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Aid agencies must listen to the people they're helping

Nicholas van Praag's picture
Some camps for those displaced after the Haiti earthquake had suggestion boxes, and people responded with enthusiasm. Photograph: Ramon Espinosa/AP

The following post  first appeared in The Guardian's Poverty Matters blog.

Lord Ashdown's review of how the UK responds to humanitarian emergencies points to a major shortcoming in today's humanitarian aid system: the absence of a systematic effort to assess whether beneficiaries are satisfied with the efforts made on their behalf by UN agencies and NGOs.

Over the past five years, we have seen a marked increase in the focus on accountability in what is now a $10bn a year humanitarian industry. But there is no systematic approach to assessing humanitarian operations through the eyes of recipients. Running aid programmes without understanding how beneficiaries feel about them is to ignore the simplest test of client satisfaction. It is amazing that donors have been willing to make funding decisions without any customer input for as long as they have.

Accidental agents of change

Nicholas van Praag's picture

In places where conditions are ripe for political change, actually unseating tyrannical regimes requires a spark to light the tinder of revolution. But where does that spark come from?

    In the vanguard

The upcoming World Development Report argues that there is no one push factor. Rather, it shows how a wide range of domestic and international stresses—including economic inequality, political oppression and corruption—can eventually bring a country to its knees if its institutions are unable to mediate tensions and overcome stresses.

But, absent an institutional set-up capable of heading off the pressures before they boil over, when does enough become too much?

Many people are wary and their natural reticence may win out.

I was reading last weekend that most people in the UK pay parking fines—even when they are given erroneously—rather than go through the hassle of complaining.

If that is the case in the UK, what does it take to ignite direct action in places where the dissuasive powers of the authorities are used to scare people into submission?

Democracy and the foundations of legitimacy

Nicholas van Praag's picture

This post is part of a series of interviews with members of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council.

With the ongoing protests and calls for democratic reform in Egypt -- and in other parts of the Arab world -- there is a lot of interest in the grievances and aspirations that lie behind the unrest. In this interview, Mr. Louis Michel, a member of the WDR 2011 Advisory Council and member of the European Parliament, discusses the role of the state and the foundations of legitimacy.

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