NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The "Dark Side Of Aid"

March 1, 1999

Humanitarian assistance to beleaguered countries often comes with a heavy price -- perhaps even doing more harm than good. That is the conclusion humanitarians themselves are drawing from events in such countries as Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

Thomas G. Weiss, presidential professor of political science at the City University of New York, calls the phenomenon "the dark side of aid."

  • Helping to relieve a disaster can result in sustaining a war economy, legitimizing outlaw authorities, creating refugee movements and encouraging parties to play one agency against another, analysts point out.
  • Critics charge that agencies bringing relief supplies and setting up refugee camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina also aided and abetted "ethnic cleansing" there by helping targeted villagers escape before they were attacked -- thereby easing the task of removing them from their homes.
  • United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recently warned of the downside of relief efforts -- saying they could encourage the West not to press for reform.
  • In his book, "The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity," Michael Maren chronicled the waste and corruption of the Somali operation -- saying that it wiped out indigenous agriculture and created a new economic system with its own winners and losers that resists change.

A recent study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London concluded that the new patterns of economic interest created by civic upheavals help sustain the turmoil.

Source: Paul Lewis, "Downside of Doing Good: Disaster Relief Can Harm," New York Times, February 27, 1999.


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