The aid game, always suspect at the best of times, has, unknown to many recipients until it is way too late, been infiltrated by big bankers, corporations and investors, who are, as always, hungry for profit at any cost.
Trying, for example, to provide alternative energy to remote rural communities that have, until now, managed to live without the benefit of electricity in any shape or form, is a prime example of the submerged pitfalls lying in wait for the unwary as there are, all around the world, plenty of people more than willing to extend a ‘helping hand’ as long as they can reap a profit from the often fragile communities they purport to help.
Hedge fund investors, these are organisations for which multiplying money is the name of a scientifically operated procedure in which they, by hook or by crook, manoeuvre to come out on top as, after all is said and done, they have their own investors to answer to and reap profits for as well as, it goes without saying, skimming, legally or illegally, the cream, as rich a cream as possible, off the top for themselves with repercussions, there are bound to be, on the poverty-stricken communities being ‘helped’ the very last consideration of all.
It operates like this: the NGO prepares, after months of hard, often completely unpaid for work, a basic project concept for a specific community with, for instance, the provision of alternative energy be this in the form of solar, biogas, wind energy or hydro power as a base from which to work upwards and, as with global oil reserves rapidly diminishing and the provision of alternative energy being the future market from which vast profits will ultimately be accrued, there are a whole host of ‘developers’ desperate to try out their inventions on the ground as long as, that is, they not only get their initial investment back, but make a profit too. They are sometimes, not always, prepared to ‘risk’ their capital investment for a period of a few years, but, basically, they demand a return as soon as is conceivably possible which is where potential problems erupt.
The well intentioned, hard working and hopefully honest and dedicated people, who have put in so much time and effort into drawing up a feasible project are, it appears, expected to hand over all of their work, along with the invaluable trust of the community members they are desirous of helping on the way to a better, more sustainable lifestyle - a trust which is extremely hard won - to these ‘invisible’ investors who will, from behind distant desks in offices all around the planet, then expect the very same NGOs to slave away some more, still without remuneration of course, and locate a ‘developer’, who is prepared to do the actual ground work of installing whatever is to be installed, on the behest of the invisible investors.
The NGO may, more likely not, be retained as a consultant and expected to mediate between the investor, the developer and the now victimised community. And, be assured, if anything goes wrong, it will be the NGO which carries the proverbial can and, also be assured, that a hell of a lot can go wrong!
Winning the whole-hearted trust of remote, off the grid, communities is no easy task in the first place and, more often than not, is a direct result of the team members own, very personal, long-term links to an individual or individuals in the selected community and their integrity is right there on the line from day one.
If they, unwittingly, agree to accept the ‘help’ of money making wolves disguised in sheep’s clothing, then the fragile community can pay the price in a number of ways: the arrival of outside contractors, these may even originate from other countries, to install necessary infrastructures and machinery can disrupt, even actively obliterate, ancient cultures and customs thus, in time, completely destroy the very lifestyle and beliefs the well intentioned NGO sought to protect whilst providing something as basic as power for lighting and heating, for moving water around and other associated objectives.
The project aimed at enabling a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way of life thus becomes the fatal key to community obliteration. And, what’s more, community members ‘benefitting’ from the availability of electricity are expected to pay, through the nose, for the privilege as, don’t forget, the name of this new game is profit - not aid!
n The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban.