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A new approach to reduce the negative impacts of aid: The ethical procurement of air cargo services


The past 20 years of humanitarian action have allowed for much reflection on the impact of aid. The publication of guidelines such as Do No Harm in 1999, Transparency International’s ”Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Assistance”, and the conflict-sensitivity consortium project launched in 2008 highlight the effect humanitarian operations have on the social, political and economic contexts in which they take place [1]. However, these studies mainly illustrate problems arising once aid has been distributed paying less attention to the broader issues associated with the delivery itself. Further reflection on the transportation of aid is needed.

The delivery of aid by air costs million of dollars every year, but little attention has been paid to the risks of awarding air transportation contracts to companies whose activities contribute to the continuation of the conflicts whose devastating impacts aid agencies try to respond to. Air cargo companies’ involvement in arms trafficking or the transportation of other destabilizing commodities (such as narcotics or conflict-sensitive minerals) helps to fuel and prolong conflict. Humanitarian logisticians have long recognized this issue but the need to respond quickly on limited budgets with generalist staff means that thorough risks assessments are rarely carried out. The issue has largely remained in the logistics department and has rarely been discussed at a policy level.

[1] The Conflict Sensitivity Consortium promotes the concept of conflict-sensitivity understood as “... the ability of your organization to: understand the context in which you operate; understand the interaction between your intervention and the context; and act upon the understanding of this interaction, in order to avoid negative impacts and maximise positive impacts.” Conflict Sensitivity Consortium, Conflict sensitive approaches to development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding, 2004, Chapter 1, p.1, available from http://www.conflictsensitivity.org/publications/conflict-sensitive-approaches-development-humanitarian-assistance-and-peacebuilding-res.