BERLIN — Many arguments can be made against the increase of foreign aid. It’s too expensive. Why not donate domestically? We don’t even know what happens to it. All of these concerns, though legitimate, have equally legitimate answers.
Still one of the most enduring debates cites government corruption. Aid may be needed, but sending it through the hands of powerful, often greedy men and women is not ideal. Depending on the ruler, it can even be dangerous.
The countries that received the most U.S. aid in 2012 were as follows: Israel, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Egypt. These countries received aid packages worth more than one billion dollars. In total, the United States spends 50 billion dollars on foreign aid each year, a mere one percent of the budget.
Meanwhile, in corruption fighting, there exists an organization called Transparency International. Transparency is responsible for the annual ‘Corruption Perceptions Index,’ which rates perceived corruption on a scale of one to one hundred. Low scores are undesirable – Denmark, Finland and New Zealand are currently ‘least corrupt’ in the world, with scores of 90. The organization defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.’ Public and private sector activities are researched and analyzed, and the scores are given.
In 2013, Iraq had a public sector score of 16. It is ranked 7th most corrupt in the world. Afghanistan, scored 8, and is ranked 3rd alongside North Korea. Pakistan is 50th among the 177 nations investigated. Egypt is 63rd. Israel must be excluded from this pattern, having received the moderately high score.
So the temptation to say that aid dollars are wasted by corrupt governments is strong–but that’s a bit of a non sequitur.
NORTH PRAIRIE, Wisconsin — It’s true that foreign aid money is poured into foreign governments. And in cases where the government is corrupt, it is unlikely aid does much good. But this is no excuse for the public to turn its back on those in need. There are, at the very least, three ways aid can and should be made more effective.
1. Avoid Corrupt Governments
There are certainly times when this is difficult, especially during conflict. Nearly half of spending in Afghanistan, for example, has gone to the government-sponsored security forces.
When there is need, there is aid. Whether it be in business, in healthcare or in humanitarian assistance. NGOs operate in the poorest of countries, where they provide a multitude of services. Their purpose is, intrinsically, helping people. Distribution systems can be set up through these groups. They can and should be monitored.
2. Monitor. Monitor. Monitor.
When it was estimated that half of Somalian food aid was being sold to outside groups, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ordered an investigation of the World Food Program’s operations there. The Program itself has already recommended the total restructuring of the system, to shake free the corruption now ingrained in it. This was both a best-case and worst-case scenario; corruption has been harmful, perhaps immeasurably so. But awareness has led to change. And a change entailing the good health of hundreds of thousands is a change worth making.
Aid should depend on the situation. Food aid to refugee camps is a necessity. However, swamping a struggling agricultural district with package after package can severely cripple the economy. A sudden influx of international funding into local markets can wreak havoc on consumer prices, as well as a region’s ability to import and export goods. Donors must be cognizant of the effects of their aid. Rather than throwing money at a problem, they must work with aid recipients for sustainable solutions. Otherwise, they risk sewing seeds of instability.
As the word ‘partnering’ implies, there is work to be done on both sides of the aid. For any real growth to occur, there needs to be a determination to see development. Money that is going to governments needs to go to governments that want to see their people thrive, not governments that will absorb money and wait for the next round of funding.
Lastly, people should be made aware of the aid they should expect to receive. Encouraging people to anonymously report breaches in distribution would keep groups and governments honest.
There are problems inherent in sending aid across borders, but there are also solutions. Avoidance of corrupt governments, monitoring distributions systems and cooperating with aid recipients would minimize those problems, and minimizing the problems may leave less room for excuses.
– Olivia Kostreva
Sources: Transparency, The New York Times, The Huffington Post
Photo: 100 Reporters