Delivering aid and assistance in areas not under government control or where there is no government

Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 9

Civilians caught between warring factions or between government forces and armed militants suffer the most for their survival. They do not get food, safe drinking water, have no access to sanitation, health care. Even their personal safety is under threat under such circumstances. Armed groups often use civilians as a shield to advance in their fight against other armed groups or government forces. Thus civilian live under constant threat of being a collateral target and hardly able to ilk  out a living.

Aid  and assistance workers are in constant dilemma whether to consider those places for humanitarian assistance or not. Syrian crisis is a typical example of such situation. The opposition groups control many areas and the government forces fight to recover the areas. Hence the territorial control often leads to bitter battles and loss of civilian lives.

Similarly in Somalia the insurgents or opposition forces control many areas where government forces can hardly enter. The civilians there suffer a double knock. One due to severe food security due to drought and the second one due to battles between government or African Command forces and the Al Sabab/Islamic court.

These crisis are going on for several years with no end predicted in the near future. Can we leave those living in these area to dogs? We often do that. Because these are non reachable areas and there is a great deal of personal security issue to those who deliver aids and assistance.

What are the ways to reach those living in conflict zones?

Through involvement of parties or agencies or countries close to each warring parties negotiation for humanitarian access can be obtained. The time and the process can be discussed and finalised.   Drivers and aid workers (local staff) who are familiar with the area terrain can be assigned to deliver the most appropriate relief assistance to the war torn or fight affected areas. The timing and process should be well planned and work executed effectively.

Under such circumstances it is hardly possible to conduct any door to door or House hold assessment to deliver the assistance. So universal food and non food assistance to all in that crisis zone is done.  Mostly non cooking foods such as high energy biscuits and drinking water are delivered first.  Then the food items such as flour, oil and other cooking items and fuel are given.  All things are packed and delivered in the shortest possible time.

Due to extreme situation the tempers will run high leading to physical violence to get the assistance goods. So aid workers need to be trained well to handle such precarious and violent situation. Psychological   and mental stamina practices are necessary. These training are conducted by expert trainers well before the assistance is delivered.

As there is no law and order in these regions, the unruly crowd is likely to grab whatever aid or assistance they come in contact or see. So very good crowd management skills are necessary.  Unfortunately in many cases it needs use of force in order to bring order.

Under pressing circumstance the women, old people, children and disabled would be left high and dry.  So, special efforts need to be taken to address gender and disability issues. It is also possible that the members of the same family pretend to different families and will try to get maximum aid materials as possible.   They later sell the extra aid goods in the market or barter them for other goods. Hence with the given elbow room provided for assistance, short group interviews can be conducted and the families identified and noted. The relief assistance can delivered to families as per list.

Due to unpredictable ground situation and the extreme conditions, theft and robbery of aid goods is possible during transport and storage.   Armed escorts are to be provide to the aid convey with clear transport instructions.  As far as possible storage should  be avoided. But under unavoidable circumstances, the aid materials can ne stored in places identified by the community members; but this for a very short time;  may be one or two days. That’s all.

Assistance to   none/less  government  control territories  

In Afghanistan and Somalia there are many areas not under government control.  This  is  the case for several years. According to one estimate more than 60 % of the areas in Afghanistan is not under any government control.  For example I have seen places where they do not use the national currency but the currency of the neighbouring country. Also there are no number plates for the vehicles in these areas.   We can see open display or exhibition of sophisticated guns as a show of power everywhere.

Due to extreme restrictions on movement of people in these areas, the normal life is very much affected and the people follow all shorts of negative even irreversible coping strategies.  Hence it is extremely necessary to deliver aid and assistance in these areas to save the civil population from food insecurity  and provide basic health care. How this can be done?

In all the communities there are traditional leadership systems. For example in Afghanistan they have elders Shura which  is functional even in extreme crisis situations. In Somalia there is Xeer system where the head of community controls every thing. In Arab speaking communities ‘Maliks’ lead the community by the his traditional leadership position offered by hereditary   rights. We can use these traditional leaderships to deliver aid and assistance.  It is better to discuss the plans of assistance, eligible families, and mode of assistance, time and place of delivery.

