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Corruption and emergency relief


Hero image description: Distribution of food and cash Lesotho Image credit:Rachel Slater and Rebecca Holmes Image license:ODI given rights

Corruption in emergency relief is a key concern for practitioners, who devote much energy to trying to minimise the risks of diversion of aid. It is a particular concern in relief work because local capacities are often overwhelmed in emergencies and there is pressure to intervene (and often spend funds) rapidly.

Even so, corruption in relief has barely been discussed in policy terms, and little researched. Aid actors fear that discussing the issue publicly and being open about the subject might erode public support and threaten security or the ability to operate in a country. This silence, however, inhibits sharing of learning and good practice in minimising corruption and determining the key corruption risks in humanitarian operations.

The project approach

In 2005, important steps were taken to lift the veil of silence on the issue with a conference on corruption in the tsunami response, ongoing work by an anti-corruption organisations and the engagement of the OECD. The Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI has since been involved in a research project on corruption risks in partnership with Transparency International, the Feinstein International Centre and seven operational aid agencies. Work focused on three key themes:

  1. Mapping the risks of corruption in humanitarian assistance,
  2. Working in partnership with aid agencies to analyse these corruption risks and how agencies respond to them, and
  3. Exploring how disaster-affected populations perceive corruption in the assistance process through case studies in Liberia, Afghanistan, Uganda and Sri Lanka.

By working in partnership with international aid agencies to examine corruption risks and making key recommendations on minimising them, this research took an important first step towards increasing dialogue among humanitarian actors and enabling more effective approaches to tackling the issue of corruption in relief.


Paul Harvey and Kevin Savage