From Dependency on International Aid towards Local Sustainability and Global Economic Equality
In 2015, an astounding 28 billion dollars was contributed to humanitarian aid and another 131.3 billion was spent on development aid world wide (OECD). Despite these vast amounts 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 globalization 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 realization of the long-term goal of strengthening “underdeveloped” and “developing” states. In the end, both types however, are not sustainable and 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 localization and global economic equality. The Global Humanitarian Assistance report of 2016 details, 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 (Landis). While some propose developmental aid in response to issues of protracted poverty, this is a largely insufficient solution if assistance is not localized and global economic equality not considered the long-term goal.
An unfortunate example can be found in Lebanon at the very beginning of the Syrian Civil War. Nearly 80% of Syrian refugees relocated to urban centers 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 labor and prostitution. Barring refugees from accessing work permits can be attributed to the already rampant poverty and unemployment rates in host cities, which range from 10%-25% 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 organizations in countries of first asylum to assist both refugees and host communities. Given national, not international actors will remain in target countries after emergencies end, assisting national civil society actors will not only cut operation costs, but 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 will enable communities in each country to gradually integrate into the formal economy of the state 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 labor 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 be enforced also by international contingents 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.
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