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The Aid Diversion Dilemma

It is a sobering snapshot of the humanitarian challenge facing the international community: according to data released last week, funding for relief assistance has reached unprecedented heights — but remains far short of fulfilling the needs of those adversely affected by armed conflict and climate change around the world. The implication is that aid agencies simply need more money to tend to current calamities. But as a recent report by Medecins Sans Frontieres makes clear, the primary obstacles to humanitarian programming are not material or financial. They are logistical and political.

From Somalia to Sudan and South Sudan, from Ethiopia to Syria, from Myanmar to the Philippines, it has proven increasingly difficult to distribute humanitarian aid without it being restricted by — or diverted to — government officials, rebel groups, and other political actors. Aid diversion is nothing new. Alex de Waal has written extensively about the manipulation of disaster relief by state authorities responsible for “famine crimes” in East and Central Africa. But the problem seems to be intensifying, due to several reasons.

The first is demographic. Population growth and rapid urbanization in developing countries means that when violence erupts or a natural disaster hits, it exacerbates the vulnerability brought on by unplanned and misaligned growth, including poverty, crime, and disease. Second, greater mobility during periods of stability has translated into greater mobility during times of crisis. A record number of people have now been uprooted by armed conflict, and an increasing proportion of them are internally displaced. Unlike refugees, IDPs lack explicit international legal protection, and assisting them therefore depends on the cooperation of their own governments — often the very authorities responsible for the violence or instability that caused people to flee their homes in the first place.

These shifting displacement trends are a consequence of both the changing dynamics of conflict and the politics of asylum: while wars have become more localized, though still contagious, countries have tightened border controls to prevent people from becoming refugees. Syrians have been systematically denied entry into Jordan and Turkey, and authorities in Iraqi Kurdistan are restricting access to border crossings for civilians fleeing ISIS-held areas. The 100,000 Gaza residents that were ordered to leave their homes last week similarly have found nowhere else to go.

A third factor undermining the provision of humanitarian relief is that many needy populations are difficult to locate and track. An estimated 70 percent of Syrian refugees do not reside in camps, and a significant number have been doubly displaced — exiled from Syria to Iraq only to be uprooted by new violence. Potential beneficiaries blend into urban landscapes as easily as rebels blend into surrounding communities, and since the distribution of aid is meant to be impartial and non-discriminatory, it can be effectively siphoned off or used by local authorities for political purposes.

So what can be done? As the UN re-evaluates its peacekeeping apparatus, it should consider expanding the role of peacekeepers in aid delivery for IDPs.

At the same time, member states can pressure governments to open their borders and give refugees the legal right to work. Designated and accessible relief areas are critical for the efficient distribution of humanitarian supplies. More importantly, as demonstrated in a study released last month by the University of Oxford, refugee communities can be a boon to local economies. The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, for example, has become a working city. Donors can work with host governments to illuminate the potential benefits of refugee inflows, and provide the infrastructure support necessary to help exiled populations generate and maintain a viable economy.

Aid agencies should certainly not pull back from war zones. But with conflicts becoming more protracted — causing not only greater involuntary mobility but also involuntary immobility – rather than concentrating limited resources on getting supplies in, it may be more productive for humanitarian actors to focus on getting people out, while helping them build self-sustaining communities.

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Ban Ki Moon, John Kerry in Cairo for Gaza Talks.

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Relief Aid Promised for Gazans…”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Cairo to join diplomatic efforts to resume a truce that last had been agreed to in November 2012. He will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt two weeks of fighting that has descended into war and killed at least 500 Palestinians and more than two-dozen Israelis. Kerry headed almost immediately into a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where he announced the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of Palestinians who have fled their homes in Gaza to escape the violence. Kerry’s top aides warned, however, that achieving an immediate and lasting cease-fire would be difficult and he hoped to make any progress over the next several days to secure even a temporary pause in the bloodshed.” (Houston Chronicle

Peace Talks Kick off for CAR….Over 150 delegates from all sides of the fighting are represented at peace talks in Brazzaville Congo that started on Monday. Appeals for a ceasefire, however, were clearly not respected on the ground. There is not high hopes that these talks will succeed. “Central African Republic’s interim president appealed on Monday to Muslim Seleka rebels and ‘anti-balaka’ Christian militia to agree on a ceasefire at the start of talks in the neighbouring Congo Republic.The three-day forum in Brazzaville, mediated by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, aims to reach terms for a halt to hostilities and disarmament but will not address negotiations for a longer-term peace deal in the former French colony. (Reuters

Cool Job Opportunity of the Day: AirBnB (!) is looking for someone with experience in international emergency relief to help build their Global Disaster Response program.

