Critically Examine the Geopolitics of Humanitarian Aid Within the 21st Century.

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Critically examine the geopolitics of humanitarian aid within the 21st century. How have responses to famine changed over time and what are the key challenges to famine prevention today? Geopolitics have played a huge role in humanitarian aid in the current century. Because humanitarian aid is largely sponsored by western countries it poses a huge problem in the form of a “parochial form of theorizing"1 that supports the interests of the richest countries of the world. For the purpose of this essay I will begin by examining the problems that have arisen in the most recent years of humanitarian aid assistance. This arises from conditional aid, whereby donor countries or organizations impose conditions in order for recipient countries to receive this aid. Followed by this is the secularization and polarization of the aid industry where organizations are constantly in competition for finite resources. Lastly the 21st century has seen foreign militaries carry out humanitarian aid missions which jeopardizes the neutrality and impartiality which is so essential in carrying out aid to anyone who is in need. Secondly this essay will look at how humanitarian aid has changed over time. For the purpose of this short essay I will look at the 1998 famine in North Korea whereby humanitarian aid was given, only under political concessions. Disguised as aid, the humanitarian assistance given to North Korea was used as a political tool that undermines the fundamental ideas of humanitarian aid. The basic theorizations of humanitarianism put a deep emphasis on adherence to principles of impartiality and neutrality and assistance based solely on need. Adherence to these principles has been the biggest problems of humanitarian aid over its history, but never more so than in the 21st century. Aid in recent years has been based on conditionality which essentially means that in order for nations to receive aid, these nations have to adopt conditions that that the donor nation imposes. This means that aid is not offered on the basis of those who need it, but is based on policy that supports the donors giving aid. Therefore critics see these policies, although framed as humanitarian in principle, as very far removed from humanitarian. In essence it is foreign policy that is advantageous to the donor.2 Some such policies that come from conditionality are trade liberalization, that can ruin domestic economies and increase unemployment, and capital account liberalization that would open less developed economies to investments from multi-national corporations. Such investments have little impact on the majority of people in these countries and generally only benefit the corporations themselves and a small group of elites in the recipient countries. This supply of aid, especially in the events of crisis is in complete contrast to the fundamental principles of humanitarian aid. 3

One of the most problematic concerns of aid in the last ten years has been the politicization and secularization of the aid industry. Over the last twenty five years humanitarian aid has become heavily institutionalized. This has led to more effective logistics and delivery systems. However it has also created institutions that are perhaps not so concerned with providing aid to those in need, but acting in the interests of governments or big businesses that are the donors of the resources.4 Humanitarian organizations such as NGO’s and now foreign military forces are often in competition with local organizations which has led to valuable resources being wasted because of constant competition for aid .5Because of this, NGO’s neutrality (one of the most fundamental principles of humanitarian aid) is severely compromised because the boundaries between relief and development, war and peace and political objectives are not easily defined. Thus, NGO’s in these most recent years have struggled to adhere to the basic humanitarian principles of providing to those most in need because...
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