Humanitarian aid represents a commitment to support vulnerable host populations that have experienced a sudden emergency and/or require ongoing assistance to improve quality of life. Over the past fifteen years humanitarian agencies, private organisations, governments, corporations, individuals and other stakeholders have proliferated, along with differing values, goals, strategies, actors and activities. Despite good intentions and successes this complex field with diverse mandates, people, time lines, funding and absence of clear definitions to describe specific identities, presents a chaotic and confusing image to the public, host governments, recipients and ongoing challenges for agencies and aid workers. Weak coordination, erratic funding and differing roles often lead to expensive duplication of services, wasted resources and present serious credibility and survival issues to agencies that depend on donor funding to save and improve the lives of the vulnerable. Hence this paper deconstructs the roles of and linkages between emergency, relief, rehabilitation and development aid, identifies problems that impact on effectiveness and sustainability and points to progress and achievements over the past fifty years.
In chronically food-insecure areas, long-term provision of food aid is often attributed to a dependency syndrome: peoples’ unwillingness to initiate activities on their own to improve wellbeing. This discourse is strong in Ethiopia; the country has been dependent on food aid for over three decades. This study explores this discussion by analyzing local peoples’ behaviors in a chronically food-insecure district where food aid has been central for more than two decades. Based on ethnographic fieldwork undertaken for approximately 18 months, the paper analyzes a group of 112 food aid beneficiary households. Results show that food aid constitutes a small proportion of overall household food needs, and that food aid is only one of several components of the livelihood portfolio poor people use to cover household food gaps. The paper thus argues that the dependency syndrome is largely a construct of outsiders, rather than an existing risk among food aid beneficiary households that receive a limited amount of aid that cannot cover entire household food gaps.