Understanding Aid Work

Humanitarian versus Development Aid

Now that we have a better definition for aid work in our heads, it might be beneficial to address what foreign aid work actually does for the global community. To do this, we have to break down the two different “schools of thought” in foreign aid: humanitarian aid and developmental aid. Now, you might be asking yourself why there even needs to be two schools of thought if they all have an endgame of helping the global community. In the next few paragraphs, I would like to explain to you about the key differences between humanitarian and development aid, and what their endgames really are. 

Humanitarian Aid

This is the one that I am sure that everyone is familiar with. If we were to compare our two types of aid with medical procedures, humanitarian aid would be the emergency surgery. Humanitarian aid workers appear on the scene when crises or disaster strikes. According to the US Department of State, the main goal of American humanitarian aid is to “save lives and alleviate suffering” in times of crises or disasters. So where did these efforts come from? Where does our drive to help others come from? Well, without getting too deep into the morality and nature of man, our organized efforts to help others come from Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross. During the Civil War, Barton sacrificed everything to bring supplies to soldiers currently in combat (this is obviously a great oversimplification of her help, but we’d be here all day if I went into too much detail). Post-war, she went on to form the American Red Cross, after discovering the Switzerland branch. Barton brought the concept of an organized humanitarian organization to the United States, and since then we have become the world’s largest provider of international humanitarian efforts. I am sure she would be pleased with us. This organization is a nonprofit but does work closely with the federal government; in 1900 they received their first congressional charter (a charter presents an official mission of an organization, typically given to organizations that are part of the government or work closely with the government).

So, you know the roots of US humanitarianism, but what do it actually do? Like I said, humanitarian efforts attempt to provide immediate relief from man-made crises and/or natural disasters. It provides safety and security to the international community. Safety denotes protection from and response to natural disasters while security refers to protection from and response to man-made hazards. The most common type of humanitarian aid is medical aid, which can be administered as a form of safety and security. We are seeing this occurring now, with the UN and other organizations entering Gaza after the most recent Israeli and Palestinian conflict. The goal of humanitarian aid is to attempt to quell the immediate crisis, such as medical triage, and is not meant to be a long-term solution to the issue. 

Developmental Aid

So, we have covered the emergency procedures, but what about the more elective issues? Issues that are there, and need to be solved, but are not immediate life or death problems? This is development aid work, and at Riley this is who we typically work with the most. Think of this type of aid as improving local living conditions; no one is going to die without it, but no one is going to thrive without it, either. These are typically longer-term projects who attempt to bring necessities and comforts to communities overseas. The long-term goals of this aid are economic, social, and political improvements – but medical work is also thrown in here as well and can improve all of the aforementioned sectors. 

How is this done? Well, much like everything else in life, the driving factor is money. In many cases, developmental aid is conducted through the transferring of money from one agent to another – so long as this money is spent on the three sectors I just mentioned. This money comes from public funds, and it can go directly to the receiving nation, but typically it routes through a third party (in this case, a nonprofit) organization. These organizations, like PSI who I mentioned last week, have a specific mission to improve a social, political, or economic issue. These organizations typically work in multiple countries but have a narrower focus. Unlike humanitarian aid, which deals with all present issues, development aid focuses on one specific issue. Think of it as the difference between long-distance runners and short-distance sprinters. Both are strong athletes; they just have their specialties. Development aid encompasses a whole host of specialties, and I’d be here all day mentioning them all. But some examples are ensuring gender equality, political freedom and the implementation of democracy, the creation and maintenance of better infrastructure, the advancement of better education and education access to all, and addressing medical issues that are not life-threatening, but can damage way-of-life. 

 Who is on the Receiving End?

Well, that is a tough one to answer. It may be easier to answer who is not on the receiving end, because with two different types of aid it becomes possible to provide aid to the enter world. A nation that would not require aid would need to have their own organizations in place to respond to safety and security issues when they do occur. Since the US has the American Red Cross, we would not need assistance from foreign aid organizations, since we have our own “domestic supply.” So, major western countries would not be on the receiving end of US foreign aid, aside from the most extenuating of circumstances. Of course, politics plays a role in this as well, and countries who may not be diplomatically intertwined with the US would most likely not want to receive any aid from us. But those are pretty much the only disqualifies to who would not receive aid from the states, as “disqualification” kind of goes against the purpose of aid work. The goal of foreign aid to be as assessable as possible, so you can see western presence across the world when it comes to foreign aid. However, in case you were wondering who we give the most aid to, as of 2019 the countries that receive the most aid from the states are: Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq. Now, these numbers are from 2019, and a lot has changed since then (insert 2020 jokes here), so this list is subject to change when more statistics are released throughout the year. 

My Take

At Riley, we work hand in hand with many developmental aid organizations to provide security for their efforts. I see the benefits of aid work every day, and I also see that no two aid efforts are alike. While I have been able to explain aid in only two branches, this is the tip of the iceberg as to what is being done around the world to ensure safety, security, and advancement. However, this is a double-edged sword. Next week, we are going to talk about something called decolonization, specifically as it applies to aid work. This concept is a result of the ever-present western aid across the globe, and while great things can come from this (and often do), I would be doing you a disservice if I did not present the negatives. For, to truly understand something means understanding both the good and the bad. With the question of what does aid work do now behind us, we can get to the more pertinent question – what do these nations even want us to do?