In Afghanistan we were able to execute even long term projects such a building of Shelter, irrigation channel and dams in insecure places using the traditional leadership.  Hence it is possible to do the same for relief and assistance delivery in most of the tradition bound close knit communities.  Negotiation for space for operations is done by these leaders with the non state actors. These leaders ensure safety of the staff who delivers the aid and assistance. In return they also expect some favours from the aid agencies. Instead of going for unethical means of meeting the expectations, it is necessary to work based on humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality, independence and non discrimination. For example the leader may want to earn political mileage by showing that he has arranged for the aid delivery. Even though aid workers are not doing it directly, by keeping these leaders during aid distribution gives such an impression which we cannot avoid.  Also involvement of them in all the important consultations for work execution will give them pride of being seen as leader in their community.  In some circumstance even we have asked such traditional leaders to suggest candidates for local staff recruitment. They can be given the minimum eligibility requirements for the local aid and assistance workers and asked to nominate atleast a few eligible candidates for the position with a clear communication that a selection process will be in place to select the most eligible and suitable candidate for the job would be selected on merit among the list of candidates given by the traditional community leaders.  In renting places for operations the community leaders can be informed of the minimum requirement for office such as space, security conditions and accessibility to the community members etc.,and asked to suggest the places and not one place alone for renting.   Following procurement procedures these places can be inspected,   listed and rental prices can be negotiated.

If the places where the most vulnerable families live is extremely dangerous or remote to reach, then  meeting of community leaders can be organised in a secure place near the conflict zone. Group exercise such as group interview, focus group discussions can  be done to collect common information of the ground situation can be collected and triangulated with Key informant interview.  We have used social mapping and wealth ranking techniques to identify the most vulnerable families, listed and assisted them. The principle here that it is that is better to be approximately correct.


Aid diversion – How to plug the seepage?

Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 8


How are the aid diverted?

All the actions that put the aid money into the hands and actions  that is not intended by the donor’s aim can be bundled into ‘Aid diversion’   It not only indicates that aid money end up in wrong hands but also it misused.  Let us try to understand some of the ways in which aid money is misused or diverted

  1. Corruption: Aid and assistance goes to different countries in the form of on budget support and off budget support. Most of the funds from World Banks and Asian development bank’s goes to the on budget funding. Means that the money is transferred directly to the government’s treasury for its various actions. The government uses it for to various development actions such as building government infrastructure such as office building, court houses, Military, roads etc., But unfortunately if the various government departments are corrupt they find the ways to siphon off  the funds scientifically for personal gains. For example the road contracts are granted to favoured contractors who will pay a good amount of bribe to officials and the minister concerned. Though in paper the contracts looks fine and perfectly followed the fair contract principles, what does not meet the eyes are the behind the scene actions of corruption money deposited in the foreign bank accounts of Ministers and assistants of ministers.  At one point in a casual informal discussion with the officials of a ministry I came to know that only less than 30% of the tender quoted amount goes to the road construction the remaining money goes to crease the palms of the higher ups. When the money is spent in remote  area projects away from the range of inspection such schools and road, then there is lot of  scope to collect bribe money which are exploited to the full extend.

 In case of off budget funding the funds goes to the NGOs and International organisations. Many of the donors insist that the NGOs and International organisations have to work in close collaboration with the governments even though the government is corrupt. This leaves less choice to them to operate. Even for smaller things they have to rely on the government. So to get a better working relation, they try to give something to the ministers and their paraphernalia such as favourable contracts to their persons, recruitment of their recommended candidates etc., These favoured contractor pays the bribe to the ministers and officials to the tune of 10 20 % of  the contract money. The recommended candidate pays the bribe to the minister through the minister’s assistant or relative of minister’s assistant. The corrupt persons are so determined to fine their way to collect their share with out leaving any trail to trace. For example recently I came to know that even in the case of scholarship offered by foreign nations to the students for studying in another countries bribery is taking place. Since the scholarship selection is to be done by the competitive merit based assessment system, this work is assigned to the ministry of education. The ministry of education officials keep the announcement of the scholarship exam secret. For name sake they paste the announcement in their notice board for a few minutes and take it off. They sell this information to those who give them money and only those who get the information will apply. Thus only limited number of persons will appear in the competitive exam. There is also cases of leakage of question paper to help their favoured candidates. Also mark shifting from the candidate who scored high marks to the one who scored low but able to pay bribe. Also while sending calls letters to wrongly written addresses are written so that the selected candidate may not respond, so that the scholarship goes to the next person in the list who has paid the bribe. The embassies give some scholarships to the candidates recommended by the Members of parliaments.  These scholarships seats are also sold to the highest bidder and the bribe money is collected.

