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Corruption in humanitarian aid: a double disaster

New report maps risks of corruption in relief processes

To address corruption in relief and reconstruction efforts following natural disasters and civil conflicts, Transparency International (TI) seeks to prevent corruption in humanitarian assistance by expanding its work in this area, starting with the publication of a report to help humanitarian aid providers identify and combat corruption in their activities.

The report, Mapping the Risks of Corruption in Humanitarian Action, maps and analyses the risks of corruption in the provision of humanitarian relief. Its identification of areas at risk within the complex system of planning, contracts and delivery mechanisms in humanitarian assistance will help the humanitarian community reduce the risks of corrupt diversion of relief from beneficiaries.

“Any abuse of emergency relief is inexcusable. Humanitarian aid is a lifeline that brings food, shelter and other basic services to millions of people caught in the worst of circumstances through war, famine or natural disaster,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International. “Detecting and preventing corruption in relief processes will help ensure that these vital funds reach people desperately in need”.

Considering the magnitude of disasters like the Indian Ocean tsunami, with an estimated US $13 billion in relief and reconstruction funding, vulnerability to corruption requires immediate attention. Emergency relief and reconstruction workers already recognise corruption as a serious concern, and invest considerable energy and resources in trying to control it. However, the problem has yet to be addressed in comprehensive policy terms.

Many people interviewed for the report identified procurement, logistics and payroll as most vulnerable to corruption. Sectors highlighted as having particularly high potential risks were shelter, food aid and health care. Although these are the most visible areas, corruption risks also arise where systems of accountability and transparency are weakest. Corruption risks may also involve non-financial gains such as enhanced personal reputation, political capital or access to a service, including sexual favours extorted in return for assistance.

TI seeks to promote greater accountability and transparency in emergency relief. One great challenge is to ensure that the victims of disaster or conflict understand the assistance they are entitled to receive, are given the chance to participate in planning and implementation, and have some recourse if relief fund are diverted by corruption.

“With enormous pressures to deliver relief quickly, the risks of corruption increase,” said Roslyn Hees, Project Leader, at TI. “Greater transparency and accountability in the aid process will not only minimise corruption; it will make relief efforts more effective.”

TI’s work in corruption and humanitarian assistance developed after a series of conferences and seminars on combating corruption in post-tsunami relief in Asia and in earthquake reconstruction in Pakistan. TI’s efforts will enable the documentation, sharing and implementation of good practice in tools for minimising the risks of corruption in humanitarian assistance.

Today’s report, a joint publication of TI and the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, aims to enable the development of more specific corruption risk maps and to identify the tools and methods that must be developed in order to minimise corruption and assist humanitarian agencies with their work on the ground. This risk map, commissioned from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), shows only where risks may lie. It is not an indication that corruption always occurs in these areas.

A workshop on the corruption in humanitarian assistance, with new research and tools, will take place at the 12th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Guatemala City, Guatemala, from 15 to 18 November, 2006.

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Transparency International is the global civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.

To download the report click: Mapping the Risks of Corruption in Humanitarian Action

Notes to editors:

Mapping the Risks of Corruption in Humanitarian Action is based on research methods that include a literature review, the experience of the authors, and interviews with humanitarian practitioners. Surveys and interviews were conducted by Transparency International in eight of its national chapters (Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Guatemala, Indonesia, Niger, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Zambia) that have experienced natural disasters or civil conflict.

The U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre is a web-based resource centre established by the Utstein Group, consisting of development ministers from six countries, to strengthen their partnership for international development and anti-corruption efforts. The Centre is operated by the Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), a Norwegian-based private social science research foundation working on development and human rights. Transparency International is an associate partner of CMI in the development of the Centre.

The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) is Britain's leading independent think-tank on international development and humanitarian issues. It works on policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.

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