Giving Aid During a War

One of the biggest problems in humanitarian aid is making sure a donor’s money reaches the intended person. For example, there are a handful of charities where less than ten percent of donations actually go towards what they’re advertising for. The other ninety percent would end up funding workers and various extraneous groups. Instances like this are usually at the fault of the charity organization; many times though it is unavoidable. One major dilemma that plagues humanitarian aid is the use of these aid groups to help facilitate an ongoing war.

In her chapter entitled Aid as a weapon of war from “War Games,” Linda Polman discusses that many groups will go into countries with the best intentions of providing development assistance. Once entering warzones within the country, large portions of the money will actually go towards funding these groups that perpetuate the war within the country. At the beginning of the chapter, Polman discusses various negotiations with the INGOs in Liberia:

“Warlords try to siphon off as large a proportion of the value of aid supplies as they can. During the negotiations with the INGOs in Liberia, the then president, Charles Taylor, demanded 15 percent of the value of aid, to be paid to him in cash. The Liberian war victims weren’t the only ones who had to eat, after all” (89).

Furthermore, the groups who receive them then sell much of the donated goods for profit. These  groups will make pacts and contracts with higher-ups in society to unevenly distribute what they’ve received at a more widespread level. “Humanitarian territories” are areas in war zones where people agree on certain terms with the local higher-ups. Doing this is referred to as “shaking hands with the devil” (Polman 90). Locals taking humanitarian aid packages and selling them at their own benefit only widens the gaps between the rich and the poor, and completely restricts the people who can’t afford it from getting any at all.

Another problem that aid organizations face is the myriad of fees they find themselves paying when they enter certain regions, fees that go directly to the warlords and military regimes; “[they] deluge INGOs with taxes, often invented on the spot: import duties on aid supplies, fees for visas and work permits, harbour and airport taxes […] The proceeds go straight into their war chests” (Polman 91). There’s also the issue of living and working expenses rising substantially. When aid organizations arrive to these “humanitarian territories,” the prices they pay increase substantially throughout the region. For example, when local leaders sense an aid organizations showing up in their region, they raise the price of rent for any possible workspaces the organizations might work out of. Local leaders often take advantage of the arrival of these organizations because they are aware they have more money than all of the local organizations.

In his book, “The Bottom Billion”, Paul Collier came up with four different reasons that poor countries are destined to always struggle with development. Collier calls them “poverty traps,” meaning the country or region is literally trapped in a state of poverty. The first one is “conflict” – a region involved in a civil war will cause the surrounding economy to plummet. “Civil war creates a vicious cycle – war causes poverty, and low income contributes to tension […] Conflict then destroys infrastructure and scares away investors” (Williams). Facilitating peace is the only way to tackle the issue of poverty from all angles.

Giving humanitarian aid in a region with a war going on around it is an extremely tricky situation. There is much too big a difference between who is receiving the aid and who should be receiving the aid. The imflated prices, absurd taxes, and aid black markets put a stranglehold on who benefits from these organizations. It’s almost impossible to reach everyone in a society, especially many of those who need it most. The only way to bring a region out of poverty is to first tackle the issue of conflict, and then start the development and aid.

image from the article included in my works cited


Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. Penguin. London. 2010. Print.

Williams, Jeremy. “Why Some Countries Remain Poor: Paul Collier’s Four Poverty traps.” Make Wealth History. Creative Commons, 8 Dec. 2008. Web.

Smith, Hannah L. “The Politics of Aid in a War Zone.” ASHARQ AL-AWSAT. 20 May 2013. Web.



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  1. Posted June 13, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    I think the extortion of aid workers is a much more serious problem then it is made to seem. We need to be protecting these people so that they can get the aid to the people that need it.

  2. Posted June 13, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    I liked where you mentioned the fees for permits that go directly in the pockets of warlords and militant local governments. This is a huge problem that causes many INGOs to indirectly fund the people that cause the harm they are trying to provide aid for.