  1. Contractors collusion: The contractors collude with each other and inflate the tender amount for various construction projects and pay the bribe to the contract awardee officials from the government or the NGO or International organisation staff. In one case I found the  actual cost of construction of a building was only 1,00.000 USD where as the lowest quotation was 1,80,000 USD which is 80% mark up. On being asked about this the contractor came out openly about his commitment to pay the government officials for granting permission and also the illegal tax that he has to pay to the insurgent groups to allow him to take up the construction project. The logic he gave was that the government top officials’ salary is less than the driver’s salary in UN organisation and in many NGOs. The non state actors are starved of funds and they want to make a living using the poor law and order situation in the country side to make money.  Thus they collect their own tax from the contractors and project beneficiaries.
  2. Camouflaged expenditures: Very often NGOs are disdained to work in insecure regions where the need to spend lot of money to keep their staff safe. In order to do so they try to negotiate access with the non state actors by sub contracting some works to local agencies who charge service charges as part of agreement. Many of these letter pad local organisation are created to collect money from the contractors and NGOs.
  3. Illegal tax: The non state actors who have a free run in the places where the government has no control fix their tax rate and collect the illegal taxes from all the businesses and enterprises. Also those who get relief assistance from what ever agency they get, there is a unwritten rule that they have to pay 10 % of the amount to the agents of these non state actors. For example in case a school building contractor failed to pay some part of the 10 %contract. We saw night shelling and RPG attack in and around the contractor’s house and the government offices. By hook or crook these non state actor collect their tax. The contractors in fact inflate their quote to gain their own profit and at the same time the bribes and illegal tax that they have to pay. I have heard cases of government officials asking for bribe money to recommend beneficiaries for asset transfer (Cattle, Poultry etc) to the NGOs. When the NGOs transferred the assets these corrupt officials take the beneficiaries list and call each of them to office and ask them to pay their share threatening to recommend to NGOs or other organisations to stop all assistance to them thereafter.
  4. Faking security situation: When the situation in the country is not that bad, to get more money in their budget many organisations even pay money to different groups to create scenes of insecurity. This justifies their actions of hiring local organisations to implement projects at higher cost which in term will benefit the bribe takers.
  5. Aid by contracts: The contractors who have connections with illegal groups hide them and take the contracts in insecure places. They go through the legal tender process and quote a lower price to get the contract. Reason for taking the contract is to make way for routing their illegal transaction through legal means. Since they are monopoly operators in many insecure areas they reap a wind fall profit. To trick the procurement system they will have dummy bids from another 2 – 3 companies who are near relatives of the same persons. In fact other company bids are also written by the same person in different letter heads and stamped. Those relatives get a percentage commission for helping in the bid. All these costs are factored into the inflated quotation price.
  6. Wrong beneficiaries: Some of the corrupt government staff will collect money from  their relatives and friends and will ask the NGOs to include their names in the beneficiary selection list in exchange for their co-operation for implementation of the project.  They collect their share of bribe from the ineligible beneficiaries who get the benefits due to their influence.
  7. Cheating in procurement: Most of the donors prescribe procurement procedures for higher value items especially international tenders . But for less than 10000 USD value product purchase, they leave it to the NGOs or international organisations to decide as per their procurement manual which is mostly national or local purchase. When local procurement is done there are various ways of siphoning money illegally. The announcement reaches only the select persons thereby restricting wide competition. Also the favoured trader given the price range to quote in advance so that he quotes the price that is possible win the bid. Also the non ( rent )paying traders or less paying traders are eliminated showing other reasons such as quality and capacity of the trader to meet huge volumes of purchase. Once the trader wins the purchase agreement, he finds ways to make money and pay the bribe.  I have seen the winter kits being supplied just one day before being dispatched to the field. Or quoting reason that there is not enough space for storing, they are sent directly to the distribution places for the traders’s store house. Instead of supplying 3 kg thick blanket, he might be supplying 1.5 kg thin blanket. The list of items supplied given to the beneficiaries, it is written as 1.5 x 1.2 meters winter blanket and the weight it not written. When one goes back and see the procurement records it is in fact 3 kg thick winter blanket. But this information is kept secret in the procurement file and the staff who distributes the blanket in the field does not know these details. So the money thus earned by cheating in quality by the trader is used as bribe money.  Similarly during supply of windows, doors and the glasses for windows in the supply of shelter materials the thickness is not mentioned. They ask for higher thickness in the quotation where as the supply is in lower thickness wooden items and glasses. Thus money thus earned also goes to crease the palm of  the procurement staff who make arrangement for payment by certifying for the quality, once the distribution to beneficiaries is over and their acknowledgement  is obtained.

There are also cases of insider information by which the contactors get details of the bench mark pricing and quote the contract price according to these paid insider information. In some cases the tender conditions are formulated in such a way that only 3 or 4 bidders would be qualified for the bid. These bidders know each other and even if one of them wins the bid the other would split the work and do sub contracts for the main bidder. Most of the times the main bidder would not do the work and would sub contract to others and would do the paper works and collects his/her share  of profit in the works.

