The Success of Humanitarian Aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina


SARAJEVO — The failure and success of humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a controversial topic of conversation since NATO’s intervention in the country in the mid-1990s. First, “humanitarian aid” is a broad category. The word “humanitarian” can be defined as anything from “having concern for or helping to improve the welfare and happiness of people,” to “pertaining to the saving of human lives or the alleviation of suffering.”

By this definition, monetary aid, service, food aid and even military intervention (depending on the motivation and goals) could qualify as humanitarian. Through that lens, Bosnia has seen two major successes of humanitarianism: first, during its civil war from 1992 to 1995m, and second, right now as it faces an economic crisis.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Civil War

Bosnia and Herzegovina was famously embroiled in a civil war during the Clinton administration. Some people would not qualify the end of the war as a success of humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the actions of the international community were — and continue to be — controversial. For example, the genocide at Srebrenica occurred on the U.N.’s watch in one of their safe zones, and many have accused food aid of merely prolonging war and suffering through its indiscriminate aid towards the survival of both “victims” and “aggressors.”

That being said, military intervention (NATO-led and spurred by the US) did end the war, and brokered a peace agreement at Dayton. The Dayton Accords are still in effect today. Some might chafe against the constraints of the peace agreement, but the pact has nevertheless been successful in keeping the peace.

The Current Economic Crisis

Bosnia’s economic situation has suffered in the decades since the end of the war. The poverty rate in rural areas is 9 percent and almost 50 percent of the population is vulnerable to becoming poor.

These figures have provoked a humanitarian aid response from the United States that has been successful in offsetting the suffering causes by poverty and a lack of resources. In 2016, the United States gave almost $57 million to Bosnia in aid. Approximately $23 million of this was targeted toward fostering good governance, and $21 million was earmarked as “humanitarian.” Most of the aid came from USAID, and was implemented on the ground via the World Food Program. The economy may not be completely stable or thriving, but it is a success of humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina that a recently post-conflict country has kept its head above water through the economic downturns of the past two decades.

Setting a Precedent

The most lasting success of humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina is its legacy. The success of aid in Bosnia has set a precedent for what can be achieved with an international effort that’s been deemed insane by many. Muhamed Sacirbey, who was the foreign minister of Bosnia during the war and the Dayton peace talks, wrote an opinion piece in 2016 arguing that the same techniques that were successful in Bosnia could be successful in Syria.

He noted many similarities between the current conflict in Syria and the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, including: the extremist desire to wipe out diversity, the inaccessibility of major access roads, the lack of working utilities and the role snipers played in sowing fear and suffering.

Sacirbey argued that the first step in NATO’s intervention in Bosnia – instituting no-fly zones which significantly predated the peace negotiations – could have a major positive effect in Syria, given that the biggest (and most preventable) killings in Syria was indiscriminate airstrikes.

Giving Back

Bosnians have also used what they learned from their own conflict and its humanitarian response to positively shape their own humanitarian policies. For instance, the British Army 77th Brigade regularly travel to Bosnia to run disaster relief exercises. The troops are able to practice their disaster relief and humanitarian aid skills, as well as their languages and first responder skills.

Bosnia has also recently experienced an influx of refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria. The number of refugees and migrants entering Bosnia increased by 300 percent in the latter two thirds of 2017. Despite their lack of resources to provide services to their own citizens, Bosnians have continued to take refugees and migrants in, and they have done so with much less resentment compared to other European countries.

Humanitarian aid in Bosnia may not have unequivocally stabilized the country or its economy, but the relief actions have imparted a desire for others to answer similar calls for aid when possible.

– Olivia Bradley
Photo: Flickr


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