Aid in war-torn countries encounters several difficulties. Mainly: the risk of a “dependency syndrome”; the increase of social inequalities, sometimes in favour of the refugees to the detriment of the locals; disloyal competition, for the local farmers, of the distribution of free food; the hijacking of aid logistics for military purposes. Some points must be made clearer before undertaking a thorough study. First, war is certainly not only limited to the times of fighting, as peace is not characterized only by the absence of war. In his Leviathan, Hobbes would define peace rather as the absence of the threat of war. In other words, the field of study of Aid Watch is not limited to a dubious dichotomy between emergency and development. Crises can become permanent, and inversely, “developmentalists” sometimes have to deal with exceptional situations. Development is linked to two fundamental aspects of humanitarian action, namely preventing conflicts and reconstruction.
Another point to be stated is that analysing the challenges of aid in conflict situations leads to a quite complex description. The aim of this research is not to disparage the humanitarian movement but, if possible, to contribute to improving work in the field, even if it involves informing without hiding problems. Looking critically at the aid provided by states, intergovernmental organizations or private actors is in no way incompatible with positive propositions: it is only necessary to avoid amalgams, to identify clearly the mistakes, and to not generalize improperly. However, evading issues for fear of putting the whole system into question leads to supporting practices that would individually be condemned.
From this perspective, researchers can, thanks to their academic and financial independence, express their opinion more freely than consultants doing an internal evaluation for the funders of humanitarian projects. By showing the programs at risk, the idea is to point out shortcomings to avoid catastrophes. The “humanitarian intelligence”, as we call it, consists in strengthening the capacity of analysis and the “political awareness” of the aid operators thanks to the assessment of regional specialists. As the turnover of NGO staff is often high in the field, the aim is also to study the records of a program and to stress the importance of the historical dimension which is necessary to assess a situation in terms of improvement or degradation. As the situations are very diverse, the aim is eventually to identify key features, point out the obstacles and take into account both the positive and negative effects of aid. We want to answer the questions of decision-makers or citizens regarding the scandals that regularly disrupt the humanitarian sphere. Some NGOs are undoubtedly better than others. The point is to know which ones. The studies of Aid Watch contribute to answering this question.