«The former UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Jan Egeland, has deemed the situation in northern Uganda as one of the greatest ...»
Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) humanitarianism established by the International Red Cross.38 Large amounts of funding from Western governments, combined with discourse which would position NGOs as the “force multipliers” of the governments behind them, have stripped these organizations of the reputation for neutrality which they have so long sought to maintain. 39 As a result, many humanitarian organizations are being attacked and forced to leave countries where they would otherwise seek to offer assistance, as has recently been seen in Iraq.40 This same void of trust often permeates into the public’s eye as well. In “Marketing Humanitarian Crises,” Bob Clifford raises the question of why NGOs spend so much time fighting for the spotlight in some places while so many others fall through the cracks.41 The general population of independent donors is desiring more and more accountability for how funds are being administered and how progress is being monitored, as can be seen in Jon Christensen’s “Asking the Do-Gooders to Prove They Do Good.”42 There is even a certain degree of skepticism between these NGOs and the very governments that are providing the majority of funds. Smillie describes the calculating task undertaken by NGOs in proposing requests for funding, the extent to which organizations feel pressured to exaggerate need in order to even hope to be given that which they require to make significant strides toward progress.
The final area which draws humanitarianism into what some may call a crisis is its very nature of dependency on outside sources for financial support.
This element of NGOs design allows for intrusive ripples that have the potential to extend into everything they do, creating a complete dependency on donors and oftentimes an undesirable obligation to act according to their will. Funding is the answer to many of the questions posed by the public above concerning why so many regions of need fall through the cracks. Many times NGOs are aware of grave problems existing in countries all around the world, but they must first 38 International Committee of the Red Cross. (2005). International Committee of the Red
Cross. Retrieved December 7, 2007, from International Humanitarian Law:
39 Quote by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in “Remarks by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of NonGovernmental Organizations,” on October 26, 2001, retrieved from http://usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/terror/01102606.htm.
40 Stoddard, Abby. (2003, December). “With US or Against US? NGO Neutrality on the Line,” Humanitarian Practice Network.
41 Clifford, Bob. (2006, March 31). “Marketing Humanitarianism Crisis,” Yale Global Online.
42 Christensen, Jon. (2004, January 3). “Asking the Do-Gooders to Prove They Do Good,” New York Times.
Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) obtain funding for their programs offering a solution. All too often the benefits would not provide enough gain to the donors they depend on to make a convincing case for funding. According to Smillie, it is not so much that governments would rather not listen to the NGOs priorities; it is simply that they have their own agendas. In “The New Humanitarianisms: A Review of Global Trends in Humanitarian Action,” Joanna MacRae points out that throughout the 1990’s, it became evident that the former conventional threats of military powers were no longer the main players. Rather than security fitting into a long-standing box defined by military powers and politics, it is now about development and the elimination of the very circumstances which could cultivate instability.43 Thus, these are the factors that motivate governing donors, and often times these are the crises to which NGOs become pressured to respond.
While humanitarianism is a voluntary movement, organizations cannot avoid the financial demands placed on any institution that hopes to be effective.
More than eighty percent of funds donated to UN agencies are earmarked by governments, accounting for a great deal of the puzzle over why certain areas of crisis receive the attention they do.44 As stated in “This Fatal Compromise,” NGOs that claim to be independent are depending more and more on government funding, with CARE USA in the lead with seventy-five percent of its annual budget provided for the by the US government. Regardless of the rationale for existing under such conditions, as humanitarian organizations become more and more dependent on government expenditures, they will find their ability to influence and aid simultaneously jeopardized at a corresponding rate to that of their declining independence.
IV.4. A Comparison of Costs Many of these insights are troubling to say the least. It cannot be denied that NGOs inevitably find themselves caught in a constant struggle to live up to the expectations set by themselves and the outside world, to operate in such a way that earns the trust of donors as well as governing nations, and to maintain autonomy to the degree that they can effectively and impartially distribute aid regardless of donor influence. Yet when viewed in light of the circumstances surrounding the misappropriation of aid that have been observed in many developing countries over the past two decades, non-governmental organizations nonetheless appear to be the more promising of the two in this particular case.
There will always be risks and failures in attempting to tackle the world’s greatest challenges. However, there is a level of accountability and transparency required of NGOs that simply does not exist over ruling governments at this time. So while there may continue to be mistakes and room to grow, it is hoped and expected that these weaknesses in the realm of NGOs will result in lessons learned and actors held accountable. As long as this commitment remains in 43 MacRae, Joanna. (2002, April). “The New Humanitarianisms: A Review of Global Trends in Humanitarian Action,” HPG Report #11: Overseas Development Institute.
44 Browne, Ian. (2004, November 19). “This Fatal Compromise,” The Guardian.
Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) place, there is room to believe that these organizations will have the power and tools to pull themselves out of a state of crisis if it ever were to arise.
Conclusion Though the circumstances surrounding the internally displaced people of northern Uganda are daunting, through a combination of effective monitoring as funds are redirected through NGOs and the political empowerment of the people, their chances of receiving the aid allocated to them would be greatly improved.
The evidence of accountability and transparency among NGOs provide a solid foundation to ensure that funds are not only delivered according to direction but by the most effective means possible. The twenty-first century has seen drastic changes occur in power granted to NGOs in terms of advocacy and their seats at the international table of policy-making. Until the people are given their freedom, there is much to be said for those of the world with a loud voice speaking on behalf of those without, empowering them from afar. By the same token, more and more organizations, such as CARE International and UNICEF, are making it their primary purpose to equip and empower individuals to stand up for their rights and the quality of life to which they are entitled. With billions of dollars already invested and misappropriated, it is long past the time to reevaluate what is being done. Perhaps the greatest hope for international aid reaching its intended recipients is to cut out the middle man and send the funds directly to those on the field, empowering those receiving aid to organize politically to develop their voice all the while. Though the details beneath the surface would obviously not be so simplistic, it could appear that this multi-tiered problem could end up having a solitary but multi-purpose solution.
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