How to prevent aid diversion?

  1. Corruption: The donating or financing organisations should appoint their representatives in the procurement committee. A separate independent technical committee may be appointed to check the quality of work at each stage and certify. Only on the satisfactory quality certification the amount to the contractor should be transferred.  Also a well working anti corruption petition receipt and management / response system should be in place for each project. The complaint system should be easily accessible to everyone such as a phone number, email address and postal receipt address. The details should be publicised in all the possible ways using public display boards in various locations and bill boards.
  2. Contractors collusion: To avoid contractors collusion a good publicity of the tenders through various venues such as mass media such as News paper, internet web sites known to all should be made. In addition advertisement details can be published in public notice boards in many places in the city and in public places. Also the advertisement copies can be mailed to all the previous bidders by email and post. Also the advertisement copies can be sent to Chamber of commerce with request to send to all its members. A reference price list or construction price should be prepared by in house staff  or independent consultant and that price should be taken as bench mark to consider the bids. If the quote prices is more than 10 % of the reference pricing, the bid should be cancelled and called again.  NGOs should establish independent grievance handling system where in beneficiaries can express their concerns regarding the illegal tax collected by non state actors. In case illegal tax collection came to their notice, the system of assistance should be tailored in such a way it gives less room for paying illegal tax. For example cellpone e  voucher can make the beneficiaries to buy the goods in shop and will not give them cash in hand. So they are less likely to carry cash home thus may not be able to pay the illegal tax.
  3. Camouflaged expenditures: Proper vetting of local NGOS and Civil society organisation are necessary. Personal inspection of their work and discussion with their beneficiaries is necessary. More importantly their audited statement for at least 3 years should be examined. Interview or communication with their previous partners is necessary. Bulk expenses of doubtful nature should be thoroughly checked.
  4. Illegal taxes: Government should establish rule and law. There should be an effective policing system in towns and cities. Social policing system should be tried to prevent criminality. NGOs should create beneficiaries committee to collect all the grievance in letter form or orally and pass on them to the NGOs. These complaints should be taken case by case and disposed off properly and records of those cases should  be sent to Donors or the complaints committee of the NGO. Protecting the beneficiaries details the details of corruption charges should be sent to the Minister concerned with copy marked to national anti corruption commission or the highest  government office such as office of president or prime minister or leader of the house.
  5. Faking security situation: Discussion with community members and proper security assessment will expose the right details and correct information. Mid term correction of budgets to be examined with a pinch of salt.
  6. Aid by contracts: Thorough inquiry into types of contracts of different bidders from the same area should be made. As far as possible for bigger and construction works out of area contractors should  be informed well and they should be asked to compete this to some extend prevent contractors collusion. In case of higher value bids citizen’s committee or community representatives can be involved in bids finalisation, since they know the relationship between the bidders.
  7. Wrong beneficiaries: NGOs and International organisations should go by the principle of assisting the most vulnerable with out discrimination. There should be written code of contact that prescribes not to accede to any recommendation. Vulnerability assessment using questionnaire  or vulnerability score card and the  beneficiaries should be ranked based on the assessment and the assistance should  be given according to this ranking and grouping. Inclusion error should be dealt with by the organisation with strong hands with disciplinary actions.
  8. Cheating in procurement: All ways of cheating in procurement should be found and remedial actions should be taken by organisations. All beneficiaries should be given a authenticated slip of items with quantity and quality information as per bid document.  Whistle blowing mechanism to alert the top management by any staff if cheating or corruption happens should  be in place with easy access through email, letter or complaint mechanism. Care should  be taken not to concentrate powers of decision of bids finalisation to one or two persons. It should be delegated to a committee consisting of persons from different departments and chosen by the head of department every time differently.  Contract condition should prohibit sub contracting and severe penalty and cancellation of  contracts should be prescribed in the contract.

Dilemma of whether peace first or aid and assistance first?

Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 7

There is always a dilemma whether to flow aid and assistance to the area affected by conflict, because there is a fear that the aid may be diverted to support the conflict. Though the aid and assistance is required to save lives in the places of conflict, it often happens that those who possess the guns have greater power to get the benefit than those who do not have. This happens not only in war zones but also in protracted conflict zones.

Due to conflict and war like situation the civilians are affected a lot and they fight for their survival. In Afghanistan the civilians are sandwiched between  government forces and the Militants such as Talibans and IS fighters.  These people are not able to meet their basic things life such as decent food, proper shelter, safe drinking water, access to sanitation, health care, education etc.,  Vexed with life some of these people are joining the Armed opposition groups and take up guns. Because they perceive having guns in their hands makes them more powerful.

