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Serviços Humanitários / 12/08/2020


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Humanitarian aid consists of various forms of assistance to people at risk, caused by natural disasters or by man himself. Although it is a necessary action to ensure the survival of millions of people in several nations, many criticize the way in which humanitarian aid is conducted around the world.

Understand the importance of humanitarian aid and the controversy that accuses it of contributing to the maintenance of an “industry of poverty”.


Humanitarian aid or action is the material, moral or legal assistance provided to ensure life support and help for people who suffer due to occasional or chronic problems, caused by natural or man-made disasters.

The main objective of humanitarian aid is to alleviate the suffering of the affected populations, who are almost always people who already suffer poverty and marginalization, and who with disasters become even more vulnerable.

By current definitions, humanitarian aid encompasses all forms of activities developed to prevent, maintain, restore, impose and consolidate peace, in addition to mitigating the negative effects of violent conflicts on populations, especially in places the responsible authorities are unable or they have no interest in assisting the population.

Although most humanitarian actions are focused on promoting assistance during emergency situations, these actions also act to resolve humanitarian conflicts through development programs.

Humanitarian aid is provided in many countries around the world, mainly with the help of international organizations that have several volunteers. The main one is the United Nations, which organizes assistance missions in regions in need.

There is also the work of Médecins Sans Frontières, who provide health care to people affected by humanitarian crises, the Red Cross, among several others who work internally or internationally. This type of action is financed by donations individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations.


According to the United Nations (UN), the world is currently experiencing the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945, when the organization was created. This is due to the countless violent conflicts that have led to a hunger crisis that affects about 20 million people in four countries: South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and the northeast of Nigeria.

The hunger crisis, a term only used by the UN when a region has high levels of mortality, malnutrition and hunger, will only be resolved with an "immediate injection of funds", says the organization. To combat the problem, US $ 4.4 million will be needed by July this year, a goal that becomes more difficult to achieve when developed countries such as the United States, France, Russia, China and the United Kingdom are involved in several conflicts and their disagreements harm obtaining resources.

Another worrying situation that requires urgent humanitarian aid is the refugee crisis, which in 2015 had already reached 65.3 million people. Refugees flee because of internal conflicts, wars, political persecutions, actions by terrorist groups and disrespect for human rights. Many of these refugees are Syrians, who are fleeing the civil war that has hit the country since 2011.

Conflicts like these are not new in the world, but they do show how action by humanitarian aid groups is needed to guarantee millions of people around the world the basic rights that should be guaranteed to each and every human being.

Also understand: how Brazil has dealt with the refugee crisis.


Although there are several organizations and people interested in combating the humanitarian crisis that affects various regions of the world, they encounter several barriers when carrying out this work. Check out the main ones below:

Lack of financial resources

It is undeniable that there is an incompatibility between the demand for resources and the resources actually made available for humanitarian actions, which creates barriers to assistance to people at risk.

One reason is that fundraising does not grow at the same pace as conflicts. The crisis increases at a pace resources, which are no longer sufficient, become even more scarce, putting the continuity of assistance programs and operations at risk.

Another problem is that many countries promise financial aid, but end up giving up. This cancellation of aid has devastating consequences for populations in need.

Difficulty reaching regions in need

Financial resources to provide assistance often exist, but poor security conditions and differences between groups in conflict hamper access by humanitarian missions to areas and people in need of help.

One example is the Islamic State's blockade of access to aid for needy citizens in Iraq. The same is true in Syria, the UN accuses officials in the country of preventing access by aid workers.

Lack of security for humanitarian workers

Humanitarian actions are often carried out in remote areas, with little security and marked by natural disasters or armed conflicts. This scenario makes work very unsafe, putting the lives of these workers at risk.

An example of this are the professionals of Médecins Sans Frontières, killed during bombing raids on hospitals in the cities of Aleppo and Damascus, in Syria. Other cases occur in Afghanistan and South Sudan.

That is why, on August 19 of every year, World Humanitarian Assistance Day is celebrated, created after the attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, when 22 employees were killed. The day was created to remember all the victims who died while working on humanitarian aid projects.

In 2014, 155 humanitarian workers were murdered, 171 seriously injured and 134 kidnapped, representing a total of 460 victims in 251 violent incidents. The number is almost double compared to 2012, when 277 people were affected in 170 attacks

Most of the attacks happen on the roads, since to perform their work, employees need to make transfers to the regions in need. The main criticism is that donor governments could support aid agencies in the search for new methods that can reduce this vulnerability, ensuring the creation of safe corridors.


One of the main critics of the way humanitarian aid is conducted in the world is the co-founder and executive director of the Acton Institute, Kris Mauren, who in 2014 produced the documentary “Pobreza S.A.”.

Mauren claims that there is a large and complex industry that earns huge profits through poverty. This industry is made up of governments, which provide money, large non-governmental organizations, which keep a good part of the money, companies of all kinds and the very people in poverty, who keep a small part of the money.

For Mauren, a good part of the financial resources destined to humanitarian aid ends up being left to the big international organizations and government agents.

The documentary was made after six years of work, with visits to 28 countries and interviews with more than 100 specialists, inside and outside the so-called “poverty industry”. Poor people living in several of these countries were also interviewed. In addition to the interviews, the team based the work on annually produced data on the topic, such as the Index of Economic Freedom, with empirical data on poverty in different nations.

For the producer, the film shows the mechanisms that support this industry and that contribute to people becoming increasingly dependent on humanitarian aid. For him, this is a sign of the lack of effectiveness of these programs.

Mauren does not deny the importance of humanitarian aid in situations of emergency or extreme poverty. In these situations, the producer argues that we have a moral obligation to help. His criticism is of the assistance policy that provides help for months, years and even decades, without investing in the development of the places in need.

For him, our long-term efforts should focus on helping countries in crisis to develop conditions so that their citizens can get out of poverty. That is, to create an environment with social and economic development in which these people no longer depend on humanitarian actions.


Another criticism of humanitarian actions is that the role of governments and non-governmental organizations in promoting humanitarian actions is done as a means of boosting their own political and economic platforms.

This is what three experts linked to Doctors Without Borders point out in a study called “What not to do: how the manipulation of humanitarian aid undermines the effectiveness of emergency responses”. For them, governments tend to benefit certain communities and harm others, as a way to reward sectors sympathetic to the positions that this government defends.

To achieve this end, some governments use non-governmental organizations, using them as extensions of donor governments' foreign policy, when these governments transfer resources through financing and donations, all to promote their own interests.

But the interference of political interests in humanitarian aid does not end there. It also appears through military interventions, which are hidden by the idea that great nations must "protect endangered populations". This point came under severe criticism in May 2016, when representatives of organizations such as Doctors Without Borders refused to attend the meeting of the World Humanitarian Summit, organized by the UN.

The main criticism of these representatives was in relation to the role of the UN and the great powers in the context of humanitarian aid. For them, the organization and these nations are responsible for causing or contributing to wars in several countries, to subsequently lead. This is because the UN has a dual role in authorizing a war by sending its own armed forces, while offering help and protection to victims of those wars who received their authorization. For doctors without borders, another problem is that humanitarian aid is used by major nations and international organizations like the UN to support the emergence of new regimes in the world.

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