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Some humanitarian groups are afraid to give school supplies to children in Gaza—not because of Hamas, but because of the United Nations and the United States.

Under counterterrorism laws introduced after the September 11 terrorist attacks, humanitarian groups cannot provide aid that supports or gives resources to terrorists. But in places like Gaza, where the United States has classified local leaders as terrorists, most forms of aid will benefit these leaders. Thus humanitarian NGOS working in such places face the possibility of losing funding or even being labeled as criminals.

Today's counterterrorism policies also mean more paperwork and reporting requirements for NGOS. These have increased their operating costs, slowed them down, cut their funding, and undermined partnerships, according to a recent study by the Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute.

"Counterterrorism has been a policy bulldozer," said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of policy and advocacy for Mercy Corps. "If a counterterrorism argument is made, the government treats it as a trump card, regardless of what the downside might be."

The new policies make it particularly difficult to work in Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Syria, he said. But the poster child for complications is Somalia.

No matter what NGOS do to keep aid flowing to the neediest people, there's always a risk some will be diverted, experts agree. This makes it especially difficult to work in a place such as southern Somalia, where much of the area is controlled by al-Shabaab, which Western nations link to al Qaeda. The U.S. government only this summer loosened some counterterrorism restrictions so aid groups could work more freely in the famine-stricken nation.

While ...

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In the Magazine

January 2012

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