by UNA MOORE
“If we’re going to talk about work as important — and expensive — as international aid, the least we can do is use accurate language,” my friend Alanna wrote in a recent guest post for Aid Watch. I could not agree more. In fact, I think we need to go a step further. It’s not just that there are many kinds of aid — it’s that some things we call aid are not aid at all.
First, there are different kinds of real aid. Emergency humanitarian relief is short term aid used to keep populations alive during or in the immediate aftermath of disasters, both natural and man-made. This kind of aid usually comes in the form of very basic things: food, temporary shelter, medical care — things no one could obtain for herself or himself in the aftermath of, say, a tsunami or displacement by military onslaught. Development aid, taking place over a longer time span, aims to reduce poverty and create lasting changes in the way people live. Sometimes the two overlap in long-running crises.
Then there is what I call “pseudo aid” — something else entirely that superficially looks like aid and gets conflated, usually by people who aren’t aid professionals, with relief and development aid. This conflation is intellectually sloppy and unhelpful.
What is pseudo aid? I would divide pseudo aid from the United States into three categories: bilateral budget support, public diplomacy, and the construction/reconstruction aspect of counter-insurgency. Why are these three things not aid? Relief and development aid are supposed to be delivered on the basis of recipients’ needs, regardless of political consequences. Budget support, public diplomacy and counterinsurgency, in contrast, are very much based on anticipated political outcomes — in other words, they’re instruments of national self-interest.