Peacekeeping: Arab Disaster Zones Are Different


December 31, 2021: At the end of 2021 the UN reported that a third of the 420 million people in Arab countries do not get enough to eat while 29 percent of adults in these countries suffer from obesity. Worldwide only 13 percent of adults eat too much and are obese. The UN attributes this widespread hunger to the number of long-lasting wars and civil disorder in general. Many governments are at fault but these cannot be named because this is a UN rule that is generally followed, along with not getting involved with internal politics. Another reality not mentioned is that the hunger problem is not inadequate food supplies but the inability to deliver the food to those who need it. Until the end of the Cold War in 199s this was seen as a problem that could be solved and it often was. That is no longer the case and the situation began to change in the 1990s as food aid, and emergency aid in general, was weaponized in many parts of the world.

Nations suffering from chronic violence, lawlessness and massive numbers of refugees are often not that way because of war but because of other factors, including how many foreign aid groups operate, or try to operate there. NGO (Non-Government Organizations) now handle most of the emergency food distribution and tend to have their own ideas of how to handle things. NGO attitudes are often at odds with the locals as well as the foreign nations that provide the cash and goods needed to deal with the avoidable hunger. One problem often leads to another as the NGOs, locals, and donors clash over what to do and how to do it. The main problem is there is more to be done than anyone is willing to pay for. To make matters worse there are always disagreements, sometimes violent, over how to apply the aid. That has forced donors to prioritize where they send aid. That means chronic offenders are getting less, or sometimes no aid from many major donors.

It's become a global problem. In 2019 the top ten global disaster areas contained most of the people in need, even though these nations contained less than five percent of the world population. The ten disaster areas were; Yemen, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Venezuela, CAR (Central African Republic), Syria, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Somalia. A major problem has been the reluctance of donors to support relief operations in many of these countries because too much of the aid going there is stolen or unable to reach the people most in need. NGOs have no solution, or at least none that will either turn off the donors (and their donations) or upset the locals, resulting in more violence and chaos.

Most of these needy nations are not the scene of war, at least not in the traditional sense, but they are suffering some serious problems. From the outside this appears to be widespread civil disorder. The trigger for the disorder is most often tribalism as in Yemen, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan, CAR and Somalia. In some of these nations, there is an actual civil war going on, as in Yemen, South Sudan, CAR and Syria. Another major cause is religious differences as in Yemen, Syria, and Nigeria. Another common factor is corruption and the inability to create an effective government. Many of these nations are recognized as “failed states” because they have never managed to form a sense of national unity and stable national government. This is common in most African countries as well as Afghanistan and Yemen.

NGOs are increasingly feuding with each other about how to handle the growing money shortages they must deal with. The demand for contributions to buy food and other aid supplies has been increasing faster than donor nations, who supply most of this money, are willing to provide. This is in large part because of growing problems with a lot of the aid being stolen by local bandits and corrupt officials, or diverted to other uses by NGOs.

This problem is particularly acute in Arab nations, which tend to be more corrupt and prone to poor government, outbreaks of civil disorder and prolonged civil wars. There is often no disagreement over the need for aid in a country but none of the locals with power are willing to guarantee any aid will get to those who need it, and they often refuse to give aid donors any control over aid distribution. This sort of thing is very visible in Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. Somalis consider themselves Arabs because they have used a version of Arabic for thousands of years and get violent with any who dispute their Arab status.

There are other problems as well. Increasingly people in countries receiving aid via NGOs complain about the NGOs being more concerned for their own safety and comfort than in making the lives of the locals better. It's not as simple as that. There are also disagreements within the NGO community about how to deliver aid in areas swarming with bandits, Islamic terrorists, and other bad actors. The NGOs that continue to send people to these dangerous areas complain that many NGOs that used to be there with them are now snagging a lot of aid money and moving to some well-guarded urban area to spend the aid money on studies, seminars, and research into how to achieve peace and prosperity via diplomacy, negotiation, and creative book-keeping. The NGOs still out in the field consider such growing interest in this new “non-contact” policy with the people needing the aid approach as a craven copout and diversion of desperately needed funds from buying food and emergency services for people.

The NGOs are trying to keep this dispute from turning into a public debate as they all agree that putting these issues into the news would probably reduce contributions even more. NGOs are, for the most part, charitable organizations that take money from individuals, organizations and governments and use it for charitable work in foreign countries. The Red Cross is one of the oldest, and best-known NGOs, dating back to the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, the UN became the largest NGO. The Catholic Church could be considered one of the first major NGOs, as it organized large scale charity efforts over a thousand years ago. By the late 20th century, the number of NGOs had increased faster than anyone expected. Now there are thousands of them, providing work for hundreds of thousands of people.