 Helene Gayle, CEO of CARE, USA…is Mark’s podcast guest this week. She discusses CARE’s work in South Sudan, her work fighting AIDS from the early 1980s, and the origins of the USA’s global response to the AIDS crisis. Global Dispatches Podcast


Religious leaders in Sierra Leone criticised the government’s handling of an Ebola outbreak that has killed 194 people in the West African country, saying a lack of information was prompting rural communities to shun medical help. (Reuters

Mozambique is discussing with its foreign coal mining partners ways to help them ride out depressed markets but will not be offering special tax breaks to ease the pain, its mineral resources minister said. (Reuters

Abuse and poverty is driving children on to Uganda’s streets, where many claim to suffer even more at the hands of police. (Guardian

Liberia: Four nurses working at the Phebe Hospital in Suakoko, Bong County, have reportedly contracted the Ebola virus, while the test result of the fifth nurse is yet to be released. (Heritage

For a growing number of Kenyan coffee farmers, an insurance plan that protects their harvest against losses to extreme weather and weather-related ailments is making coffee growing a less bitter experience. (Thompson Reuters Foundation


With over 85,000 Palestinians now displaced in Gaza, the UN shelters housing them are near capacity. Yet for the displaced fleeing violence between Israel and militant groups, there are few alternatives. (IRIN

Clashes between rival Libyan militias fighting for control of the capital’s international airport killed 47 people over the last week, Libya’s Health Ministry said, as violence in an eastern city killed five. (ABC

Italy’s navy said it rescued nearly 1,800 migrants in overcrowded boats in the Mediterranean over the weekend, and a merchant ship recovered five bodies from a sinking rubber raft off the coast of Libya. (Reuters

The economist behind a plan to unlock at least $380 billion worth of assets from Egypt’s black market says President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must first restore another asset that has depreciated over the years: the trust of a wary public. (Reuters

Despite a comprehensive approach to combating HIV-AIDS, ignorance about the disease pervades Tunisian society. (Guardian


Some tribal elders in a city in northwest Pakistan have decreed that families fleeing a military offensive should not allow women to collect food aid, an elder said on Monday after Reuters saw him attacking women. (Reuters

The Red Cross Society of China deployed emergency teams and mobilised relief supplies to help communities battered by Super Typhoon Rammasun, described as the severest storm to hit the country in more than 40 years. (Red Cross

Medical officials in northern Pakistan say that almost all the 870,000 internally displaced people in KP are deeply traumatized by over a decade of war in the northern provinces, where they were caught in the crossfire between government forces and militants who crossed the border from Afghanistan into Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas in 2001. (IPS

Cambodia’s efforts to tackle HIV/AIDS over the past 15 years have won it praise, and put it well ahead of many other low-income countries. But some of those most involved in the fight against AIDS are worried that an array of challenges could see some of those gains undone. (VOA

Twenty-eight people, including activists and a retired Catholic bishop, filed an impeachment complaint Monday against Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for his implementation of a major economic stimulus program that the Supreme Court has declared partly unconstitutional. (AP

Thai media organizations called on the military government on Monday to ease restrictions after the junta said it would shut down news outlets putting out what it considers critical coverage. (Reuters


Shouldn’t Humanitarian Aid Come First? (Campaign for Boring Development

Redoubling efforts to fight stigma and discrimination key to ending AIDS (Devex

Seeking Leadership & Innovation in Sustainable Development (IPS

GM scaremongering in Africa is disarming the fight against poverty (Guardian

LGBT rights in Africa – time to act (ODI

Building partnerships to free the world’s children of intestinal worms (Development Progress

Why Worry About the Politics of Nutrition? (Development Horizons

Who Aids Whom? (Development Diaries


Targeted efforts to make food systems more efficient in key parts of the world could meet the basic calorie needs of 3 billion extra people and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture without using additional land and water, researchers said. (AlertNet

Investment in HIV prevention research fell by 4%, to $1.26 billion in 2013, due to declining investments by the United States and European government donors, changes in the international development landscape and changes in the pipeline of HIV prevention products in various stages of development and implementation. (Press Release)

