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Humanitarian aid agencies join forces against corruption

Leaders in the humanitarian community have resolved to do more to address the risks of corruption in relief efforts, according to a report published today. The report, Preventing Corruption in Humanitarian Assistance, documents perceptions of corruption in humanitarian operations through interviews with staff of several leading international humanitarian NGOs who have partnered with Transparency International (TI) to better address corruption risks.

The report finds that many humanitarian agencies providing vital relief are aware of corruption risks and have developed a range of policies and practices to prevent it. Whistleblower policies, codes of conduct for staff, and financial controls are just some of the measures participating organizations have already put into place.

However, the humanitarian community at large has not yet addressed this problem in a comprehensive manner. Humanitarian aid providers would benefit from wider and more systematic exchange on new approaches and best practices, including evaluating their effectiveness in mitigating corruption, according to the report, a joint publication of Tufts University, the Overseas Development Institute and TI.

The stakes are high, particularly for those in dire need of life-saving aid. Humanitarian budgets have nearly doubled since the beginning of the decade and now account for up to 14 per cent of official development assistance, reaching more than US $10 billion in 2006. “Considering the impact of corruption on the most vulnerable aid recipients, as well as the magnitude of disaster and post-conflict relief efforts costing millions, detecting and preventing corruption in relief processes is an urgent priority,” said Huguette Labelle, Chair, Transparency International.

Perceptions of what constitutes corruption vary, according to the report, and are often limited to financial mismanagement and fraud; nepotism/cronyism, sexual exploitation and diversion of aid resources to non-target groups are less often considered forms of corruption. “The corruption challenges faced are significant, complex and can arise in developed and developing countries, with potentially disastrous and long-term effects on humanitarian missions,” said Roslyn Hees, Senior Advisor at TI.

Integrating corruption risk and political environment analysis into emergency preparedness would help anticipate problems. On-site monitoring is also critical to deterring and detecting corruption, but may be constrained by limited staff or financial resources.

Some humanitarian staff, the report found, view corruption controls as a factor that slows down the rapid aid delivery essential for saving lives, especially in the acute initial stage of an emergency. But agencies increasingly see that improving the ability to handle a sudden surge in aid –including putting in place corruption prevention measures from the beginning- is essential for long-term effectiveness.

Recent initiatives to increase accountability to aid recipients can empower beneficiaries to report corruption, but local power structures and cultural inhibitions may also inhibit the effectiveness of this strategy.

Joint policies and strategies would allow humanitarian agencies to better address endemic corruption in emergency environments as well as corruption risks inherent in relief operations.

With this report, Transparency International (TI) presents a set of recommendations to increase transparency and accountability in humanitarian relief, involving financial and non-financial aspects of practice and policies. A handbook containing good practices to support humanitarian agencies in their efforts to curb corruption will be published in early 2009.


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

Download the full report.

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