The basic problem with international aid is that nobody in the mix has real incentive to get it right.
Regardless of what aid agency or donor or UN propaganda might say, the Humanitarian Aid Industrial Complex as a whole is structured to deliver a product that is lukewarm. I’ve written before that the primary architecture of the Aid Industry is around leveraging and tracking the flow of massive quantities of resources. This, rather than ensuring solid outcomes that benefit the objects of aid: the “beneficiaries”, “The Poor”, survivors of disaster and conflict.
Donors – whether we’re talking about governmental donors like USAID or DFID, large charitable foundations like Ford or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or individuals – have hopelessly conflicted agendas when it comes to what they fund, where, and how. Agendas that run the gamut from foreign policy objectives to market share to “laying up treasure in Heaven.”
INGOs may do many good things, but they are basically not structured to deliver effective aid to the poor. They are structured achieve and maintain their own existence. And while it is easy to want to point at the large household charities as examples, it is no less true of the smaller ones.
Governments very often have multiple, sometimes conflicting priorities that distract from helping their own impoverished citizens.
For all of it’s insistence on “fact” and “Truth”, even mass media lacks incentive to promote truly appropriate, effective aid, rather than bad aid.
I am not blind to the fact of many, many highly committed, often exceptionally capable, and perhaps genuinely altruistic people in all of these categories who continue to dedicate their lives to alleviating human suffering, to addressing the plights of those far less fortunate. But we must not be naïve to the reality that Humanitarian Aid as we currently know it is set up to achieve – at best – modest gains on behalf of the world’s poor. Sometimes incentives run the other way, and those same actors actually benefit more by delivering less.
There is no one in the Aid equation right now who gains if and only if, and when and only when the poor also gain. Even more pointedly, besides the poor themselves, there is no one in the Aid equation who loses when the poor lose.
Until we resolve this basic problem, Aid successes will never get better than one-off, incremental, marginal, equivocal.