Monthly Archives: March 2019

Blog: Criticism towards humanitarian aid by Anu Rantalaiho

Humanitarian aid sprang into everyone’s knowledge in 1980’s when the famine in Ethiopia hit the news. Since then, the humanitarian actors have faced continuous criticism for either not reaching the needy, misusing the funds, being too slow or lacking timely and effective response. Humanitarian assistance has also been blamed for reinforcing the military troops and providing only short-term mitigation instead of sustainable aid. 1,2,3

When comparing the Ethiopian famine in the mid 80’s to a more recent famine in Somalia in 2011, the humanitarian aid has got very similar criticism despite the 25 years having passed. One reason for this might be that the reason for the famine has been significantly similar in both cases – the drought causing a food crisis in the first place and the government policies and politics turning the situation into famine. The unstable political situation seems to be what prevents effective improvements in delivering the aid. The increased publicity has forced the foreign governments to take actions to show their people they’re alleviating the suffering even as they know the assistance can amplify the root causes. 2,3,4

The criticism is not only towards how the humanitarian assistance is performed. The development aid itself has been claimed to be one of the reasons for Africa’s problems – the intentions to eliminate hunger and poverty have actually promoted corruption, caused dependency, weakened the local markets and lowered the spirit of entrepreneurship, says James Shikwati, a Kenyan economics expert. Corruption and misuse of the funds won’t end as long as there is an endless strain of assistance flowing in. If the assistance was stopped, the Africans would be forced to boost their own market, enforce trade relations with the neighboring countries and to improve their own infrastructure. 5

The actors on humanitarian field are not overlooking the criticism but continuously assessing their actions and searching ways to more effective and efficient assistance. There are good experiences of cash-based interventions, which aim at more sustainable aid, capability to react to early warnings and increasing the preparedness and resilience within local communities. Setbacks within humanitarian assistance are practically inevitable and therefore it is natural that criticism occurs, yet the big picture remains positive. When humanitarian actions are completed thoughtfully, legitimately, and with control and co-operation, the aid does save lives despite the criticism. 6


  1. Guccione, Bob Jr (2015) Live Aid: The Terrible Truth – story by Keating, Robert, originally published in the July 1986 issue of SPIN. SPIN (13.7.2015). Referred on 30.11.2018
  2. de Waal, Alex (1991) Evil days. 30 years of war and famine in Ethiopia: An Africa Watch Report. New York: Human Rights Watch
  3. Seal, Andrew & Bailey, Rob (2013) The 2011 Famine in Somalia: lessons learnt from a failed response? Conflict and Health 7:22. DOI: 10.1186/1752-1505-7-22
  4. Maxwell, Daniel and Fitzpatrick, Merry (2012) The 2011 Somalia famine: Context, causes and complications. Global Food Security 1:1. DOI: 10.1016/j.gfs.2012.07.002
  5. Thielke, Thilo (2005) SPIEGEL Interview with African Economics Expert: ”For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!” Spiegel Online (2005)27. Translated from German by Patrick Kessler. Referred on 4.12.2018
  6. International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (2018) Cash in Emergencies Toolkit. Referred on 25.2.2019