Mike Ko Personal Portfolio


Home-School Education
Hong Kong

University of Durham
Bachelor of Science
United Kingdom

2017 - 2018
United Kingdom

    No Escape from Abuse in Foreign Aid?

         Foreign aid is undergoing a crisis. Revelations that senior Oxfam staff may have sexually exploited local women during the 2010 Haiti earthquake relief mission has greatly shaken the public’s faith in charities. Reports from Syria also suggest that staff under the United Nation’s logistics partners have used their positions to extract sexual services from aid recipients. What was intended to help people in their time of need appears to have brought further misery. We have realised more acutely that there is a worrying lack of regulation and supervision in the field. Calls for change and reform naturally followed, as did the apologies and pledges from those responsible.

         The important question is whether these scandals would bring actual change, even with the brief spotlight recently shone upon the issue. This is far from the first time that foreign aid workers have been accused of abusing their positions and their intended beneficiaries. Indeed, the entire notion of foreign aid may be inherently vulnerable to abuse. Organisations like Oxfam, national governments and the United Nations may maintain high standards of conduct as they sending foreign aid to other countries. Supervising the administration of aid on the ground, however, will be hampered by a variety of factors. Most notably, the long-distance nature of aid operations and the ultimately limited funding means that supervision will often be tenuous at best. What happens on-site may not necessarily make it back to headquarters until much later (if at all). The fact that aid recipients are temporarily dependent on aid workers also makes the former susceptible to exploitation. Incidents that do occur might also be covered-up as they can significantly dent an organisation’s reputation and thus allocated donations.

         Though its mission may be noble, foreign aid as it is run today is undeniably an impersonal industry that cannot always control its personnel in foreign lands. Reforms and enforcement of standard moral conduct could reduce the danger of victims being further mistreated. Additional overseers may be dispatched directly from aid organisations and increased transparency on expenses and activities would certainly help. Yet these will not resolve the fundamental issues completely and the limited funds that aid organisations operate on makes large-scale change unlikely. It would seem that the possibility of abuse might be an ironic risk that the foreign aid industry will have to live with.

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