January 26, 2012 / 11:13 AM / 7 years ago

Emerging donors chip away at aid industry's status quo

LONDON (AlertNet) - Where most expat aid workers fear to tread in Mogadishu, recently arrived Turkish aid workers have been driving in the streets, swimming in the sea and praying in local mosques.

Somali patients receive treatment in a hospital run by the SOS Children's Village charity, which receives food rations from the Iranian Red Crescent, in Mogadishu January 10, 2012. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Somalia in August, the first head of a non-African state to do so for nearly 20 years. The Turks have since opened an embassy, started work on the international airport, offered Somalis university places in Turkey and made plans to build a new hospital.

“Turkey is an animating force in Somalia ... The people honestly love them,” said Mustakim Waid, who worked in Mogadishu for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the United Nations.

From Turkey to Brazil, India to Saudi Arabia, a growing number of non-Western donors are bringing fresh funds, a different mindset and their own experience of managing natural disasters to the global humanitarian aid scene.

Until recently most emerging donors focused their aid on their own regions. Some, like India, China and Brazil, were also major recipients of international humanitarian aid.

But as their economies and political clout have grown, so too has their influence on the humanitarian aid system, which has traditionally been dominated by the mostly Western members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

Over a decade, the volume of humanitarian aid reported by emerging powers has increased by almost twenty-fold — to $622.5 million in 2010 from $34.7 million in 2000.

Increasingly, they are being courted by U.N. agencies and some large aid organizations for funding.

“We are in a risky time ... because we are at a point where the capacity of the system — both response capacity and financial capacity — isn’t quite sufficing to meet current needs,” said Robert Smith, who heads the unit that deals with appeals for funding at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“And those needs are probably going to get deeper and broader, so we need to be able to scale up.”


Saudi Arabia has been the top non-DAC donor for most of the past decade. However, like many emerging donors, a lot of its humanitarian aid goes unreported for a variety of reasons, ranging from unfamiliarity with international norms to a lack of organizations to track such data.

In 2008, Saudi gave the U.N. World Food Programme $500 million — the largest donation in WFP’s history.

The Gulf state has strongly criticized U.N. agencies’ overheads and the way they channel funds to the NGOs that distribute aid on the ground, said Andrea Binder, associate director of Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute.

Unlike most donors, Saudi Arabia usually gives a small first installment, and will only disburse the rest if the U.N. agency proves it can process the money within an agreed time.

“It’s a different way of holding U.N. agencies accountable,” Binder said.

John Holmes, director of the Ditchley Foundation and former U.N. emergency relief coordinator, said there was a big imbalance between what rich Western countries and the rest of the world were prepared to give.

China and India should be bigger donors but they have massive poverty and disaster problems of their own that they deal with themselves, he said.

“It’s more Brazil, Mexico and Argentina and so on who need to get more into the system.”


Some experts are concerned that non-DAC donors may be repeating mistakes that DAC donors have made and mostly learnt from, such as sending inappropriate aid.

Not all countries have a single government body responsible for humanitarian aid and some do little to evaluate how effective their responses have been to needs on the ground.

“There is a lot of work that we have done in the West to try and improve our standards, accountability practices and so on — things which also need to be improved in other parts of the world,” said Abdurahman Sharif, operations manager of the London-based Muslim Charities Forum, whose members work in many parts of the world.

At the same time, some experts say that in many countries, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Somalia and Sudan, humanitarian aid is seen as akin to a kind of Western imperialism — and this is where the entrance of new donors could benefit everyone.

“When I try to impose a model that is perceived to be Western on a situation that doesn’t identify itself with the West, you have a clash,” Sharif said.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is if our Western model is the best.”

Defenders of the Western model say it is based on cherished principles developed over many decades, such as the idea that aid should be given on the basis of need alone, irrespective of the political or economic interests of donors.

International fora - including the DAC and a network of agencies known as the Good Humanitarian Donorship group - are opening their meetings to more donors. And for the past five years OCHA has been working to improve dialogue with non-DAC donors.

“It’s a gradual process of ... mutual confidence-building in each other’s systems and capacities but it’s already producing results,” Smith said. “More and more non-DAC countries are advancing on the table of top donors.”

(Additional reporting by Megan Rowling)

Slideshow (7 Images)

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Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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