A cloud of mistrust hangs over relations between business and the humanitarian community, the result of decades of mutual suspicion. Aid workers stereotype the private sector as profiteering and unscrupulous; business people write off international agencies as bloated and inefficient. (IRIN

One of the major concerns of the gathering of 12,000 AIDS activists, scientists and people living with HIV is how the criminalization of groups at high risk of HIV – such as gay men, sex workers and transgender people – is threatening progress in the global effort to fight AIDS. (Reuters

The effects of an HIV and AIDS project on migrants in Nepal, Bangladesh and India findings from a quasi-experimental study (ODI

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SG; Ukraine; Middle East

SG: The SG arrived in Cairo today where he will meet with the Foreign Minister, President el-Sisi and US Secretary of State Kerry to promote the Egypt-initiated ceasefire in the Middle East. Spokesman Dujarric told reporters today that “the overriding messages that [the SG] brings is, first, that the violence must stop, and needs to stop now.” Over the weekend, the SG held meetings in Doha and Kuwait City. While in Doha, he met with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. The SG is expected back in NY by the end of the week.

Ukraine: The SC unanimously adopted a resolution to condemn the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine and to ensure that armed groups provide safe access to the crash site for an independent international investigation. During the SC’s meeting today, US Ambassador Power condemned the actions of the separatists and called on Russia to use their leverage with the separatists to lay down their arms and leave the site to international experts—“if Russia is not part of the solution, it will continue to be part of the problem.”

Middle East: OCHA reported 60 Palestinian casualties this weekend, making it the deadliest period since the recent escalation of conflict. More than 100,000 people remain displaced and 84,000 reside in UNRWA schools. Humanitarian agencies continue to provide necessary supplies as WFP and UNRWA delivered emergency assistance to 50,000 people in the last 24 hours. The SG continues to call for an immediate ceasefire.

Iraq: The SG condemned the persecution of minority communities in Iraq by the Islamic State and associated armed groups which forced tens of thousands of ethnic and religious minority groups to seek refuge. The SRSG for Iraq restated the UN’s commitment to meet the needs of those displaced.

South Sudan: The SG expressed concern regarding today’s attack by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition forces on Nassir. He called on all parties to the conflict to stop the violence and seek peaceful resolution.

Iran: In accordance with Iran’s deal with the P5+1 (Germany) to curb its nuclear energy program, the IAEA reported that Iran destroyed its enriched uranium stockpile. The deal was set to expire Sunday, but the six world powers and Iran agreed to extend talks until November in the hopes of further containing Iran’s nuclear program.

Peacekeeping: The USG for Peacekeeping Operations will visit Nepal, Bangladesh, and India this week to thank the countries for their contributions to UN Peacekeeping Missions around the world.

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image credit: French defense ministry

Peace Talks Kick Off for the Central African Republic

The path to reconciliation in the Central African Republic will be going through Brazzaville, Congo, as regional leaders and international mediators are meeting alongside Central African groups to help broker a peace process and forge a path forward for mending the country’s socio-political scene, shattered as a result of the ongoing crisis.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, during a wide-ranging interview with French media, spoke about the current situation in the Central African Republic. “There is a need for Central Africans themselves to find their own reconciliation, which is extremely challenging given the long, complex histories of hatred and distrust” that exist as part of the fabric of the nation, Le Drian explained. From the French perspective, the involvement of regional leaders in supporting the peace process and organizing peace talks in Brazzaville will allow for a cease-fire and a reconciliation process to take root.

When pressed by journalists about an exit strategy for France in the CAR, Le Drian said that UN troops will “arrive starting September 15″, with a political-military peacekeeping role in the context of an evolving democratic process. Le Drian, quite comfortable with France’s role and accomplishments since its involvement in the crisis in December 2013, told the press that Operation Sangaris – the French mission in the CAR – helped “avoid mass massacres”, pacified Bangui, de-enclaved Cameroon, and is working towards restoring security in the eastern part of the country. Of course, the reality on the ground suggests that in spite of these major advancements, there is still widespread insecurity and chronic violence, as well as a complex and devastating humanitarian situation affecting the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees.

