When the United States and other nations open their wallets to help countries in need, some groups fear the donors' reasons are less than altruistic, according to a new report from a nonprofit that seeks to improve aid. Humanitarian aid has too often been politicized, the report found.
“Too often the U.S. and many other donor governments try to use their aid as a way of improving their public image,” said Philip Tamminga, lead author of the annual report from the DARA, a nonprofit with offices in Switzerland, Spain and the United States. “Branding doesn’t necessarily improve the perception of the U.S. -- and in fact it can run contrary to that.”
The U.S. ranked 17th out of 19 countries in aid effectiveness in the report, ahead of Luxembourg and Italy. Norway topped the list for the most effective aid. Four nations were analyzed but not ranked because of missing information.
Political and economic agendas have gotten in the way of help for suffering people, the group said. Foreign humanitarian groups overwhelmingly said they believed U.S. aid was driven by other economic or political interests, one factor that dragged down its rating.
“USAID is 100% political,” said one humanitarian representative quoted anonymously in the report, referring to the government agency that provides U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance worldwide.
Other aid workers interviewed for the report argued that the U.S. weighed down its helping hand with requirements that made it harder for the aid agencies to do their jobs, such as requiring the groups to buy medicines only from authorized U.S. providers.
The U.S. gives more money than any other country, more than $3 billion last year, according to the United Nations Financial Tracking Service. However, it gives a smaller percentage of its income (0.21%) than the 0.7 % the United Nations has urged, the report says.
The report praised the U.S. for acting quickly when a crisis emerges -- one of its biggest strengths -- but argued that it and other donor countries could do more to stop catastrophes in the first place. Only 62 cents out of every $100 given to the neediest countries between 2005 and 2009 went to disaster prevention and preparedness, according to another recent report.
Tamminga lamented that countries were warned that a famine loomed in the Horn of Africa. Yet very little was done to avert it.
“It’s a vicious cycle of responding to a crisis, stabilizing a situation, and having to come back a year later and deal with the same crisis again,” he said.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: In this 2004 photo, donated food is divided for recipients at a refugee camp in Darfur. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times