US and International forces by mistake strike civilian targets killing innocent people. These include many women and children. The media make a killing by projecting these things to earning a living and even more. The visual images of these scenes are flashed again and again in the TV channels. This drives the population against the Army operations putting the Government army in the same pedestal with the militants. Though the militants have done huge crimes like beheading of their choice victims and gunning down families, it never get projected in the media for the obvious reasons of  being targeted by these elements.

Donating persons and countries think that poverty is the main reason for the youth  joining the opposition groups or armed militant groups. So donors through INGOs, UN and International organisation go on to flow aid and assistance in to these areas to stop these people joining those camps. Sadly it is not always poverty that drives them to join these groups. There are many other reasons too such as ideological affinity, poor education, opinionation, media misinformation, religious misguidance, frustration about poor governance and rampant bribery, hunger for power, identity crisis, dominance of one group of people in political area and suppression of minority, maarginalisation, extreme hatred towards foreign forces and so on.  So the logic that poverty is the driving force of increased militancy is a flawed and required rethinking.

Human life in the regions affected by the conflicts and war like situation will become unbearable with the humanitarian assistance which is a short term solution.  When conflict and fighting is going on for years and years, then what is the exit strategy or is there a sustainable solution?  Under normal shock situation such as after natural disaster people start building their lives and the recovery assistance can rehabilitated the lost or broken infrastructures. International aid agencies are doing these things through UN agencies and INGOs already.  But in protracted conflict situation this is not possible. In Afghanistan and in Iraq we see that the fighting between the government forces supported by US military recapture and liberate some areas from the clutches of the militants and hand  them over to civil authorities. Once they leave the scene, the sleeper cells of militants spring up and take over the territorial administration under their control. It looks like a hide and seek game that our children play.

In these conflict situations it is highly difficult to conduct assessments at individual house hold level since the access is restricted. We can only conduct group interviews to select the beneficiaries. This leads to often exclusion and inclusion errors.  Most often general distribution of aid is done to all the families without distinctions based on vulnerability. These can often lead to frictions within the community leading to negation of first principle of protection in humanitarian assistance namely do no harm.


So because of the above stated reasons can UN and INGOs  leave these regions affected by conflict  and work only in the peaceful and non conflict areas. The answer is no. Because it is in these regions their service and assistance most needed where as in the peaceful regions the civilian administration can do the jobs of provision, protection and promotion. But bringing peace is a bigger task beyond the capacity of most INGOS and even UN agencies. Without peace, how to flow aid and assistance? What can we do about aid diversion? What safety measure we have to protect the common population being threatened by militants for paying illegal taxes that they collect to fund their actions. In fact in Afghanistan due to financial crisis the militants have started criminal activities such as kidnapping of businessmen and international staff to extract ransom money to foot their activities.


Under these circumstances, it is necessary to work to strengthen the government. Because it is the primary function of the government to bring peace and run the welfare services and built basic amenities. Some raise their eye brows saying is it support a bribe ridden poor government. If one has more than one option to choose from then he/she can  make a choice. But if there is only one option then it becomes a hobnob’s choice and either you take it or leave it. So  only way to operate is to support the government  taking their assurance to reduce bribery and misgovernance.  Also INGOs and UN agencies should try to give in kind assistance as far as possible to reduce direct on budget assistance. In kind assistance can be in the form of providing expert assistance or consultants, construction of infrastructures such as government building, dams, road, water supplies,  conduct of training to the government staff and armed forces, equipping the governance system with necessary materials and resources etc.,


Once peace or partial peace is restored, INGOS will have to find ways to access the conflict or war affected places. I say partial peace because total peace is sometimes a utopian concept and a illusion is some situation and we have a look of a compromise situation.  We cannot wait till the waves in the sea to smoothen to sail out boats. We have to start the aid and assistance work even in the conflict situations. Though the after effects of the conflicts will always be there, it is essential to reach out to the less reached population with aid and assistance. This is very important to restore the hopes of the children  and youth who would have been steeped in the ocean of hopelessness and desperation due to protracted conflict and seeing the psychological night mare of deaths of loved ones and destructions. .

When partial peace is restored it is evident that some areas are still not under full control of the government forces. The hidden insurgents groups still have a hold in the areas. They may strike gorilla war  at their will. UN and INGOs should make a thorough investigation of ground situation and take measured actions to reach out the less assisted population living in the conflict affected areas. First they can target the displaced population. Because the displaced population often choose safe location for their families to settle down even it is for a temporary basis.

By group interviews of the affected host communities  INGOs and UN organisations can identify the key locations of displacement.   Even the border police of the province or the country will give the information of movement of population.  Access to these location can be negotiated with the  governments/ Assessment can be done in the displacement places and assistance can be distributed.