As the peace talks begin in Brazzaville, the common ground that is meant to emerge appears out of reach. While CAR’s transitional government is represented and actively participating, the two critical groups – the Seleka and anti-balaka – are not only at odds with each other, but also internally divided and lacking a strong, unified voice to represent their interests. Short-lived CAR head of state Michel Djotodia, who lead the Seleka to power in early 2013  - but was forced to step down less than a year later under international pressure – was re-elected in absentia  last week as head of the group during a general assembly in north-eastern town of Birao in CAR. Djotodia deputies and Seleka “founding military commanders” Nourredine Adam and Mohamed Dhaffane, were also re-affirmed as leaders of the movement, according to a spokesperson. The general assembly in Birao saw not only the re-election of Djotodia, but also the appointment of a 26-person political bureau for the group, and its renaming: Seleka is now the “Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic.”

As Djotodia remains in exile in Benin and has not been formally invited, and many Seleka leaders – including Nourredine Adam – are under UN travel bans, Dhaffane is representing the group in Brazzaville. On the anti-balaka side, their national coordinator Patrice-Edouard Ngaïssona is representing the group in Brazzaville. But in spite of his title, Mr. Ngaïssona is not speaking on behalf of the various, disparate, unorganized and independent anti-balaka factions across the CAR. Even if the Seleka and anti-balaka are able to negotiate during these talks, it is unclear whether all fighting factions in CAR will follow their lead and respect whatever agreement might emerge. As the meetings began this morning in Brazzaville, inter-communal violence once again shook the streets of Bangui, as Seleka and anti-balaka fighters fired shots in the capital city. 

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Episode 26: Helene Gayle


The CEO of CARE, USA Helene Gayle is on the line this week. The medical doctor from upstate New York tells me how she became the head of one of the largest international humanitarian relief NGOs on the planet. And prior to her work at CARE, Dr. Gayle had a twenty-year career at the Centers for Disease Control where was at the front line of the fight against AIDS since the 1980s. She discusses how the fight against AIDS has changed over time and describes the origins of US policy to tackle AIDS internationally.

Have a listen. And subscribe to Global Dispatches Podcast on iTunes. I post longform interviews in which I learn the life stories of foreign policy newsmakers every Monday. On Thursdays, I post shorter interviews with journalists or think tank types. Enjoy! 



Previous episodes

How Humanity is Winning the Fight Against AIDS

Episode 24: Joseph Cirincione, Nuclear Policy Wonk 

A Migrant’s Story: Why are So Many Children Fleeing to the USA?

Episode 23: Live from the UN 2014 (Volume 2); A special edition with a slew of UN officials.

Inside the Iran Nuke Talks

Episode 23: Jillian York, Digital Free Speech defender

Turkey’s Strategic Interests in Iraq

Episode 22: Live from the UN, 2014 (Vol 1); A special edition, featuring the President of the General Assembly,  the UN Ambassadors from Vietnam and Jamaica, the head of the UN Association, and more!

The UN’s View of the Iraq Crisis

Episode 21: Thomas Pickering, former Ambassador to the UN, Israel, Jordan, Russia, India and more.

Dying for the World Cup

Episode 20: Jessica Tuchman Matthews, foreign policy trendsetter

Egypt After the Counter Revolution 

Episode 19: Louise Arbour, human rights pioneer.

What Obama Left Out of His Big Foreign Policy Speech

Episode 18: Zalmay Khalizad, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the UN.

Why Libya is Suddenly on the Verge of a Civil War 

Episode 17: Gov Bill Richardson, he frees hostages.

The Foreign Policy Implications of India’s Elections

Episode 16: Carolyn Miles, CEO of Save the Children

What Boko Haram Wants

Episode: 15 Laura Turner Seydel, philanthropist

Episode 14: Douglas Ollivant, Iraq expert

Episode 13: Gary Bass, historian

Episode 12: Mark Montgomery, demographer

Episode 11: Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watcher

Episode 10: Live from the UN, Volume 2.

Episode 9: Mia Farrow, humanitarian activist and Goodwill Ambassador

Episode 8: Suzanne Nossel, Big Thinker

Episode 7: Live from the UN, Volume 1. 

Episode 6: PJ Crowley, former State Department Spokesperson

Episode 5: Octavia Nasr, reporter

Episode 4: Arsalan Iftikhar, “The Muslim Guy”

Episode 3: Dodge Billingsley, filmmaker.

