and private sector and utilized for their own objectives. The strength of the humanitarian cannon – ensuring the vital recognition of need-based, independent and impartial humanitarian aid – has been diluted with political objectives endangering the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. At the same time, politics has neither delivered sufficient independent funding nor solutions to the underlying problems that are the cause of human suffering.
The majority of “new” humanitarian aid is now a tool of western governments’ foreign policy or the objectives of the governments receiving the aid, significantly undermining the provision of humanitarian emergency aid. At the other end of the spectrum is “just” humanitarianism providing need-based, independent and impartial aid in solidarity with those in need, with the primary objective to save their lives and relieve their suffering. As “just” humanitarianism has been almost silent in the past years it has been confused with “new” humanitarianism and suffered the consequences of politicization of aid. Instead of strong advocacy against politicization of aid, “just” humanitarianism chose to hold the damaging position to become apolitical and almost stringent in its adherence to the humanitarian principles.
Almost against all odds “just” humanitarian aid did continue to reach those in need. Nevertheless, this is not sufficient as “just” is increasingly confused with “new” humanitarian aid and this further undermines the provision of any humanitarian aid. Instead of being silent and apolitical, what is needed is a politically aware humanitarian aid with a strong voice. Humanitarian organizations need to master the appropriate amount of pragmatism towards humanitarian principles, while reclaiming their independence to regain the freedom to deliver aid according to need alone and in solidarity with those in need. Finally, they should take this regained freedom and utilize it to translate their witnessing into strong advocacy.
- In this part of the post “success” does not imply that humanitarian aid was immensely successful in addressing all the humanitarian needs in the world, but it refers to the successful growth expressed in the amount of organisations and the increase in financial resources consumed.
- See Mark Duffield, Global Governance and the New Wars, The merging of development and Security, Zed Books (2001), 3rd (2005). p 95, 98 and B.S. Chimni, Globalization, Humanitarianism and the Erosion of Refugee Protection, 13 Journal of Refugee Studies No. 3 (2000).
- “Just” humanitarianism is often defined as humanitarianism applied through providing unconditional assistance, universally to those in need, while upholding the principles of impartiality and neutrality by being independent. It is driven by the need of those in distress and not by politics. Its objective is to assist. It does not have to be apolitical, just not be used for political ends. For more references on the changes in humanitarianism where this definition is derived from, see; Joanna Macrae, Purity or Political Engagement?: Issues in food and health security interventions in complex political emergencies, The Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, (1998) and Fiona Fox, New Humanitarianism; Does it Provide does it provide a Moral Banner for the 21st Century?, 25 Disasters No.4, 275-289 (2001) and HPG report, The new humanitarianisms: a review of trends in global humanitarian action, edited by Joanna Macrae, HPG report 11, April 2002.