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Personal Interest Project: The Politicisation of Humanitarian Aid

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1517 words Published: 18th Mar 2021

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This report outlines the steps which can be taken by Non-Government Organisations to minimize donor bias when delivering humanitarian aid, with a focus on the relations between the United States and Afghanistan. 


Humanitarian aid is material and logistic assistance to populations that need help, sometimes provided by NGOs (Non-Government Organisations). It is usually short-term help until the long-term help by government and other institutions replaces it, the first call to action in a short period of time __. Among the people in need are the homeless, refugees, and victims of natural disasters, wars and famines. The term ‘donor bias’ references acts when people or organisations providing aid might show an inclination towards or against one person or group. Examples of said bias will be explored further in this report. 

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Principles of Humanitarian Aid 

The humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality provides an ethical framework that defines and delineates the humanitarian space within which relief agencies are supposed to operate. They encompass the idea that donations must be distributed humanley, distributed based on need and must not be affiliated with governments or political or personal biases. Current experiences, however, show that these principles are not coping with the increasing merging of humanitarian aid and politics. 

Causes of Donor Bias 

One of the reasons for the politicisation of the humanitarian environment is the fact that throughout the history of conflict, donors of aid were also belligerents in the war (for example, the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Germany etc.) Therefore, when accepting or giving donations, past experiences or learned attitudes may influence perceptions and actions of a particular population on both the donors' and the donees’ sides. 

Furthermore, donors are often swayed and compromised to concentrate their efforts on those areas which will provide more visible results, or are more accessible to these organisations. In order to maintain their public image and to preserve the support of their donors, NGOs may focus their efforts on the areas that will promote more publicity, higher numbers of the assisted population. 

Moreover, humanitarian aid can be used as an instrument of political and economic power. The Trump administration announced in September of 2019 that it would cut $100 million more in aid to Afghanistan refugees. "We stand against those who exploit their positions of power and influence to deprive the Afghan people of the benefits of foreign assistance and a more prosperous future." This quote, spoken by Mike Pompeo, U.S. Secretary of State indicated that this decision was political in nature. 

Effects of Donor Bias on Stakeholders 

Human Rights 

Given the lack of other policy instruments, humanitarian assistance has become the primary tool with which to advocate for human rights. As a result of lobbying by interest groups like Feminist Majority and Human Rights Special Rapporteurs, immense pressure has been brought to bear on donors to restrict their assistance until progress is made in countries where women’s rights are restricted. Aid organisations such as the WFP (World Food Programme), the largest provider of food aid, has made its assistance beyond life-saving spheres conditional upon the Taliban to change its position on basic rights for women. This has had no effect in Afghanistan and has only resulted in a loss for women in need. 

Effects on Aid Workers 

Acts which surrender an organisation their appearance of neutrality, such as favouring a certain class or side of people, reduce a population’s trust. Once organisations lose their stance of neutrality, they become a target for extremist groups. Last year, there were 405 individuals involved in major attacks, with 131 killed. 159 of these attacks were on Afghan aid workers. Therefore, it is extremely important for donors not to violate the core principles of humanity and forego any personal biases. It is critical to couple security efforts with larger community engagement focused on building trust in the population whilst maintaining an image of neutrality.  

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Management Strategies 

The global governance system will prove to be ethically unjustifiable and practically impotent in dealing with the crisis in Afghanistan if it does not itself have ethical accountability. Donors foreign policy must be held accountable in terms of its strategic assessment, its response and the consequences of its political action or inaction. This applies not just with regard to domestic constituencies, but also with regard to the Afghan public. 

Finally, there needs to be accountability within the aid system itself. As long as NGOs are fulfilling donors conditions and meeting their institutional interests, there is no mechanism by which humanitarian agencies need to account for their actions. There is thus a growing need to listen to Afghans untold stories about how humanitarianism is failing them. It is important to listen to how they currently view donors, especially those of America or other developing countries, that they have had with them a complex history. 


Measures must be taken to minimise the effects of donor bias on populations receiving aid from NGOs. These non Government Funded Organisations must foster attitudes and policies which reinforce the principles of humanity.


  • It is recommended that NGOs create programs which involve the general community 


On protecting aid workers: 

PDF reports 


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