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Sat 28 Jan 2012 05:52 PM

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New kids on the block

Rich nations with deep pockets are chipping away at the aid industry's status quo

New kids on the block
Red Crescent workers distribute food in quake-hit Turkey

Where most expat aid workers fear to tread in Mogadishu,
recently arrived Turkish aid workers have been driving in the streets, swimming
in the sea and praying in local mosques.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Somalia in
August, the first head of a non-African state to do so for nearly 20 years. The
Turks have since opened an embassy, started work on the international airport,
offered Somalis university places in Turkey and made plans to build a new
hospital.

"Turkey is an animating force in Somalia ... The people
honestly love them," said Mustakim Waid, who worked in Mogadishu for the
Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) - the second-largest
intergovernmental organisation after the United Nations.

From Turkey to Brazil, India to Saudi Arabia, a growing
number of non-Western donors are bringing fresh funds, a different mindset and
their own experience of managing natural disasters to the global humanitarian
aid scene.

Until recently most emerging donors focused their aid on
their own regions. Some, like India, China and Brazil, were also major
recipients of international humanitarian aid.

But as their economies and political clout have grown, so
too has their influence on the humanitarian aid system, which has traditionally
been dominated by the mostly Western members of the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

Over a decade, the volume of humanitarian aid reported by
emerging powers has increased by almost twenty-fold - to $622.5m in 2010 from
$34.7m in 2000.

Increasingly, they are being courted by UN agencies and some
large aid organisations for funding.

"We are in a risky time ... because we are at a point
where the capacity of the system -- both response capacity and financial
capacity -- isn't quite sufficing to meet current needs," said Robert
Smith, who heads the unit that deals with appeals for funding at the UN Office
for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

"And those needs are probably going to get deeper and
broader, so we need to be able to scale up."

Saudi Arabia has been the top non-DAC donor for most of the
past decade. However, like many emerging donors, a lot of its humanitarian aid
goes unreported for a variety of reasons, ranging from unfamiliarity with
international norms to a lack of organisations to track such data.

In 2008, Saudi gave the UN World Food Programme $500m - the
largest donation in WFP's history.

The Gulf state has strongly criticised UN agencies'
overheads and the way they channel funds to the NGOs that distribute aid on the
ground, said Andrea Binder, associate director of Berlin-based Global Public
Policy Institute.

Unlike most donors, Saudi Arabia usually gives a small first
instalment, and will only disburse the rest if the UN agency proves it can
process the money within an agreed time.

"It's a different way of holding UN agencies
accountable," Binder said.

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John Holmes, director of the Ditchley Foundation and former UN
emergency relief coordinator, said there was a big imbalance between what rich
Western countries and the rest of the world were prepared to give.

China and India should be bigger donors but they have
massive poverty and disaster problems of their own that they deal with
themselves, he said.

"It's more Brazil, Mexico and Argentina and so on who
need to get more into the system."

Some experts are concerned that non-DAC donors may be
repeating mistakes that DAC donors have made and mostly learnt from, such as
sending inappropriate aid.

Not all countries have a single government body responsible
for humanitarian aid and some do little to evaluate how effective their
responses have been to needs on the ground.

"There is a lot of work that we have done in the West
to try and improve our standards, accountability practices and so on - things
which also need to be improved in other parts of the world," said
Abdurahman Sharif, operations manager of the London-based Muslim Charities
Forum, whose members work in many parts of the world.

At the same time, some experts say that in many countries,
from Afghanistan and Iraq to Somalia and Sudan, humanitarian aid is seen as
akin to a kind of Western imperialism - and this is where the entrance of new
donors could benefit everyone.

"When I try to impose a model that is perceived to be
Western on a situation that doesn't identify itself with the West, you have a
clash," Sharif said.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is if our
Western model is the best."

Defenders of the Western model say it is based on cherished
principles developed over many decades, such as the idea that aid should be
given on the basis of need alone, irrespective of the political or economic
interests of donors.

International fora - including the DAC and a network of
agencies known as the Good Humanitarian Donorship group - are opening their
meetings to more donors. And for the past five years OCHA has been working to
improve dialogue with non-DAC donors.

"It's a gradual process of ... mutual
confidence-building in each other's systems and capacities but it's already
producing results," Smith said. "More and more non-DAC countries are
advancing on the table of top donors."