Does Emergency Aid Hinder Development?

In 1947, the Marshall Plan was put into action by the US to provide Western European countries broken by WWII with loans totalling $13bn to rebuild their country’s infrastructure and economy, with the logic that they would keep the US as an ally, and not fall to the Communist East.

This has been said to have sparked the workings of modern-day aid in times of conflict or damage (Moyo, 2009), as “it was only from the late 1940s that individual governments began to provide aid directly to different recipient countries. Yet quite quickly this […] bilateral assistance dominated official aid-giving” (Riddell, 2009). The idea of aid conditionality also stems from the Marshall Plan: “the notion [of] the imposition of rules and regulations set by donors to govern the conditions under which aid is distributed” (Moyo, 2009).

In the context of emergency aid, conditionality may very much follow the political agenda of the donor – “Aid allocations are not clearly linked to a country’s needs; they are still shaped profoundly by donors short-run political interests” (Riddell, 2009). Many countries are becoming increasingly dependent on aid, particularly in emergency-prone areas. In these areas, emergency aid is often the focus, rather than aid aimed at sustainability and development, so a country is unable to build up infrastructure to be able to withstand conflict or disaster effectively. Short-term interventions give the impression of success to donor countries where individuals “want to be told that solutions to the problems of poverty, conflict, and disease are easy, so that they can feel assured of making a difference…They want to be brought to tears by a compelling narrative” (Taub & Cronin-Furman, 2014). However, they can often undermine the small, existing chances of sustainability (Moyo, 2009).

The way in which a public responds to a disaster in order to create funds for this aid is often dictated by the media’s portrayal, and subsequent glamorisation of the issues at hand. The media’s attention span is extremely quick and fickle, and this has led to many countries almost becoming accustomed to floods of aid, with a lack of anything solid once attention moves on. Haiti has experienced this in recent years, as described by locals in a report by National Geographic:

“With each disaster, in an effort to help, foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and missionaries flood the country with such predictability that some locals call the period in the aftermath of hurricanes “missionary season.” Of course, not all do-gooding is created equal. Though many foreigners stay for only a few days, in what amounts to a mercy vacation, others remain for years of grueling, often vital, work in a country that lacks basic services. Haiti has more than 4,000 registered NGOs, but there is no effective oversight of foreign aid institutions, no formal impartial measure of the efficacy of the aid…”

The problem with disaster responses, as often happens in aid donation, is that much of the funds from donor countries do not go directly to the public of the recipient country – the conditionalities linked to the funds mean that the donor country seems to have almost exact control as to who the money goes to, as seen in the following graphic, after the Haiti 2010 earthquakes:

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The public could be left under the impression that the money they donate, inspired by televised appeals from glossy celebrities hugging orphans, does directly towards re-stablising a country in need, and is what the people and their elected governments (given the understanding that democracy should foster development, which Moyo (2009) argues is not necessarily the case) all want. They assume that donations go through these governments to help, as they are “the democratically elected public entity most capable of producing jobs and initiating the massive rebuilding effort facing the nation” (PIH,2011). Ignoring the importance and perspective of the recipient government means that we ignore the Paris Declaration formed in 2005, which declares:

“The ownership or leadership role over a country’s development policies and strategies should belong to the national government. The developing countries’ governments should formulate the strategies and policies to which donors respond to achieve effectiveness towards development”

The technical goals of the donors rarely see eye-to-eye with the political goals of the host country representatives, as Riddell (2009) argues. However, as I discussed in my last post, it should perhaps also be remembered that the views of the government do not necessarily reflect those of the people, so at the same time assuming that a government will fairly distribute foreign emergency aid is flawed. “The state is… primarily a vehicle for the enrichment and maintenance of powerful elites” (Riddell, 2009).

It must be understood that emergency aid is seen as a separate entity from development aid. Even the harshest critics of aid, such as Moyo and Beale, have maintained that they are not against emergency aid. Nevertheless, it is possible to argue that the maldistribution of funds and the short-term goals of the donors can lead to emergency aid working only superficially – a country will be less prepared in the long run for another issue that may arise, meaning they become dependent on aid in the future – thus, development aid’s less finite goals are harder to reach.



Fuller, A. (2015) ‘Showing Haiti on its own Terms’ National Geographic, 12 November. Available at: (Accessed: 29.11.15)

Partners in Health (2011) UN Special Envoy Report: more aid should be channeled through Haiti’s elected government, Available at: (Accessed: 29.11.15)

Moyo, D. (2009) Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How there is a Better Way for Africa, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Reality of Aid (2008) Aid conditionality and democratic ownership, Available at: (Accessed: 29.11.15)

Riddell, R. (2009) ‘Is Aid Working? Is this the right question to be asking?’, Open Democracy, 20 November. Available at: (Accessed: 29.11.15)

Taub, A. & Cronin-Furman, K. (2014) ‘Celebrity disaster relief: what not to do’ The Guardian, 19 February. Available at: (Accessed: 29.11.15)