Gaza must choose development, not relief

Development Policy02 Nov 2011Mohammad Hasna

It was said that there was a fisherman who caught a lot of fish with his rod, which caused the other fishermen to envy him.

It was said that there was a fisherman who caught a lot of fish with his rod, which caused the other fishermen to envy him. One day, they got extremely angry at him because he was throwing the big fish back into the water while keeping only the small ones. When they asked him why, he said that his frying pan was too small for the big fish.

This is the status with Gaza and its donors. Gaza was accustomed to rejecting that which was imposed on it. Qualitative development funding has thus become the big fish that the Gaza frying pan can’t contain – whether this is its people’s wish, or caused by ignorance or policy.

There are almost 85 international institutions working in the Gaza Strip. That number increased after the war against Gaza, and has come to resemble a congestion of salesmen in a public market. In addition, there are 950 civil charity institutions and some non-profit organizations, though only about 70 civil institutions are active.

In 2007, a master study estimated that on average civil institutions spent US$1billion a year on arbitration, and that more than 45% of this amount was spent on administrative and logistical expenses and salaries.

Some of the contributions were spent on projects for infrastructure, sewerage and rebuilding houses destroyed during the war. However, most of the funding was spent on relief rather than development, and sometimes on consumptive development rather than productive development, not to mention the programmes related to gender, human rights and the dialogue of civilization. Those programmes forgot that if you don’t start at the base of the pyramid, you will never reach the top.

In Busan, donors need to be reminded once more that relief is not the solution, but long-term development is. That civil society should be part of charting this development path. And that donors should relinquish their political agendas.

At the same time, we must turn to look at ourselves too. A big problem in Gaza is the absence of a national strategy for dealing with funding. It used to be donor policy that expected us, as beneficiaries, to abandon the big ideas, wonderful dreams and potential possibilities for implementing productive developing projects that help build a state with solid institutions and a burgeoning economy. And instead embrace the idea that we should accept short-term impacts and ignore long-term ones, just to score a quick achievement, make lots of money and do effortless work. Most of our institutions – except those that have a development vision – change their goals just to get a donation that corresponds to the donor’s conditions.

Probably, the most striking shortcoming is on the part of the government, which has not made any real effort to coordinate and unify the efforts of the civil and international institutions that work in Gaza. It’s a clear dereliction of duty considering the importance of the issue.

This means that every institution works according to its own agenda. Donor conditions mean that many projects are implemented in the name of the Palestinian people, who do not benefit from any real impact. I mention the UNRWA organization, in particular, which has turned the Palestinian people into relief receivers who don’t aim for development. The organization negatively programmed people to receive monthly food aid and some cash, which has resulted in zero developmental impact. Our society must reject the relief principle – more than 80% of Palestinians depend on the aid provided by UNRWA and others.

Relief work has negatively affected Palestinian society, where many workers gave up their jobs lest somebody tells on them, and accordingly they lost their financial grant or food aid.

This kind of culture should be internally corrected and civil institutions should attempt to replace it with a more patriotic culture that doesn’t blindly obey donors’ conditions.

If we agree that we must learn how to fish instead of accepting handouts, then we will have a united goal, chart a common path and achieve the desired change.

It is a mental weakness and shows declining determination when we talk about occupation, poverty and unemployment as obstacles to implementing developmental projects. Japan was able to develop itself after it suffered its biggest military defeat in history, and now it is one of the strongest countries in terms of economy and development. Malaysia, the Asian tiger, was also able to develop thanks to the solid plan based on a long-term vision, which has made it one of the most important economies today.

Gaza must choose for development, as did Mohammad Younis in Bangladesh, who began with only US$27 but became known as the banker to the poor. He has also become an example of how to overcome poverty and unemployment.

Donors need us just as we need them. I’m pretty sure that if we developed a national policy to guide funding, donors would adopt it because they are not interested in leaving Gaza. To them it is like the air to breathe.

We, as citizens, institutions, society and government, need to choose for the development concept, carefully plan for the coming period, competitively deal with donors and subject them to our patriotic agenda.

We also need to establish an institutional coordinating body that is capable of forming a national developmental vision and taking responsibility for convincing donor institutions to work for development, not relief. But before that, we need to launch a public awareness campaign for Palestinians about the real size of funding and what we can achieve once we’ve abandoned the relief principle. We need to move towards realizing true development for the benefit of our society.