After class today I spoke with a student who is interested in working in the humanitarian field after graduation. Given that I had acquired some experience working for humanitarian organizations before heading to graduate school, I was able to impart some words of wisdom. While I enjoyed my time working for humanitarian NGOs, I did find that it was very easy to get frustrated and become cynical. Here’s a story from the Associated Press that reminded me of some of the reasons that I stopped working for humanitarian organizations (I encourage you to read the whole report):
KABUL, Afghanistan – Too much money meant for Afghanistan aid is wasted, with a vast amount spent on foreign workers’ high salaries, security and living arrangements, according to a report from humanitarian groups published Tuesday.
The prospects for peace in Afghanistan are being undermined because Western countries are failing to deliver on aid promises — and because much of the aid money they do send is going to expatriate workers, according to the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an alliance of 94 international aid agencies.
Since 2001, the international community has pledged $25 billion in help but has delivered only $15 billion, the alliance said. Of that $15 billion, some 40 percent of it — or $6 billion — goes back to donor countries in corporate profits and consultant salaries, the report found.
“A vast amount of aid is absorbed by high salaries, living, security, transport and accommodation costs for expatriates working for consulting firms or contractors,” the report said. The costs are increasing with a recent deterioration in security, it said.
The cost of a full-time expatriate consultant working in Afghanistan is around $250,000, according to the group.
This is some 200 times the average annual salary of an Afghan civil servant, who is paid less than $1,000″ per year, the report said.
Amy Frumin, an international affairs fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations who spent a year in Afghanistan as an officer on a U.S. Agency for International Development reconstruction team, said blaming high expat salaries is unfair.
“You have to pay them good money to do that. They’re still having trouble finding people to fill these positions. It’s a dangerous place. Not many people are willing to risk their limbs,” she said.