The Humanitarian Times

March 17, 2000


- LIBERIAN GOVT SHUT DOWN INDEPENDENT RADIO & INTERNET NEWS OFFICES on Wednesday.   Offices of Star Radio (established by the Swiss/French NGO Hirondelle Foundation & supported by intl. democracy-building donations), & Radio Veritas were seized for airing views that displeased Pres. Charles Taylor.

- 9 EAST AFRICAN NATIONS DECLARED COMMITMENT TO REGULATE SMALL ARMS trade, manufacture, brokering, finance & transport, at 4-day ministerial summit held this week in Nairobi Kenya.

- THE BASIS OF HUMANITARIAN ACTION WAS DEBATED BY THE SECURITY COUNCIL last week following a presentation in which Kofi Annan said that intl. humanitarian, human rights & refugee laws (& conventions) collectively provide a usable framework for emergency operations.  Reviewing dilemmas of providing aid in conflict zones, Annan observed "that humanitarian assistance is no substitute for political action."  He recommended the Council might "consider including in peacekeeping mandates provisions for financing the early stages of post-conflict reconstruction & the restoration of the rule of law.  The lamentable truth is that far too many of the peace agreements signed...relapse into conflict...because there are not enough foster recovery."  (Annan's speech:  Several developing countries argued defensively that humanitarian aid must be compliant with national laws & subservient to the prime sovereignty of the nation-state.  A quite different group of analysts debated these themes from very different angles in Feb., at UK's Wilton Park conference on "humanitarian principles & non-state actors" at which the separation of politics & humanitarian action was debated. It was observed that UN leadership can play a critically valuable coordinator role in opening humanitarian space, yet too often the UN's scope is limited because of its necessarily close affiliation with govts. Also discussed were ways to apply humanitarian principles to the activities of corporations.  For a summary, see:

- 15,000 GUATEMALAN REFUGEES WILL GET MEXICAN CITIZENSHIP AFTER 16 YEARS in asylum in Chiapas & Campeche, Mexico.  250,000+ Guatemalans fled from their govt's war on indigenous peoples in the 1980s.  Though refugees received aid from UNHCR & NGOs, their legal access to jobs, land & other markets in Mexico has been limited.

- MOZAMBIQUE DEBT PAYMENTS WERE SUSPENDED BY PARIS CLUB OF GOVT DONORS to whom $3.4B (40%) of Mozambique's debt is owed, this week.  Several countries intend to forgive Mozambique's remaining debt.  Aside from govts, intl. finance institutions hold another $2.1B (25%) of its debt. Mozambique received some debt relief in June 1999 ($3.7B), which resulted in annual payments dropping from $112M to ~ $73M.  It's debt service has been $1.4 million a week, mostly to World Bank & IMF. The World Bank has given Mozambique a $2.5 million emergency loan & intends to give another $15M.

- IN NAME OF ALL CATHOLICS, POPE JOHN PAUL II REPENTED FOR HISTORIC WRONGS (such as persecution of minorities) that led to human suffering during past 2,000 years, at high mass last Sunday in Saint Peters.

- BURUNDI RECONCILIATION & PEACE WILL REQUIRE TIMELY INTL SUPPORT, says Refugees Intl (RI, NGO) observing that mediation by Nelson Mandela is the best chance for a solution to Burundi's long-term cycle of violence.  RI sees reconstruction needs: "2 sectors of the economy require immediate donor intervention - the mid level govt bureaucracies & the agricultural sector."  RI urges expansion of aid for small enterprise, ag, seed & livestock projects.

- NORTH KOREA RECEIVED APPLE TREE ROOTS AID, TO REBUILD FOOD SECURITY, with donations this week from Mercy Corps Intl, the Oregon Dept. of Ag., Evergreen Intl. Airlines & the Oregon Potato Commission.

- 1,200 FOREST FIRES IN INDONESIA (BORNEO+SUMATRA) CREATE HEALTH HAZARDS although rain in the last few days reduced both fires & haze.  The Indonesian Govt declared a State of Emergency March 8 & may revoke licenses of plantation & logging owners responsible. Two foreign-owned large palm plantations Riau/Sumatra are sites of 2 large intentional fires.  The UN Envt. Prog, is creating a legal framework to manage trans-boundary haze problems among SE Asian nations.

- THAI GOVT SEEKS INTL PRESSURE ON BURMA GOVT TO EXPEDITE REFUGEE RETURN. Over 140,000 refugees live within miles of Burma, in countries of asylum. This week the Burma govt deployed 60 soldiers into refugee camps to track down political dissidents.  Also this week, a sr. UNHCR official met with officials in Burma's capital.  Two new reports, by Amnesty Intl. & the UN Spec. Rapporteur confirmed systematic & extensive human rights violations by Burma's military authorities.

- INTERNATIONAL NGOS WILL GATHER AT ANNUAL INTERACTION FORUM APRIL 17-19 in Wash, DC.  Among its workshops will be: disaster response & post- conflict transition.  Contact:

- UPCOMING CONF:  "REPLACING LAW OF FORCE WITH THE FORCE OF LAW" April 5-8, in Constance, Germany.  Email: or visit website:


Govt contributions of foreign aid peaked in the 1980s, but has trended downward since then, in absolute terms, as a proportion of govt. expenditures & as a proportion of donor GNP.  In 1988, foreign aid represented .85% of govt expenditures; in 1997 .56%.  The following books review the changing levels & directions foreign aid.

