Mercy Corps chief Neal Keny-Guyer says most aid fails to address root causes

Displaced people wait their turn to receive food aid from the World Food Program in the village of Kiwanja, 75 kms north of Goma, eastern Congo, AP 2008.

For today’s Humanosphere podcast, East Coast correspondent Tom Murphy speaks with Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of the Oregon-based Mercy Corps. For decades, humanitarian organizations like Mercy Corps have dedicated significant time and effort to support the Democratic Republic of the Congo stabilize after years of conflict. The North Kivu Province in particular is place where humanitarian interventions have sought to diffuse conflict and generate better lives for people in the region.

That is all well and good, but what groups have done for years is not really changing all that much for the Congolese people living North Kivu, says Mercy Corps.  The problems that the DR Congo faces are systemic and organizations working in the country need to be thinking about how their work addresses the base problems.

Neal Keny-Guyer

Neal Keny-Guyer

“This not the kind of problem a bednet will solve or another water pump will solve,” says Keny-Guyer. “I think too often in the aid community we look for the fast fixes and the shiny solutions.”

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Because the problems are so difficult, aid groups tend to implement programs that provide for immediate needs. In other words, they distribute the bednets that prevent malaria and install the water pumps that bring water to villages. Those types of interventions are helping to make a terrible situation less bad, but don’t necessarily link up with long term solutions.

In the conversation, Keny-Guyer makes the case for groups to do work differently in the DR Congo. He alludes to a combination of programs that make up the ‘magic sauce’ needed to tackle the underlying problems while addressing immediate needs.

As usual, Humanosphere’s editor Tom Paulson and I review some of the more prominent news items of the week beginning with the fact that, despite a lot of rhetoric celebrating women’s empowerment, women and girls continue to suffer disproportionately from poverty, human right abuses and inequity. We also point to Tom Murphy’s creative writing exercise of reporting on the problems of Ferguson, MO, like we do similar conflicts overseas (ethnic clashes, that sort of thing). Finally, we take note of a Mercy Corps survey of young people in Afghanistan, Somalia and Colombia that found youth violence is not so much due to lack of employment as it is frustration with government.

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Which is a nice segue to what we want to talk with Neal about….

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.