Peacekeeping: NGOs Become an Obstacle


February 15, 2006: Afghanistan is cracking down on NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations), and deregistering some 1,600 of them. Many NGOs are scams, formed by hustlers quickly rushing to a disaster area and registering with the local government as NGOs. Then they apply to nations going out relief money, get some, and disappear. But there's another problem.

The proliferation of NGOs over the last few decades has produced a common situation where large numbers of NGOs operate in an atmosphere of confusion and working at cross purposes in disaster areas. While peacekeepers generally do a good job of coordinating military operations, there's no one who can do much about coordinating relief activities. The NGOs, and even the local government, are not particularly cooperative in fixing the problem. NGO staff tend to see themselves as on a mission, and will focus on their own particular activity, to the exclusion (and sometimes interference with) of anyone else's. There have been attempts by the U.N. relief managers to meet with local government and armed forces leaders, foreign donors, international organizations, and NGOs, and try to convince them to provide better information to the a central organization (like the UN), improve communications among relief groups, share personnel and supplies, and stop worrying about their own mandates, in order to facilitate more effective delivery of assistance. This often does not work either. All of this seems to have come as something of a shock to many people in the humanitarian disaster relief business, whether national, international, or NGO. who like to think they're above criticism. Unfortunately, most relief groups tend to focus on very narrow problems; so, for example, an NGO or government-sponsored relief agency that's mandated to provide pre-natal care to women in remote regions is usually unwilling to use its resources to help anyone with different problems. So that rather than providing assistance to people in need, the relief workers, by their very presence, tend to become an obstacle to delivering effective aid.

The host country government's, which are supposed to be benefiting from all this aid, want more control over it. But that often means even more of the aid will be stolen. NGOs became popular partly because the nations donating money could be more certain that the money would be put to good use. That's still true, but not as much as it used to be. Afghanistan is not the only country trying to weed out the bad NGOs, and encourage the rest to be less petty and more useful. This is a trend that will accelerate.




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