current debate



Does aid (actually) aid in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them?

The moderator’s opening remarks

For decades, scholars and think tanks have debated the effectiveness of aid in reducing poverty. In this debate, we will build on previous arguments about the effectiveness and value of aid, but focus on its role in disaster risk reduction and post-disaster reconstruction and recovery.
Scholars, think-tanks, celebrities, and politicians have claimed aid is crucial to prevent famines, diseases, and deaths. They argue that donors’ money can be used to solve basic problems in areas like sanitation, vaccination, education, housing, and infrastructure. Aid can also be used to fund monitoring activities and learn from interventions. More importantly, they contend that traditional markets alone cannot resolve housing and infrastructure deficits. They note that the poor are often stuck in feedback loops that economists call “poverty traps.” In other words, millions are poor precisely because they live in poverty. Slum dwellers, for instance, find it difficult to escape poverty because they pay proportionally more for services and infrastructure than wealthier citizens. Foreign aid is needed to break these vicious cycles and replace them with virtuous ones that make vulnerable people more resilient. For defenders, the real problem is lack of funds, not present mechanisms of aid. From their view, people use criticisms of aid merely as excuses to justify not donating money.
On the other hand, critics often find too much money is “wasted” on aid. For them,  initiatives seldom produce positive long-term change and—in many cases—even create more damaging than desirable results. They contend that donors’ money is spent on band-aid solutions that rarely have long-term impacts. They argue that aid is largely controlled by political agendas, feeds on forms of neo-colonialism, focuses too much on technology transfer, creates dependency, and bypasses legitimate governments and authorities. They contend that aid is often based on centralized schemes produced by over-confident and idealistic decision-makers with little knowledge of what is needed “on the ground.” For them, aid is often driven by ideology, and lacks the performance incentives and accountability mechanisms found in competitive (and typically “more efficient”) markets.
For this debate, we have invited two internationally recognized experts in humanitarian assistance and interventions to defend each viewpoint.
Our panellists will present their most persuasive arguments over the next ten days, but the outcome of the debate rests in your hands. Don’t hesitate to vote immediately—you can always change your mind. Better yet, once you have cast your vote, add your voice to the debate and explain your decision.
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Lígia Nunes argues that humanitarian aid helps in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them.
Ligia Nunes is a Portuguese architect. She graduated in Architecture from the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Lisbon and received her PhD in Architectural Rehabilitation from the Technical School of Architecture of the University of Coruña. Since 1997, she is a lecturer and an assistant professor at the Lusófona University of Porto in Theory and History of Architecture. She founded “Architects Without Borders Portugal”, an organisation that she presides since 2000. She is also the chair of “Architecture Sans Frontières International”. She was the delegate of Portugal for the Group of Ibero-American Cooperation of Scientific and Technological Investigation in 2003. She is the author of national and international articles on heritage and development cooperation. 
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Jason Hickel argues that humanitarian aid doesn’t really help in avoiding disasters and rebuilding after them.
Dr. Jason Hickel is an anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He received his PhD in Anthropology from the University of Virginia in 2011. He has taught at the London School of Economics, the University of Virginia, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where he convenes the MA in Anthropology and Cultural Politics.  He serves on the Labour Party task force on international development, works as Policy Director for /The Rules collective, sits on the Executive Board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) and recently joined the International Editorial Advisory Board of Third World Quarterly. His research focuses on global inequality, political economy, post-development, and ecological economics.  His most recent book, The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, was published by Penguin Random House in 2017.