US Uses Aid to Promote Non-Humanitarian
by Colum Lynch, The Washington
www.truthout.org/, November 19,
The United States, the world's largest
international aid donor, is among the worst at promoting the independence,
impartiality and neutrality of humanitarian aid deliveries to
needy populations, according to a survey by a Madrid-based nonprofit
group that monitors donors' performance.
The Development Assistance Research Associates
(DARA) Humanitarian Response Index 2008 measures how effectively
the world's 23 largest donors deliver aid. The United States ranked
15th in overall effectiveness and only 13th in the level of generosity
measured by the size of its economy.
But it ranked near the bottom, 22nd, when
it came to adherence to principles and guidelines established
by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to
ensure that political considerations don't exclude worthy recipients
DARA's findings reflect what it called
the United States' use of humanitarian assistance to achieve military
or political goals in eight crisis zones the group studied, including
Afghanistan, Colombia and the Palestinian territories.
The "assessment challenges the view
of the United States, deeply embedded in the American psyche and
regularly reinforced in the rhetoric of public officials, as the
world's pre-eminent humanitarian actor, the paragon of global
compassion," Larry Minear, a retired professor at Tufts University,
wrote in the report.
Silvia Hidalgo, DARA's executive director
and co-founder, urged President-elect Barack Obama to improve
the U.S. approach. "American leadership in the field of humanitarian
relief would improve the perception that people around the world
have of the United States and would also inspire other donor countries
to do their best on behalf of the world's least fortunate,"
DARA's survey is based on interviews with
more than 350 humanitarian aid agencies in 11 crisis areas - Afghanistan,
Bangladesh, the Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo,Nicaragua,
the occupied Palestinian territories, Peru, Sri Lanka and Sudan.
Sweden, Norway and Denmark were the highest performers, while
France, Austria, Italy, Portugal, and Greece received the lowest
The findings echo concerns by humanitarian
aid workers that American strategy subordinates humanitarian considerations
to the need to achieve military objectives. During the past decade,
the Pentagon's share of the U.S. overseas development assistance
budget has grown from 3.5 percent to 18 percent, said George Rupp,
the president of the International Rescue Committee.
For instance, the United States and its
NATO partners channel much of their aid dollars in Afghanistan
through Provincial Reconstruction Teams(PRTs), military groups
that oversee military and civilian activities in the country's
conflict zones. The report said that placing NATO forces in charge
of some relief and development operations has "blurred"
the line between civilian and military activities, threatening
to expose humanitarian aid workers to attacks by Taliban militants.
The United States and other aid donors
say that it is essential to use humanitarian assistance to win
over the hearts and minds of the population. They have criticized
DARA's index, saying it relies too heavily on the perceptions
of aid workers in the field. A call to the U.S. mission at the
United Nations was not immediately returned.
Rupp said his organization has refused
to participate in the PRT program in Afghanistan because it "decreases
the security of our humanitarian workers on the ground."
Rupp said his organization delivered assistance in the Afghan
town of Gardez for more than 15 years without incident. But he
said locals began to "call into question our impartiality"
when they saw NATO military vehicles and soldiers distributing
aid and rebuilding schools in the area.
Rupp said his organization also has declined
U.S. funding in Colombia because it was channeled through an anti-narcotics
programs that would have made it difficult to "observe our
principle of impartiality. It puts you so clearly on one side
of the divide," he said.