Episode 2: Laura Seay,  @TexasinAfrica

Episode 1: Heather Hurlburt, national security wonk


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International AIDS Conference Kicks Off in Melbourne

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The mood was somber with news that at least 6 conference goers were killed in downed Malaysian Airlines, including a former president of the International AIDS Society.  Previous reports of over 100 delegate-goers killed were incorrect. The conference will go-on. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton will give an address on Wednesday.“Other key events include, the plenary session on Monday 21 July with an address on the “Future of Science in the HIV Response” by Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of  Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight  AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will speak on investment in the HIV response; Helen Clark,  Administrator of United Nations Development Programme, will present the future of the HIV response in the post-2015 landscape; and Sean Strub, Writer, Activist, and Director of The Sero Project will moderate a debate on how new prevention technologies affect disclosure, prevention and stigma.” (

For a deeper dive into the issues on the table this week in Australia, Mark spoke with Erin Hohlfelder of ONE. Global Dispatches Podcast

A Deadly Day in Gaza for Both Sides; Allegation of a Massacre…More than 400 people have been killed since the conflict began, including over 100 children. “More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighborhood and battled militants on Sunday in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia in the eastern suburbs of the city of Gaza and declared three days of mourning. Israel’s army said it was targeting militants from Gaza’s dominant Hamas group whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. The army said it had warned locals two days earlier to leave.” ( Reuters


Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is killing dozens by the week. Medical workers have responded by expanding a field hospital, taking extraordinary measures to contain infection. (NPR

Three years after famine in Somalia killed a quarter of a million people in six months, aid agencies warned Sunday a new catastrophe is looming unless urgent aid arrives. (Yahoo

South Sudanese rebels and government soldiers clashed in the northern town of Nasir on Sunday, adding to fears that a shaky ceasefire agreement signed in May could totally collapse. (Reuters

Mediators and participants at the Brazzaville forum to discuss the Central African Republic crisis should reject any calls for an amnesty for serious human rights crimes. (HRW

Nigeria’s press is traditionally free to write almost anything about anyone – whether it’s true or not. After 15 years of democracy, journalists believe the state is trying to tame the vibrant, prolific media during its faltering campaign to stamp out the militant Islamist group. (Reuters

A chief suspect in Malawi’s “Cashgate” corruption scandal, who was a high-ranking official and financier of ex-president Joyce Banda’s People’s Party, was arrested by police on Sunday. (AFP


The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting late Sunday on the situation in Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll passed 100 in a single day. (Boston Herald

Flights have resumed from two small airports in Libya triggering a rush of Libyans and expatriates trying to leave the country on Saturday after fighting closed the main international airport a week earlier. (Reuters

The United States Defense Department has confirmed that it has received reports from U.S. teams sent to Iraq to examine the military and security situation there. But a department spokesman said that it could take some time before any decision is made about what to do next. (VOA

Lebanon has arrested a man who spurred his two-year-old son to beat up a Syrian child after a video of the shocking blows went viral, state media reported on Sunday. (Yahoo


The strongest typhoon to hit southern China in four decades has killed 16 people after claiming at least 94 lives in the Philippines, officials said. (AP

The death toll from Typhoon Rammasun in the Philippines rose to 94 — with six missing — as another storm brought rains to the ravaged areas, authorities said Sunday. (AP

The alleged rape of a Buddhist woman by two Muslim men that triggered religious violence in the centralMyanmar city of Mandalay was fabricated, authorities said Sunday. (AP

The Americas

Mexican authorities begin the transfer of children from the House of the Big Family children’s home, as families complain of abuse. (BBC

With the red and black flags of the Sandinista National Liberation Front waving in the crowd before him,Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega this weekend celebrated the anniversary of the revolution he helped lead 35 years ago. (VOA


Why traveling for work is awful, and the best (WhyDev

Is ‘Green Growth’ just the latest development fad? (DevPolicy

Is Mosul anything like Chicago’s South Side? (Rachel Strohm

Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? (NY Times

Facebook and Politics in Zimbabwe: Who is Baba Jukwa? (Africa is a Country

How to avoid building more bad roads? (Development that Works

What to Expect at This Year’s International AIDS Conference (CGD

Can Drones Save Namibia’s Wildlife? (Policy Innovations


The International AIDS Society has confirmed that at least six high-level researchers and AIDS experts were among those killed on a Malaysia Airlines flight downed Thursday over volatile eastern Ukraine. (VOA

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