- "THE REALITY OF AID, 2000: AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF POVERY REDUCTION & Development Assistance" edited by J Randel, T German & D Ewing (2000, London: Earthscan Pub; ISBN: 1853836613) is the authoritative snapshot of current aid-giving practices by major donor countries (Australia, Canada, Japan, the EU, US, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, etc.); long- term trends are graphed; & perspectives are given from Uganda, Zambia, India & other southern areas.  Globally, 35% of govt-given development assistance goes to Africa; 38% to Asia.  Contrary to appearances, only 5% is emergency aid; another 5.7% has been for debt relief.  The authors observe that net aggregate private capital inflows to poor countries "rose spectacularly from $44B in 1990 to almost $300B in contract, the decline in net official financing for dev. has been equally spectacular, falling from $64B in 1990 to $52B in 1997." Govt-to-govt aid shrank 83% this last decade.  Meanwhile, the number of people living in poverty in India has increased (from 300M to 340M), & "conflict, low commodity prices & adverse climate in sub-Saharan Africa seems to have reduced growth in 1998 to below population growth - implying a fall in per capita incomes." While acknowledging accelerating globalization forces, the editors write, "Many of the poorest countries start off from such a position of disadvantage that it is unrealistic to talk about them competing effectively in a global economy."
Each year a new edition of "The Reality of Aid" has updated info about donor practices, along with essays.  The 1998/99 edition described the Jubilee 2000 debt forgiveness initiative, basic education & approaches to target absolute poverty.  The 1996 edition included discussion of the growing role of NGOs as purveyors of US aid & explained the funding cycle through the diff. parts of the US Govt. & it explains the Social Watch Initiative, by NGOs, to monitor agreements from Copenhagen '95.

- "THE GLOBAL CRISIS IN FOREIGN AID," edited by R. GRANT & J. NIJMAN (1998  Syracuse Univ Press; ISBN: 0-8156-2771-8) sees an increase in politicization of foreign aid, often to assist countries, like Russia, transition to a transnational liberal order.  "Across all donors, there is a reorientation of assistance toward short-term programs aimed at good governance, & long-term economic dev. programs are slowly disappearing.  Thus, regardless of the poverty levels, countries like India, Bangladesh & Kenya have seen their foreign aid funds diminish in the 1990's."  Authors show that net disbursements of foreign aid to Poland were less than intra-EU official transfers, for example to Ireland, or from West to East Germany.  The chapter on Bangladesh finds that  "foreign aid has contributed to the development of the economy but is leading to growing indebtedness... Dependence on foreign aid mirrors the lack of mobilization of domestic resources."  Turning to Africa, the book observes, "in recent years, ever more govts have been forced to ask for donor assistance to finance salaries of civil servants - or, in some cases, salary arrears, such as in C.African Rep. in early 1993, or Mali in 1994, as well as maintenance costs, reconstruction costs of facilities damaged during civil wars, emergency operation, costs of elections, demobilization & social reintegration of refugees, & even costs like the printing of currency notes, as in Sierra Lone in 1992."

- "A HALF PENNY ON THE FEDERAL DOLLAR - THE FUTURE OF DEVELOPMENT AID" by Michael O'Hanlon & Carol Graham (1997  WashDC: Brookings Inst; ISBN 0-8157-6445-6) explains US aid & shows its context.  O'Hanlon points out that US "was once the dominant provider of official development assistance to poorer countries, but by the early 1990s, it provided only 1/6 of the global total" (& to 1/8 by 1995).  In terms of aid per GDP, the US is the least generous provider of OECD countries. The book is not a polemic; it educates succinctly, with charts.  In the end, the author concludes, "Aid skeptics should acknowledge that foreign assistance is not very expensive & not a significant contributor  to the US deficit.  Our calculations show that global development aid should increase to about $80B a year, from its current level of roughly $60B, and that the US should for its part restore development aid from the 1997 level of $9B to the $12B average of recent decade or slightly more.  The historical record & basic macroeconomics analysis suggest strongly that poor countries with good economic policies can benefit from more aid than they are now receiving."  Drawing on East Asian experience, one can generalize that developing countries "can productively absorb at least $50 per capita per year over a period of roughly 2 decades.  ...likely to help countries graduate from aid rolls in a reasonable amt. of time."  The author specifically recommends increasing Economic Support Funds which can flexibly assist in post-conflict reconstruction.

- "FOREIGN AID TOWARD THE MILLENNIUM," EDITED BY STEVEN HOOK (1996  Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Pub; ISBN: 1-55587-504-1), too, views trends in different sets of countries (such as the surge of aid to E. Europe) & the rise of aid for democratization.  Hook opines, "the demise of most military-aid programs is one of the most welcome developments of the post-Cold War era."  He notes, "the growing amalgamation of foreign aid & private investment has lessened the influence of the UN & OECD in devt debates, & expanded that of the World Bank, IMF & reg. dev. banks." Writing about aid in Asia, D Steinberg observes  "the general experience of donors across Asia is that their policy advice is often taken when it is seen to further the explicit economic or political aims of those in power; it is ignored, however, when such advice would advocate the redistribution or diminution of power," Drawing further lessons, he finds that whereas the "South Korean experience teaches us that big business has been effective in devt, Taiwan instructs that smaller businesses can be efficient means for growth."

March 17, 2000             The Humanitarian Times

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