In the areas affected by conflict, it is necessary to negotiate cease fire with the fighting parties to earn a humanitarian space to deliver assistance. Care should be taken to establish the neutrality and use local staff to administer the operations. Also it is necessary to take measure to avoid the assistance being diverted to insurgents under the threat of gun power..

In the places where partial peace is restored, it is necessary to work towards durable solutions which means that the people should be assisted to build their livelihoods and institution so that they can be self reliant.  In the conflict torn place the first priority is to restore the  civil administration. The utilities such as electricity and water supplies have to be restored and made to function without disruption. The public  transport services should be assisted to function. Government department can  be given expert’s assistance to  operate. Community leadership can be democratised and  community based organisation supported and assisted to serve a moral duty bearers of the government.


Why food and other assistance sold in the open market?

Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 1

Many people suffer due to man made disaster such as conflicts and wars or due to natural disasters such as floods, storms, earth quakes, avalanches etc.   Families are displaced and some families continue to live in the same places of disaster after the disaster. The poor, disabled, women and children are most affected by these disasters. Some of them die during disasters and some continue to live miserable live after disasters.

Different Institutional donors, philanthropists and governments donate money to lessen the suffering of the people. This happens all over the world. The donations or assistance are routed through International organisations, NGOs and UN Agencies. These organisatons conduct assessment in the places of disasters and places where those displaced by the disaster live. They select the most vulnerable families and individuals and provide them with assistance such as food and non food items. Non food items may be kitchen kits, blankets, cloths, hygiene kits etc.,

After the distribution we have found some of these materials which were distributed to the selected beneficiaries have been available for sales in the markets near to these beneficiaries.  What does this indicate?

This indicates any or  all or some of the following factors

  1. Unmet urgent Need: The beneficiaries may have more pressing need than the items distributed. For example the child in the family may need urgent medical attention so the beneficiary might have sold some food materials to get the money to take his loved one to hospital.
  2. Wrong selection: There might have been a inclusion error in the selection of beneficiaries which means those who are not to be selected as beneficiaries (Non beneficiaries because they are well off) are included in the beneficiaries list due to pressure from influential people or government official’s relation etc and they have received the assistance. On receipt of assistance such as food or housing materials or non food items, they will sell it off in the market to convert the assistance into money and take it
  3. Received more than required: Some families split their family member to show that they are two or three families to receive more assistance. UN and NGOs consider family as unit to distribute assistance. They consider ration for a family of 6 or 7. Even if the family size is less than that they distribute the same level of assistance. There are also professional beneficiaries who know how to answer the different questions asked during assessment. They also arrange their living place to look poor during assessment to receive assistance. Since most NGOS and UN organisations have one or two sizes of rations of aid materials to families they just give the materials to the beneficiaries identified by their assessment teams. Also people can eat half stomach  or skip some meals and save the remaining to convert into money to meet their immediate  pressing needs. On getting these food or other materials those who receive them sell them  to the shop keepers in their neighbouring areas to get the money
  4. Receiving not required items: UN organisations NGOs and International Organisations purchase the items and distribute to the beneficiaries thinking that these items are required by the beneficiaries. Some of the beneficiaries might already have them or do not require them. For example beneficiaries might have kitchen kits already with them or may have the blankets.  But NGOS and UN agencies do not take this into consideration. They simply assume that these are required by the beneficiaries and hence buy and distribute them. So those who have these items will sell them to the shop keepers or agents to get the money to use it for other urgent needs.
  5. Delayed receipt of materials: Due to various reasons the food and other materials might have been received by the beneficiaries very late by the time they might have made alternative arrangements to make a   For example they might have borrowed money to meet their pressing needs. So when the assistance arrives in the form of goods they simply sell it off in the markets to get the money to repay their loans or to meet their urgent needs.
  6. Receive assistance from more than one agency: Some of beneficiaries use different names to reap benefits from more than one organisation. Displaced families most often do not have identity papers. Though some of them have UNHCR Identity, some might be undocumented families. These family members inform the different person as head of family to the assessment team and receive assistance from more than on organisation.



How to overcome these problems?


