Is the humanitarian aid system fit for purpose? Michael Barnett and Peter Walker, writing in this month’s Foreign Affairs, argue not – and urge an approach closer to Peace Direct’s.
Barnett and Walker present a humanitarian aid system that is too centralised, dominated by a small group of internationals, and lacks legitimacy and accountability. Too often aid work is detached from local circumstances. In the wake of disaster, internationals parachute in and work according to an agenda little influenced by reality on the ground. Programmes are made accountable primarily to large donors but rarely to the people who are supposed to benefit.
But this is changing. New technologies, rising world powers, and the expansion of civil society are challenging the established order. The system as it is now needs to adapt or else it will become irrelevant.
Barnett and Walker suggest that this adaption could strengthen the whole aid sector, leading to a system more accountable and responsive to local needs – and possibly more effective. The article concludes by suggesting that Peace Direct’s work with child soldiers shows that giving locals a stronger role is not just a good thing in itself – but can actually be cheaper and produce better outcomes.