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Controlling Humanitarian Aid Cowboys in Afghanistan

Asenior health advisor for the Swedish committee for Afghanistan has published a letter in the Lancet complaining about the number of agencies now 'scrapping' for involvement in Afghanistan. North Afghanistan is apparently awash with NGOs, a mixture of established NGOs who have been there for years scaling up their operations, ones that have worked there previously and complete newcomers. The surrounding countries contain more agencies waiting to move in.

The NGOs are apparently fighting for a slice of free land to work on to avoid duplication of aid. Therefore information is shared cautiously, so others do not move in first. Once established, NGOs have to ignore other actors nearby. Every organisation has to find a justification for being there to which a competent and professional neighbour is a threat. NGOs therefore play up their own importance and downplay that of competitors to qualify for private fund raising from home.

The result of such 'land grabbing' is that, despite attempts by other international bodies to co-ordinate aid, these attempts generally fail to direct the aid to where needs are highest. Controls need to be addressed and the author suggests the following:

  1. International health bodies need to be controlled by another international body that specialises in co-ordination and information sharing.
  2. Timely information and agendas need to be given to NGOs in advance of attending meetings.
  3. Binding procedures need to be formulated for new NGOs arriving to work in complex emergencies. Disregard for these procedures needs to be sanctioned, e.g. exclusion of funding through all major international donors.
  4. International controlling bodies must be empowered to exact common practice for NGOs working in their areas, such as agreement on salary scales for local staff. v) Priority for funding should be given to established quality NGOs in country to enable them to scale up their operations, instead of diversifying to stakeholders who still need to establish themselves.

Fritsche. G (2001): Controlling humanitarian aid cowboys in Afghanistan. The Lancet, vol 358, December 8th 2001

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Reference this page

Controlling Humanitarian Aid Cowboys in Afghanistan. Field Exchange 15, April 2002. p12. www.ennonline.net/fex/15/cowboys