Saturday, June 11, 2016

China's Humanitarian Aid: Why Is it So Low?

Chinese humanitarian aid is growing, but it's still low compared with the country's wealth. My Google Alert picked up an IRIN article on China's humanitarian aid: "Africa: When Disaster Strikes, Should China Do More?" In The Dragon's Gift, I outlined how the Chinese provide humanitarian aid, and how it had been "greatly increased," from a very low starting point. This began with the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster in early 2005. These increases seemed to have generally been sustained. China's official foreign aid white paper published in 2014 noted that China had provided "1.5 billion yuan ($238 million) worth of materials and cash assistance in emergency humanitarian aid to more than 30 countries" between 2010 and 2012, or an average of nearly $80 million annually.

Humanitarian assistance, according to one definition, means "aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations." Given the increase reported above, I was surprised to read in the IRIN article that Chinese humanitarian aid for 2014 amounted to "only $54 million" with a source cited as "Development Initiatives." Wasn't 2014 the year of the ebola epidemic, when the Chinese were being praised for their quick and fulsome response?

In January 2016, the Chinese provide a summary of their assistance to the ebola epidemic: "As of November 2014, China offered humanitarian aid worth 750 million yuan (about 113.77 million dollars) and sent thousands of medical personnel to Ebola-hit countries in four rounds of campaigns." (The costs of the medical personnel were not included in the aid figure).

The Chinese are not used to being part of the global donor community, and are not savvy about reporting the value of all of their contributions (i.e. what was the value of the time of the medical personnel? What did it cost to send and house and equip them? They didn't make this calculation). In addition to this figure which is more than double the one cited in the IRIN article, China's contributions in 2014 included sending over 2000 UN Peacekeepers to locations around the world, including Haiti, and posting 55 medical teams on two year assignments, treating patients in 54 countries (this might not be seen as humanitarian aid, but some of these teams are operating in conflict-affected countries).

Yet it's clear that China could do more. Let's take what seems to be the highest annual figure ($113.77 in 2014). With a population of 1.3 billion, this comes to about 9 US cents per person.

The IRIN reporter wrote that China's humanitarian aid is administered by the Ministry of Commerce (which declined to answer their request for an interview). MOFCOM does administer China's official development assistance program, but that's different from humanitarian aid, where MOFCOM is only one part of the foreign emergency response mechanism. It also involves the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Foreign Affairs office of the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

For two, rather more useful overviews of Chinese humanitarian aid policy, see the ODI policy brief and related ODI blog post by Hannah Krebs, and a UNDP policy brief on this topic.


5 comments:

  1. The International Cooperation Department of the National Health and Family Planning Commission (which absorbed the Ministry of Health in 2013) coordinated Ebola response.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the reply, Kai Xue. Very helpful.

      Delete
  3. Here is a piece of interesting news. MOFCOM has signed grant agreement with WFP, UNOCHA and WHO. Rhttp://www.mofcom.gov.cn/article/ae/ai/201611/20161101677757.shtml
    -Yiyi

    ReplyDelete