Dead-end donor conferences have left populations in distress

Dead-end donor conferences have left populations in distress

History, especially Middle Eastern history, is peppered with deadly conflicts followed by either “reconstructive” conferences or economic support. Yet why is progress never made?
Donor conferences and reconstructive projects are usually dreamt up by the international community and Western countries in particular. These countries are always on the lookout for the opportunity to play the mediator in regions where they have taken action (not always humanely, such as in Iraq) as well as in regions where they have been particularly negligent.
The great democracies and their capitals offer exhausted belligerents the opportunity of a haven of peace, which contributes to a flattering, generous image. The meetings follow one after another, as do statements and promises, like a giant worldwide telethon.
However, once past the camera flashes and gold-gilded paneling, the post-conference reality is often different. The fact is simple: The countries that drive the movement are rarely those who have the financial capacity to contribute.
The big contributors are the Gulf nations, Turkey, the US or Russia. Europe is often present but weak in means and action. The effectiveness of these conferences is thus beholden to the good old principle of “whoever pays, commands.” They take into consideration the military and political reality of the lands where they are preparing to “invest.”
This is where the problem lies. How do we provide any help against the backdrop of a battle of malign influences?

International meetings aimed at financing reconstruction operations and humanitarian aid all face the issue of actually securing the use of funds pledged.

Nathalie Goulet 

Iran is clearly interfering in Yemen, central Syria and southern Lebanon. And this all comes at a time when the US is growing increasingly absent, while Russia builds her influence behind the scenes.
Yemen is a sad case study. Having chaired the France-Yemen group in the Senate from 2011 to 2014, I have witnessed the deterioration of the situation, the failure of humanitarian work and security, and the rise of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. As early as February 2012, Yemen’s President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi called for international assistance to rebuild his country, which had been shattered by poverty, tribal wars and the fight against terrorism, all while AQAP continuously gained ground.
At a donors’ conference held in Riyadh in May 2012, some 30 countries pledged a contribution. The biggest of all was Saudi Arabia, which announced a contribution of nearly $3.5 billion.
But the political instability in Yemen prevented donors from making their contributions, leading to a vicious circle with no stability, no funds and no means to pay for food, the army or the police — and therefore no way to ensure safety.
In December 2015, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries met in Riyadh and decided once again to provide substantial assistance to Yemen.
While food aid has been well received (about $500 million-worth, of which two-thirds came from Saudi Arabia and the rest from the World Bank), direct financial assistance has always required coherence between donor and recipient. Indeed, the Gulf countries did not (and still do not) have any interest in seeing these subsidies diverted in favor of hostile forces.
The pattern of the 2015 conference will undoubtedly be replicated by the decisions taken at the 2017 Yemen Reconstruction Conference. In Jeddah in June last year, Yemen’s needs were estimated at $70 billion.
We are still far off the mark and yet international aid is coming to Yemen. The King Salman Humanitarian Center in Riyadh alone has provided more than $1 billion since 2015 and increased medical aid, in cooperation with international organizations present on the ground.
Meanwhile, the conference held in Kuwait in February valued the cost of Iraqi reconstruction at $88 billion, yet the conference itself only raised $30 billion in pledges. Turkey was the biggest contributor to this conference, allocating $5 billion, yet this was not a selfless gift. Turkey needs a stable Iraq so that the Kurdish question may be appeased (if that were still possible).
At the same time, the Iranian government, whose interventions have given it considerable influence over its neighbor, intends to weigh in on the elections scheduled for May. Saudi Arabia and many of its allies have already expressed fears about the outcome, not wishing for Iraq to vote in another pro-Iranian government.
In a fragile Lebanon, the crisis that arose last November, when Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, has happily ended with some welcome reconciliation, with the incident being described as a “storm in a teacup.”
The next donors’ conference for Lebanon is to be held in Paris next month, and again the prerequisites are as large as the issues. In this field, we face the same security issues and also the same belligerents. With the same causes continuously producing the same effects, I fear that the conference to support the economy of Lebanon will face the same pitfalls.
What is simple and indisputable is that international conferences on the financing of reconstruction operations and humanitarian aid all face the issue of securing the use of funds allocated. How can we ensure the transparency of the use of the funds and their arrival with the rightful recipients? We need a new method and tools. As the popular saying goes: “If we do what we’ve always done, we’ll have what we’ve always had.”
Would it not be possible to consider sending a number of international civil servants to the states receiving aid? Indeed — even if it is difficult to obtain accurate and reliable figures when it comes to assessing the workforce — it can be estimated there are more than 190,000 international civil servants from 180 or so organizations around the world who would be up for the job.
But the aid and the tools must be coordinated, “patriotism” must not be an aim of the development, as is too often the case, and the amount of cooperation and action should be increased. Only coordinated development aid will overcome the dramas of our century, such as economic migrations and the political instabilities that are the result of extremism.

• Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing the Orne department (Normandy).
Twitter: @senateur61
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