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.
This field study represents the second half of a modest research project to investigate whether international Islamic aid agencies can make use of their privileged relationship in majority Muslim societies to achieve high standards of efficacity, as Christian agencies are often able to do in majority Christian societies. (The first case study was conducted in Mali, where the evidence was clearly positive.) Post-tsunami relief aid in Aceh, Indonesia, was chosen for the second case study, with a focus on rehousing programmes. Attention is given to the contrasting programmes of the Turkish Red Crescent Society (strictly speaking, a non-confessional organization) and of two British agencies, Islamic Relief Worldwide and Muslim Aid. The conclusion is reached that whereas benefit has been gained from the ‘cultural proximity’ of Muslim agencies, this is a problematic concept and the main reason for the high reputation of all three organizations in Aceh has been the recognized quality and reliability of their service delivery. However, in the current international political climate where the entire sector of Islamic charities is experiencing an overreaction against them after 9/11, it should not be necessary for a Muslim charity to demonstrate that it can do better than non-Muslim charities – only that it can do as well.