• Talk: Aid in a conflict zone – can military and development objectives work together?

Talk: Aid in a conflict zone – can military and development objectives work together?

16 February 2017


By 2030, two thirds of people in poverty will live in fragile states. In the 2016 Fragility Index, 67 countries (almost 38% of 178 nations) were classified for their stability at a high warning to very high alert status, and a further 40 at elevated warning status. It comes as no surprise that international aid efforts are therefore often focused on programmes in fragile and conflict-affected countries.  These present various challenges for aid organisations, many of are experienced in Afghanistan.

Where Western aid budgets often explicitly support Western strategic objectives, it becomes more difficult for aid agencies to convince local populations that they operate independently of their donor’s agenda.  Delivering programmes funded by governments that are also placing troops on the ground challenges long-championed humanitarian standards of neutrality. This puts aid workers at risk, and jeopardises their relationship with communities they serve.

Issues also exist at the local level. In today’s non-state conflicts there are numerous situations in which aid organisations can only access vulnerable communities through local conversations or negotiations with parties to the conflict. Yet international donors vehemently reject any such actions, leaving some organisations to tackle this issue ‘under the radar’. Not only is neutrality at stake here, but also impartiality. 

Alongside these questions of ethics is the blurring of military and aid objectives. In February 2016 a High Level Meeting of the DAC agreed changes to the rules on what constitutes Official Development Assistance (ODA).  Funds can now be allocated to defence, anti-terrorism and security activities.  DFID defended the changes, saying ‘many of the most significant challenges to the new Global Goals now come from violence and instability in developing countries.’ But do these pseudo-military activities contribute to over-arching development goals of reducing poverty and inequality? With an ongoing enquiry into how other British government departments spend ODA, questions remain about the true and traditional value of development assistance.

As these factors impact the ability of governments, donors and international aid organisations to operate in fragile states, local civil society play an increasingly important role and require a secure, open and supported environment. A 2016 study by the Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society into the enabling environment for civil society organizations in Afghanistan found corruption, limited engagement by the government, deficiencies in the rule of law, lack of protection and donor-driven policies tied to funding mechanisms were inhibiting effective civil society activity. 

A panel of experts will discuss these and other issues as we consider the reality of aid in a conflict-affected country. Questions will then be taken from the floor.  

Confirmed panellists:

Lena Lindberg is the Policy Officerat Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, supporting their education, health and other programmes in country. Prior to SCA, Lena worked in senior positions at UN Women in Pakistan and Fiji, and with UNDP in various postings in African and Asian countries and the New York HQ. She has also worked as a freelance consultant in various other institutions and organisations.

Maiwand Rahyab is Executive Director at Afghanistan Institute for Civil Society, based in Kabul.  A former Fulbright Scholar and Chevening Fellow, Maiwand was previously Deputy Chief of Party for Counterpart International in Afghanistan, and worked with Save the Children and Focus Humanitarian Assistance earlier in his career. Maiwand founded the Youth Development Foundation in 2004, to support the active and meaningful socio-cultural participation of young adults in the northern provinces of Afghanistan.

Victoria Schofield is an historian and commentator on international affairs, with specialist knowledge and love of South Asia, having travelled widely in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. She is acknowledged as one of the leading international experts on the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir and has given lectures on the subject. Her books include Kashmir in the Crossfire (1996), Kashmir in Conflict: India, Pakistan and the Unending War (2000, 2002, 2010) and Afghan Frontier: at the Crossroads of Conflict (2003, 2010).  Victoria is a frequent contributor to BBC World TV, BBC World Service and other news outlets including Al Jazeera. She has also written on South Asia for British newspapers as well as for Asian Affairs and The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.

Further panellists may be added.

Venue: Room 5.132, King’s College London – Waterloo Campus (Franklin Wilkins Building), Stamford Street, London SE1 9NH 

Time: 18.30 - 20.00

Cost: Free

Please email jenny.humphreys@baag.org.uk if you would like to attend this event.