Humanitarian Aid in Conflict Zones

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Personally, I love the idea of humanitarian aid. I see it as an opportunity to practice the virtues of compassion and generosity to help others, especially in times of war and conflict. We have seen aid workers doing some great jobs.

However, what most of us probably don’t realise is that on a much larger scale, foreign humanitarian aid has not improved the lives, nor the living conditions of the world’s poorest people.

What is worse is that the international aid community keeps making the same mistakes over and over again, and they keep getting away with it.

What I find incredibly appalling is that the image of third-world aid is portrayed in such a way that we, who are living in the richest parts of the world, have been benefiting from it throughout the years. Statistics show that for every dollar of aid rich countries give to poor countries, they receive between 7 to 10 dollars in return, either through profits, debt repayments or even trade.

In other words, are poor countries subsidising the wealth of rich countries?

During the research for our seminar, I learned a lot, but most of all that humanitarian organisations have been willing to work in areas which might be held by terrorist groups. No organisation is able to say that a 100% of their aid will get to the people to whom it is intended, because many of these organisations, including NGO’s or UN agencies, are highly dependent on funds from Western donor governments. I believe this makes the challenge even greater since the government’s priorities are not influenced by humanitarian concerts alone. Unfortunately, they are often deeply involved in the military and political aspects of the conflict itself.

In Somalia, for instance, many people are without humanitarian aid. In Afghanistan, many villages have been accused for receiving humanitarian aid. Why is that? Because aid is being considered as a weapon of war, and it is the people who are in need of that aid who are paying the severe consequences.

Furthermore, I find it unfair to accuse humanitarians for “fuelling war economies and prolonging conflict by providing assistance”. This can in fact create a lot of dependencies and weaken long term development prospects, but if it was not for the humanitarian organisations, then who would have gone to assist in these places? We should be grateful for their help.

I further agree on the fact that performing such kinds of services is very expensive, but if it also brings advantages to the population, then why stop?

All of this made me think, and I believe that aid workers have one of the most dangerous jobs, having to face huge challenges every single day of their life. For instance, “Which side should I take? Should I work on neutral territory or should I find myself rubbing shoulders with a single ally?” When one decides to go on the side of the State, the final principle of neutrality is, unfortunately, completely lost.

To conclude, is humanitarian aid in conflict zones the way to go? Is it ethically right or wrong? Is it a moral obligation to intervene, or only morally recommendable?

The answer is: “It depends”. Every single one of us will have a different response, which means that the real answer is within ourselves. In my opinion, it isn’t a moral obligation to intervene since nobody can force us to do something, but more so morally recommendable. It is indeed important to help everyone unconditionally. Everyone deserves to be loved and treated in the same way, while having equal human rights.