Photo: Arne Strand
At lunchtime 25 April Nepal was struck by a devastating earthquake. Following high death tolls, numerous charitable organisations scurried to the South Asian country in order to provide humanitarian aid on the ground. The United Nations alone made a flash appeal for close to half a billion USD in emergency support.

In the hour of need it can be easy to forget that opportunities to engage in corruption are particularly present in emergency contexts, where controls are weak and funding levels are high. The potential for corruption to sabotage even the best-intentioned relief efforts cannot be ignored.

Can corruption worsen humanitarian disasters?

The ebola outbreak last year ravaged the countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Conakry, infecting 20 000 people. Corruption played a pivotal role in the outbreak, spread and slow containment process in the affected countries. Transparency and accountability in aid flows and relief efforts are however a potential remedy, and donors should work together with local anti-corruption commissions to halt corruption. See more recommendations in Ebola and corruption: Overcoming critical governance challenges in a crisis situation.

What role can the media play?

Given the poor state of local media in many countries in which corruption risks are acute, local media needs support as part of an emergency response. Political and financial pressures can make it difficult to criticize the powerful, and to resist money rewards for painting people and programmes in a good light. Establishing a central media fund can reduce reliance on the government to financially support favoured media outlets. International media can in turn assist by providing solidarity and coverage for local media that are harassed for reporting on corruption. See Corruption in emergencies: What role for media?

Preparing for emergency procurement

In emergency contexts corrupt practices in procurement take on an extra dimension. The influx of aid can result in extremely lucrative contracts for chosen suppliers, and thus reduce the amount of available resources for life-saving operations. Donors should develop common practices not only in regular public procurement but also for emergency procurement.  Monitoring and evaluation efforts that address outcomes and process can in turn improve the odds of exposing corruption. In addition, all aid staff should receive basic training on procurement procedures and have access to professional advice. See Corruption in Aid-funded Emergency Procurement or Evaluations can reduce corruption costs – If you let them!  

Emphasise organisational values

Addressing agency culture is an effective means in reducing corrupt practices within agencies. Agencies should for instance ensure that staff introduction includes training on corruption risks (including sexual abuse), and agency policy on corruption prevention and reporting. Procedures for community feedback should also be practiced by all agency staff. The inclusion of corruption risk analysis early in the project timeline is important as this can contribute to decrease corruption risks.

Pressure to spend fast and against deliverables locked in from the beginning is identified as a significant driver of corruption opportunities. Donors should think more critically about how they expect agencies to spend in emergencies. Governments should also be willing to fund higher administrative costs for agencies, including ample support for monitoring. See Confronting corruption in humanitarian aid: Perspectives and opinions.


Additional resources

Handbook: Preventing corruption in humanitarian operations
(Transparency International, Norway)

Corruption and aid – U4 theme


U4 is a resource centre for development practitioners who wish to effectively address corruption challenges in their work.