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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

The politics of international aid and humanitarian assistance – Part 2

A senior development professional with over 33 years of experience in  international aid and humanitarian assistance, Sudhanshu Singh is Chief Executive Officer of the New-Delhi based Humanitarian Aid International (HAI).

He has extensive experience and expertise in disaster relief and rehabilitation, and has worked nationally and globally in several challenging countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Philippines, and management of overall programs at the Asia-Pacific level. His last job was with a global alliance based in Geneva, which gave him a ring-side view of the world of international aid and humanitarian assistance.

A post graduate in Social Work from the Mahatma Gandhi  Kashi Vidyapith in Varanasi, Sudhanshu Singh talks about his disenchantment with the politics of international aid, which spurred him to start an organisation (HAI) that is Bharatiya in values and spirit, but global in vision and reach.

In the second of a three-part series (read part 1 here), Sudhanshu Singh gives us an insightful analysis of the geo political compulsions, inequities and hidden agenda that drive international  aid and humanitarian assistance.

Q.) Why did you start Humanitarian Aid India?

Globally, there is no Bharatiya organisation that works with a Bharatiya identity. International aid organisations originated either in Europe or North America. They have become global. However, do we have Bharatiya organisations that have crossed boundaries and work globally, while being acknowledged as a Bharatiya organisation with its headquarters in Bharat and primarily funded by Bharatiyas? Currently, nothing like this exists!

Even organisations like Art of Living and Sewa International that have a global presence have to get registered outside the country! Currently, the Government of Bharat does not permit organisations registered in the country to take money outside, fearing money laundering. While that is certainly a valid concern, I also feel that one needs to avoid a blanket approach in this sensitive issue.

Governments of other countries engage civil society organisations to complement their bilateral aid programs.  A few Bharatiya civil society organisations must be permitted to work in  tandem with the Government of Bharat to augment its bilateral aid program and also work outside the country. 

Q.) What is your vision of humanitarian  aid assistance?

Developing a comprehensive humanitarian aid assistance requires the convergence of several stakeholders: civil society organisations, government, policy makers, media and the diaspora.  Humanitarian aid assistance is not  just passing on funds!  During the Nepal earthquake, Bharat, despite being the largest donor, wreaked more harm than good during the interventions during the post disaster phase. That stemmed from sheer arrogance. We, the people of Bharat, are polite, submissive and well behaved when we work in the developed world. However, when go to South Asia, South east Asia or Africa, we often have a tendency to be arrogant, adopt a Big Brotherly attitude!

Humanitarian assistance is the forging of a relationship, fostering harmony between the affected people and the aid providers and within the community of affected people themselves. We are not looking down on anyone. Humanitarian aid assistance is about humanising society, soldering the cracks and fissures that have rendered people increasingly vulnerable.  This requires awareness and sensitisation and should be an ongoing process.

Q.) What are the shifts in humanitarian assistance you currently notice? 

Currently, most of the problems as well as the resources are focused in the  global South. Despite geopolitics, the governments of the global  South are increasingly making their voices heard. That, however, can be strengthened if there are more avenues for civil society organisations to collaborate. Developing countries are increasingly vulnerable to natural disasters in terms of frequency, scale and intensity because of climate change.

Most of the protracted or long-term crises (conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, DRC and Nigeria) also happen to be concentrated in the global South. When I was based in Geneva, I collaborated closely with UN organisations. The Syrian conflict had just erupted and I had heard reports of child soldiers being recruited for war.  I raised this issue in several high level meetings because rehabilitation of children who have been trained to fight is very challenging.   When I asked the group, what could be done to prevent this, I was told, “No! That’s not our mandate!”

I was shocked. If it is not the mandate of any one of the UN agencies, whose mandate is it?  That was another reason that motivated my decision to quit  an international job and relocate to Bharat to begin my work in the country.

For instance, the civil war in Yemen that has been raging for six years, with 24 million people caught in a cross fire between two factions fighting for political hegemony. As a country, we are very small to ask for an early solution to the Yemen crisis. But certainly,  nobody can stop us from asking, advocating that Yemen needs solutions to end the crisis. Messages from heads of UN agencies and  INGOs highlight the numbers—24 million—and scream—“They need relief!” And that’s the problem. People don’t need to be perpetually dependent on humanitarian aid. They are entitled to a normal life like you and me. Whether it is Syria or Yemen, children have not experienced how a ‘normal’ life looks and feels like because they have been born and have grown up in refugee camps.

Who is the biggest donor to the humanitarian response in Yemen? It’s the UAE and Saudi Arabia—the two  countries who are waging war against Yemen.  Ironically, they are  also the biggest donors, donating more than $ I Billion every year! The biggest recipients of this aid are the  UN agencies and the sellers of weapons to the Saudi-led coalition waging war against Yemen. These are the  three countries who are members of the Permanent Security Council in the UN – US, UK and France, who earn billions of dollars every year through arms sale!

The UN was created for the purpose of seeking solutions to and fostering world peace. Ironically, in the Yemen crisis, instead of seeking solutions, the three countries are selling arms and the countries waging war offer humanitarian assistance! The eventual losers, are sadly, the Yemenis, with every aspect of their life—education, health, infrastructure and livelihoods battered. It’s the politics of internal aid and humanitarian assistance!

(To be continued)


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Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera. 

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