There is no magic formula to completely prevent or eliminate these problems. By taking some effective steps we will be able to minimise these issues to the negligible level

Here are some suggestions for effectively tackle these issues

  1. Make sure to  use vulnerability score card to make the assessment more scientific and minimise the human errors of interpretations. The problem of professional beneficiaries could be tackled by this method.
  2. Use wealth ranking technique of qualitative assessment  to screening and listing before going for individual door to door assessment. This method uses the community members knowledge about their own community members. Hence gives more reliable information.
  3. Avoid distributing items physically and give freedom of purchase to the beneficiaries. For example you can give them cash vouchers with the use of which they can purchase all the listed items from your list at any time they want.
  4. Cash assistance instead of distributing physical items such as food or non food items. This will give freedom to the beneficiaries to use it for their urgent needs. The fear of fungibility of cash is unfounded. We have found that if the beneficiaries’ selection is good the cash distributed for purchase of f food items most probably goes to meet that need.
  5. If cash assistance is planned, make sure to include allowance for meeting the medical needs
  6. Make a good plan of supply chain management and execute efficiently to make the materials available in the places where they are needed to be distributed in time
  7. Engage the community in beneficiaries’ selection process. A beneficiaries selection committee consisting of persons elected or elected by the community can be formed to prepare the list of The beneficiaries selection committee can be given the criteria for selection of  beneficiaries. This committee can be given training and guidance by the NGO or UN staff. Once the list of probable beneficiaries is received, it can be published in public places for comments and complaints  from all the community members. This will avoid inclusion and exclusion errors
  8. A complaints receipt and response mechanism can also be established and publicised to all the members of the community including non beneficiaries. A complaints committee consisting of community members elected by the community, staff member of the NGO or UN Organisation which plans to distribute assistance, government staff can be formed. This committee can receive the complaints or can open the complaints box and address the genuine complaints that needs to be addressed at various stages of the assistance from selection of beneficiaries till post distribution evaluation.
  9. NGOs and UN organisation should avoid making assumptions about the needs of beneficiaries and try to address them with formula of one size fit all concept. Instead it is better go for Cash assistance after proper vulnerability assessment. So that the most vulnerable families are assisted.
  10. Use of technology such as bio-metric identification would avoid duplication of benefit (means prevent receiving benefits from more than one organisation)

How to deliver aid and development assistance in fragile states or insecure places?

Humanitarian Aid, Recovery and development work Issues Series – 6


fragile state is a low-income country characterized by weak state capacity and/or weak state legitimacy leaving citizens vulnerable to a range of shocks. While there are no universal criteria to determine state fragility, the World Bank, through its LICUS programme (Low Income Countries Under Stress) and its Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA) Index, has been able to establish a preeminent frame of reference for donor countries and other institutional partners. Based on four Characteristics they are classified as fragile states

  • Economic management,
  • Structural policies
  • Policies for social inclusion/equity
  • Public Sector Management and institutions

The CPIA index rates state performance using 16 indicators  and  those countries scoring under 3.2 out of a total of 6 are classified  as “fragile”. Such low performing countries may then be, in turn, suitable for the allocation of financial assistance from a variety of international actors.

Fragile states are economically in a precarious situation where government does not have the means to run the governance system. Some of these  countries are lawless lands. Those with gun power take all and dictate terms as law of their territory. Poverty is widespread in these countries. All the assistance given to improve the living conditions of people are drained by muscle power of the  powerful in the community. Fragile states over a period of time if not managed well, will slip towards ‘failed state.  A failed state is a political body that has disintegrated to a point where basic conditions and responsibilities of a sovereign government no longer function properly. Likewise, when a nation weakens and its standard of living declines, it introduces the possibility of total governmental collapse..Some example of Fragile states are Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Democratic republic of Congo, Haiti etc.,  There are more than 30 Countries in this list. Some are trapped in a vicious cycle of violent conflict and poverty or suffer from a natural resource “curse”; others face a legacy of poor governance; many emerging from crisis cannot deliver even the most basic services to their citizens. Even countries such as Nepal and Uzbekistan are in that list of fragile states through they have a functioning government. But due to the fact that one third of their population is living below poverty (ie) 1.5 USD income per day they are listed as fragile countries

We can classify these fragile states into two categories as follows

Violent conflict fragile nations: Central African Republic, Yemen Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo,  Chad. Cameron

Economic fragile nations: Nepal, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Zimbabawe, Haiti, Guniea, Myanmar, Tajikistan, Kazakistan, Ukraine, Costa Rica, Pananma, Venezula, Papa New Guinea , Mexico, Turkey, Rwanda and Sierra Leone

Economic fragility leads to poverty which is the root cause of violent conflict for access and use of resources. It is a vicious cycle.

