Aid – in terms of sending money, supplies, food, and manpower to foreign countries – is often used broadly by the general public. Many would say that humanitarian and developmental aid have the same goals in mind; and to an extent, they are right. There is though, a difference between humanitarian and developmental aid that is overlooked and ignored. Discussed below are some of these differences.

According to the Humanitarian Coalition, humanitarian aid is designed to save lives and alleviate suffering during the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or natural disaster. In the case of armed conflict breaking out, or a devastating earthquake, humanitarian aid is there to provide assistance to the affected populations. Development aid on the other hand attempts to navigate and address ongoing structural issues. It is designed to improve the institutional and economic irregularities that are hindering social development. In short, it seeks to provide long term solutions to affected populations. Although goals of both are seemingly identical, they are in fact, not.

In Marc DuBois’ recent piece in the Guardian, Dubois argues that the differences should not be taken lightly. For Dubois, disregarding the differences between both adds confusion to the already complex efforts of aid-providing officials. This month, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon addressed breaking down the differences between humanitarian and development work. By shifting the objective from delivering aid to ending need altogether, humanitarian goals would shift in unison with sustainable development goals.

Dubois recognizes that the divisions can sometimes have disorganized or divisive consequences between both forms of aid. Humanitarians would stubbornly promote their effectiveness in relief situations, while development advocates would feel their efforts are superior overall. Breaking down barriers between both as Ban Ki-Moon suggests would signal the end to such unnecessary squabbles. However convergence is not the best option either.

For Dubois, humanitarian efforts must remain neutral and uninvolved in institutional partnerships – something that development workers require to carry out tasks. Humanitarians, eighty percent of the time, reach out to individuals in conflict-centered zones. In order to reach thousands of people, they must sometimes bypass dangerous groups and institutions. This can only be achieved by staying away from development efforts, which are often intrusive in nature.

However development provides solutions that humanitarians must relegate to a secondary priority. “A camp for displaced persons is a good place to find shelter, nutrition and (hopefully) safety; it is a terrible place to call home and raise your children,” explains Dubois. En fin, both movements need to have their own flexibility in order to operate successfully. Converging the two may have unintended outcomes.

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