Warning. This piece is highly opinionated and reflects my personal views.
Letter to the Editor of the New York Times (Source)
Re “For Terrorists, a War on Aid Groups” by Samantha Power (Op-Ed, Aug. 19):
As an aid worker who has worked in the Middle East for more than 10 years, I applaud Ms. Power’s call for more protection for nongovernmental organization workers in conflict zones, but she doesn’t mention an important element.
In recent years, the United States government has both contracted out for more aspects of development and humanitarian assistance in conflict zones and connected this foreign aid more closely than ever with strategic and military goals.
By publicly linking these objectives, the United States government has placed aid workers in the position where they may not be seen as neutral development professionals working solely for the benefit of the people in host countries, and has caused some people, especially in places where the United States military is involved, to see aid workers as representatives of an unpopular foreign policy or as part of an occupation administration, making them more vulnerable to attack.
Garrett Dorer, Cairo Aug. 20 2008
This letter represents the view many humanitarian workers have, since 9/11. The US unilaterally invaded two sovereign countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. The humanitarian workers were given all the financial resources needed to provide relief aid during and after these military actions.
And we, the aid workers, were effective: no-one saw children starving on the television. There were no reports of massive deaths due to the outbreak of diseases. Food, medical aid and shelter were flown in and distributed as almost a school example of how humanitarian assistance should be run. Did that directly or indirectly soften the public's opinion about the military actions?
As the humanitarians proved to be effective in their Afghanistan and Iraq aid efforts, how far have they brought down the threshold for any country to take unilateral military action against the other? And even worse: how far have they aligned themselves with military actions? Part of the planning for military actions? How far are aid workers seen as accomplices.
Consequently, up to what level are we, aid workers, now seen as "representatives" of an unpopular foreign policy of one country? And consequently, up to what level are we, aid workers, now targeted by terrorism and other hostilities as much as the US is?
For us, UN aid workers, we always half-jokingly say: "Between the US and the UN, there is more than a one letter difference", but that is not how it looks like to the outside world.
Picture courtesy Robert Kasca