News - April 7, 2012

'Cost-cutting leads to abuses in development aid'

Joris Tielens

Should the Dutch government decide to slash contributions to development aid policies, aid organizations in developing countries would stir up even more the emotions of donors, fears Professor Thea Hilhorst. A study in Congo shows where this can lead to.

Hilhorst and her colleagues carried out research into aid for rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo. During the war, reports of mass rapes aroused outrage in the international community. As a result, help from aid organizations poured into the country. In the provinces of North and South Kivu - where Hilhorst carried out the study - about four hundred aid organizations are now offering help to victims from a budget of almost 90 million dollars since 2010.
The attention given to rape reduced the attention given to other critical issues, such as birth assistance, says the research report, released on Thursday afternoon. Moreover, such aid was one-sided: mostly medical support for a short period of time. No attention was paid to the underlying causes, namely the vulnerable position of the woman in the Congo. Aid was directed too much from the foreign head offices of international development aid organizations, which did not have a good understanding of the needs of the people or an integrated approach.
Many international organizations are 'opportunists', says the report. 'They do not have any concrete expertise and are primarily interested in the securing of funds.' Organizations have a target to reach with regards to the number of victims to be helped, and they direct their attention chiefly to easily accessible regions. On the other hand, such help also gives rise to a situation in which rape becomes something to be got used to for helpless women whose only way out is to get help afterwards.
Help after sexual violence has become commercialized, the report concludes. As such, sexual violence has become a form of business for international organizations, as well as for individuals in the Congo, all of whom hinder rather than help in the real fight against the problem. 'Aid organizations appeal too much to emotions and embrace hypes to get money from donors,' responded Hilhorst on Thursday afternoon to Radio 1. 'This shows what would happen with development aid policies if government funding is reduced. Development aid policies should therefore be publicly financed.'