Humanitarian Aid in Africa still pops up in the headlines pretty regularly as countries on the continent fall into chaos or emerge from it. Far from a clear-cut issue, support for African countries takes on many different forms depending on the challenges posed by the situations in different countries and regions. Governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often have differing approaches and philosophies regarding delivery of aid. However, no consensus has been reached about the viability or usefulness of such aid.
Some of the most famous incidents in which developed countries sought to provide humanitarian assistance to Africa involved drought and, as a result, famine. Such food insecurity sometimes leaves millions of people in danger of malnutrition, which makes populations more vulnerable to disease. Of course, starvation never follows far behind malnutrition. Unfortunately, it often takes horrific images in the media to spark action in the international community, making preventative actions rare.
One of the more controversial aspects of humanitarian aid in Africa is the practice of tying aid to structural adjustments in the government and the economy of the country involved. While this practice was more prevalent in the past, some institutions and organizations still require such changes as a condition for continuing aid. The idea is that governments and institutions create conditions that increase the probability of famine and lessen the likelihood of a timely response.
Generally speaking, most organizations consider emergency relief to internally displaced people or refugees less problematic as it addresses immediate suffering. Some in the developing world argue that it actually fosters a culture of dependency and damages the countries it purportedly seeks to help. By providing services and products to people for cheap or free, some argue, competitive businesses have no incentive to innovate and create a viable market. Others point out that resources often end up in the hands of rebel groups or corrupt officials and don’t impact the people who really need help.
While debate about this issue will definitely continue, so will humanitarian aid in Africa. With minds concentrated on the most effective ways of dispersing and managing aid, results on the ground should improve. As the discussion progresses, though, it is important to keep in mind that real human lives depend on the outcome.