OPINION: The unexpected risks of short-term international aid

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Johns is a first-year
from Carmel, Indiana.

When first considering short-term international aid to the impoverished areas of certain countries, it can be hard to look past the good intentions and seemingly noble work being done. Yet once you do move past the superficial motivations and outward goals, flaws in the system can be easily identified.

For international aid to be effective in the long run it needs to be sustainable. This is where short-term international aid falls blaringly short. Short-term aid teams will deploy to remote rural locations armed with medicine, food and clothing, yet all of these supplies are finite in one-way or the other. The issue occurs when medicine, food and clothing run out or become worn out and the team never returns to replenish supplies.

Therefore, for short-term international aid to be actually effective it must be sustainable. Supplies must be consistently replenished over time or the aid somehow has to be sustainable. Sustainability is key for international aid. If aid is not sustainable or even maintainable—in cases of technological aid—once supplies inevitably have run out communities are back in the same situation as before.

Those who oppose short-term international service also underscore the risks of harm. These risks are typically caused by the limited time span and unsustainability of projects. And in most cases these risks are even further exaggerated by lack of guidance and oversight, which in turn can cause misuse or overuse of aid supplies. 

Incidents of ibuprofen overdose and unexpected allergic reactions have been reported after short-term projects are concluded and teams withdraw. This typically occurs because during the short duration working with communities, aid teams do not have the time or resources to fully educate people on proper use of supplies. Ultimately this can have hazardous effects. Situations where supplies are misused or overused underscore the need for at least continued guidance.

Yet a moral dilemma occurs because many of these areas that attract these misguided short-term international services are in dire need of aid and are not concerned in the least with unsustainability. Yet once teams leave, people remain in the same situation as before. The goal is to minimize risks and harms while providing sustainable aid.

Short-term international aid can become tied up in ethical issues. Although providing unsustainable, unguided, unplanned or harmful aid is unethical, providing no aid to areas in need is even more so unethical.

Therefore short-term international aid can be acceptable when projects are deliberately designed. Meaning that possible risks are thoughtfully assessed beforehand and oversight is continued for an appropriate time afterwards. All of these measures are to protect communities once aid teams leave.

Ensuring whatever aid is provided produces the most benefits and that any risk involved is minimized as much as possible is necessary. If these measures are not taken short-term international aid can do more harm than good.