When will we stop overdependence on foreign aid?

The situation in Yemen is an ideal example of how overdependence on foreign aid doesn’t actually change much

Yara al-Wazir

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Foreign aid can be defined as a lump sum of money given by foreign (mostly Western) governments to numerous countries in the region either for a particular cause, or to help the general public.

Public rhetoric in the West seems to believe that their countries contribute too much of it, yet it never seems to be enough to satisfy the needs of the Middle Eastern region anyway. This raises the question – should a region that has been established for several decades even rely on foreign aid, or should it be at a point where it can aid itself?

Harvesting organs into dying bodies

The situation in Yemen is an ideal example of how overdependence on foreign aid doesn’t actually change much.

Foreign aid, in certain parts of the region, is the equivalent of harvesting organs into unhealthy bodies

Yara al-Wazir

Foreign aid, in certain parts of the region, is the equivalent of harvesting organs into unhealthy bodies: it keeps the country moving for a short amount of time, but without the infrastructure and the determination of the local government to change the way its local budget is allocated, there is no point.

A recent report by UNICEF states that the rate of young girls leaving primary education has risen by 20 percent, and that $60.1 million dollars is required to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children in Yemen in 2015.

Foreign aid also becomes tied up in bureaucracy and local politics, and in some cases even hinders local NGOs from their ability to perform their jobs. This became evident in a 2012 debate where 60 percent of the attendees agreed that foreign aid does more harm than good to Yemen. Yet aid into Yemen has been flowing since the 1990’s.

In a situation like Gaza, where the flow of foreign aid is controlled by the Israeli occupation, the situation screams for help. The long-winded reliance on foreign aid made the economy dependent on it: from cash sums given to families, to medical supplies and material for education, the city became dependent.

When an entire city is dependent on the mercy of a foreigner, it is unable to function on its own. That’s when real change happens: when the local government is forced to make changes in order to make ends meet and meet the demands of the people.

Intervention: there’s always a reason

As much as countries in the region are willing to accept foreign aid in the form of financial help, the public are reluctant to accept military intervention.

Yet at the end of the day, foreign intervention is more or less the same. During military intervention, fewer people lose their lives, but the country is given a political awakening of sort.

When the United States helped rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein, the region's response is that you cannot fight tyranny with tyranny – democracy and peace is not something that can be achieved overnight by removing a leader.

Yet when the Iraqi government finally changed, many saw it as a victory and agreed that this gives the country a legitimate opportunity to better itself, form a new government, and improve the economy.

If we had known then what we know now – that after Saddam Hussein ruling Iraq, there would be ISIS attempting to rule it, would the region have accepted this military intervention, or would it have had a different reaction?

Necessary at peak times, but not for long periods

There’s always a fine balance to be struck in politics. Ultimately, when foreign aid is spoken of, it is not exclusively provided by the United Nations, nor does the United Nations have an endless bank account that it uses to distribute this aid.

Individual countries contribute to this international budget, through the U.N. and independently as well. This gives these countries the upper hand in determining the fate of the region.

If a man is starving, yes give him a fish, but more importantly, teach him how to fish, and ensure that his overseer, i.e. his local government, can provide him with the necessary tools to fish. The region was once self-dependent and self-sufficient, there’s no reason why it can’t go back to that.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.