Oxfam warns against using aid for military purposes

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 10 Feb 2011

Relief agency calls on donor governments to allocate life-saving aid based on need not on short-term military gains

A report released today by international agency Oxfam finds that while global aid commitments rose between 2001 and 2008, more than 40 per cent of that increase was spent in just two countries – Afghanistan and Iraq – while the remainder was shared between 150 other countries.

The Whose Aid is it Anyway? report documents a growing trend for donor governments to focus on countries they consider militarily and politically important while overlooking equally severe crises elsewhere. Consistent with this, Afghanistan is the fourth-largest country recipient of Australian aid.

The report also highlights the increasing role of the military in the provision of aid. Between 2007 and 2009, more than half of Australia’s official aid to Afghanistan was spent by the Department of Defence, which is not required to report or evaluate the impact of its aid projects.

Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said: “Aid directed to short-term political and military objectives fails to reach the poorest people and also fails to build long-term security.”

Oxfam acknowledges the military can play an important role in the immediate aftermath of a humanitarian crisis, particularly through the provision of transport and creating a secure environment, but the report says that relief agencies are best positioned to directly provide food, medical care and support for livelihoods of those caught up in disasters.

Aid delivered by the military can also put workers and local communities at risk. “Blurring the role between aid workers and the military can turn aid workers and, more importantly the communities they work with into targets,” Mr Hewett said.

The report says that in 2010, 225 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped in violent attacks, compared to 85 in 2002. In part, this reflects the greater number of workers operating in violent places but statistics indicate it is also the result of an increase in politically-motivated attacks. Aid workers’ neutrality is compromised if locals see aid as a tool of the military.

“Where aid is being delivered by the military, the military should be held accountable to the same reporting and evaluation standards as other government departments that deliver aid.”

Using the military to deliver aid can also be costly. Evaluations of responses to humanitarian crises ranging from the Rwandan refugee crisis in 1994 to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami suggest that the military can be up to eight times more expensive in providing basic services compared to civilian alternatives.

As national budgets are being reviewed and with more people in need of aid than ever before, a new approach is needed to maximise the impact of aid based on long-term objectives rather than short-term political or military interests.

For a copy of the “Whose Aid is it Anyway” click here, or to interview Andrew Hewett please contact Oxfam Australia Media Coordinator Chee Chee Leung on +61 3 9289 9415.