The NGO elite are well-educated people, usually from Western countries, who solicit donations or go off to disaster areas and apply money, equipment and supplies to alleviate some natural or man-made disaster. Governments have been so impressed by the relative efficiency of NGOs that they have contracted them to perform foreign aid and disaster relief work that was once done by government employees.

Problems, however, have developed over the years. The Western employees of NGOs, while not highly paid, are infused with a certain degree of idealism, and that brings to disaster areas a bunch of outsiders who have a higher standard of living and radically different ideas. Several decades ago, the main thing these outsiders brought with them was food and medical care. The people on the receiving end were desperate, and grateful for the help. But NGOs have branched out into development and social programs.

These new activities caused unexpected problems with the local leadership. Development programs disrupt the existing economic and political relationships. This is especially the case if the NGOs try to change the way things are done. The local leaders are often not happy with this, as the NGOs are not always willing to work closely with the existing power structure. While the local worthies may be exploitative, and even corrupt, they are local, and they do know more about popular attitudes and ideals than the foreigners.

NGOs with social programs like education, especially educating women, new lifestyle choices and more power for people who don't usually have much, often run into conflict with the local leadership. Naturally, the local politicians and traditional leaders have resisted, or even fought back. Local governments will sometimes try to regulate or expel NGOs. That often includes local NGOs, who are doing some of the same work as the foreign ones. In these cases, the government is responding to complaints from old school tribal and religious leaders who are unhappy with all these foreigners, or urban locals with funny ideas, upsetting the ancient ways in the countryside.

NGOs are not military organizations, but they can fight back. They do this mainly through the media because they also use favorable media coverage to propel their fundraising efforts. NGOs will also ask, or demand, that the UN or other foreign governments send in peacekeeping troops to protect the NGOs from hostile locals. This had disastrous effects in Somalia during the early 1990s. Some NGOs remained, or came back to Somalia after the peacekeepers left. These NGOs learned how to cope on their own, although with increasing difficulty. The NGOs hired local muscle for protection, as well as cutting deals with the local warlords. But eventually, the local Islamic radicals became upset at the alien ideas these Western do-gooders brought with them and began to chase the NGOs out.

There are few parts of the world that don't know about NGOs, who runs them, and what these organizations do. NGOs are no longer seen as just charitable foreigners coming to help. The local leadership often sees the NGOs as a potential threat. While the material aid the NGOs bring is appreciated, the different ideas are not. And there are more NGOs showing up with more agenda than physical aid. NGOs have become more adept at dealing with local power brokers. That turns NGOs into diplomats, which they are not. NGO means “Non-Governmental Organization” but sometimes they act like government bureaucrats. NGOs that get too heavily into diplomacy are no longer regarded as NGOs. This has always been a problem, but now it's getting worse as NGOs have become a worldwide presence. And the decade old UN policy of deliberately politicizing aid efforts has turned the aid workers from angels of mercy to political targets.

This trend, from delivering aid to delivering ideas, often unwelcome ones, put all NGOs at risk. The NGOs have become players in a worldwide civil war between local traditional ideas, and the more transnational concepts that trigger violent reactions in many parts of the world. Another problem is the money given to NGOs to spend on aid for a country is money the local officials would rather have control over.

There are two reasons why donors prefer NGOs to have control over the aid. The primary problem is corruption. Money given to the government tends to get stolen. Often more than a third of it disappears into the pockets of government officials, their kin and friends. But letting the donors, and NGOs handle the money also results in similar losses. This is because these donations often come with requirements that much of the money be spent on goods and services from the donor nation. This particularly bothers the locals as it means a lot of highly (especially by local standards) paid Western aid workers are supervising whatever is done in the aid receiving nation. The higher NGO pay standards are very visible because the Westerners tend to live much better than locals. The Westerners are also accused of not understanding the needs of locals, but the NGOs are also less prone to devote most of the programs to local traditional (tribal) or senior government officials. The locals would like to gain control of all the aid money, or at least get more of it spent inside the nation receiving the aid, but have not had much success. All of this just adds to the growing hostility towards NGOs, and the violence it generates. No one has a solution that doesn't involve bribes or local mercenaries, and the problem just keeps getting worse and more people go hungry even though food is available but kept from those who need it by a lot of problems the UN does not want to talk about, especially the variant found in Arab countries.




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