Characteristics of Fragile states

  • Significantly susceptible to  crisis in one or more of its sub-systems such as ministries, basic services, sub-national governance etc.,
  • Particularly vulnerable to internal and external shocks and domestic and international conflicts.
  • Institutions (importantly property rights) that reinforce stagnation or low growth rates, or embody extreme inequality (in wealth, in access to land, in access to the means to make a living
  • In social terms institutions may embody extreme inequality or lack of access altogether to health or education
  • In political terms, institutions may entrench exclusionary coalitions in power (in ethnic, religious, or perhaps regional terms), or extreme factionalism or significantly fragmented security organisations.
  • Statutory institutional arrangements are vulnerable to challenges by rival institutional systems be they derived from traditional authorities, devised by communities under conditions of stress that see little of the state (in terms of security, development or welfare), or be they derived from warlords, or other non-state power brokers. This is the case of Afghanistan where the rival group Taliban is running parallel government with Shadow governors in most of the provinces of the South of the country where the Central government from Kabul has least influence. Though Central government appoints the governors of these provinces, their powers to govern limited to the provincial capital in some places and even less in many cases.
  • The so called ‘legitimate’ governments of the fragile states  are not only  unable to provide adequate living conditions and security to their own citizens but also create insecurity for their neighbouring countries. Poor policing conditions in the fragile countries provided ideal breeding ground for radical actors and insurgents. Movements such as ISIL, Boka Haram, ul Quada, Islamic Court etc are operating with impunity because of this.
  • Due to extreme poverty and poor security the crime rates in these countries are very high. Poverty leads people to resort of negative coping strategies such as opium production and transport in Afghanistan, Sea Piracy in Somalia and gun trading in many African countries.
  • Lack of resources for these government lead to poor investment in public infrastructures such as road, electricity and communication.
  • Education, health, access to water and sanitation are in the barest minimum and nonexistent in most part of these countries. This conditions lead to poor living conditions and hence population try to migrate to other places and hence creates internally displaced conditions within the country. Some of them try to cross border both legally or illegally longing for better livelihoods and living conditions. This has been happening in Afghanistan where Afghans cross over to Pakistan where the refugee situation is reaching a breaking point that the Pakistan army and police are driving out illegal immigrants from Afghanistan.

There is no easy solution to all the fragile nations to adapt to come out of the fragility trap.  This is especially true in countries sporadic and continuous conflict is going on.

Here are some suggestions based on experience of this author who has worked in such violent fragile countries for long time


  • Establish neutrality of operation: Though it is a difficult process, it is must condition for succeeding to get the confidence.  Assistance are to be provided in area under control of government and under control of  non state actors. In Afghanistan we were able to implement transitory shelter in areas where government has zero control and the rebels run a parallel government.
  • Work with Community leadership: There are formal and traditional leadership in all the communities. Try to identify them and establish connections with them. But care should be taken not to be too close to any of them. Otherwise there is danger of caught between factional fights. In Afghanistan we were able to work with Elder Shura to establish water users associations to create irrigation infrastructures in area under the control of Talibans
  • Recruit and use staff from same place: Establish contacts with the community in crisis and ask them to suggest some volunteers to work for humanitarian work. These volunteers can be later trained to be staff members for NGO or UN organisation. One has to make some compromise on HR rules to recruit local staff
  • Work through National NGOs (NNGO) and Civil society organisations(CSO): Take care to select NNGO or CSOs from the country who are genuine and are working in the field for long time. Young organisations need more vetting to avoid ‘letter pad’ NGOs and ‘crony’ Letter pad NGOs are created by some individual with the motive of siphoning the project funds by feeble implementation and create false bills. Crony NGOs are created by friends and relatives of one or two persons to  the benefit of their own group. Once the NNGO or CSO is selected, UN or INGOs should take up capacity building process as well as funding creation of sufficient infrastructure for that organisation. In Afghanistan this model of operation worked well. We engaged a NNGO and gave good training to the volunteers by calling them to a safe place. The NNGO  delivered the humanitarian aids to the flood affected population and submitted photographic and Video  evidences of their operations.
  • Selection International staff: INGOs usually give priority in selection to persons of their own country especially from Europe and US. But to operate in fragile security countries this rule/convention should be dumped 6 feet deep. The persons from developing countries who have good experience in working in such situations and can work with empathy to the nations population are to be deployed.
  • Prime pump local economy: It is difficult to transport goods in these countries due to poor infrastructures such as road and communication. Hence it is  better to encourage local traders to deliver goods. These small traders can be assisted in terms of capacity building and financially.  The voucher system (even e voucher through Cellphones) can be used where the selected beneficiaries will go to the designated shop keeper to redeem their vouchers to get them essential things without the necessity of payment to warlords or illegal tax collected by the insurgents.
  • Security management and Standard Operating procedure (SOP): INGOs or UN organisation who want to work in these fragile violent countries should prepare different operational rules according to dynamic security condition with clear command tree. Also evacuation rules for international and national staff should be in place. Full alert medical team should be in place.