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Libya: Air Strikes Aid Development?

April 1, 2011

As joint air-strikes against Libya intensify, the world looks on anxiously awaiting a result.  Meanwhile, the development community is questioning what its most desirable outcome will be.  Jonathan Glennie of the Overseas Development Institute suggests that, at least in theory, the development sector should be supportive of military intervention in Libya.

Glennie suggests that though military involvement can often become “messy” and can sometimes go wrong, armed intervention is sometimes necessary for humanitarian purposes, which are often synonymous with the aims of the development community, such as in the case of the Ivory Coast.  He points out that the internal conflict in Libya is essentially a development issue more than a humanitarian concern, where health and education are secondary to issues of governance, accountability and human rights;

“Development is when the poor people hold the powerful to account”.

Ross Mountain, Director General of DARA and former Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, suggests that military action in Libya must be followed up with independent and impartial aid.  Mountain states that the expanding Libyan refugee crises requires governments to clearly differentiate between the political interests of governments and the needs of the Libyan people in order to prevent the distortion of aid priorities.  Similarly, a recent article by Foreign Affairs stated that peacemakers should adopt a strategy of “First, do no harm” by ensuring that intervention is impartial.  Mountain also discusses how DARA’s field research of donor government policies in countries like Somalia and Afghanistan has found that humanitarian aid has become increasingly politicised.  Neglect, it seems, is an easy trap for governments to fall into.  For example, the UN recently accused the international community of diverting all attention towards Japan and Libya, neglecting the current humanitarian crises on the Ivory Coast.

As Mountain suggests, the line between humanitarian assistance and political priorities is blurring, resulting in a threat to the provision of adequate development assistance.  The key, it seems, is for the development sector to be actively engaged in these conflict areas and ensuring that it is not “absent from the debate and political wrangling”.

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