You may have seen Osama bin Laden cycle back around to the front page of the news recently and it gives us a second chance to discuss how international political actions can have overlooked consequences that directly affect the developing world.

This is neither the forum nor the time for us at Beyond Poverty to express sentiments on the politics or ethics of the raid itself, so here we would like to speak in different terms, of how the actions of nations can affect our line of work: international development and humanitarian aid.

Here’s a quick refresher of the recent news with which we are referring:  During the campaign against public enemy #1, as the U.S. was closing in on the suspect they believed to be Bin Laden, a good majority of the evidence was circumstantial and thus problematic as evidence to justify a military raid.  In an effort to acquire physical evidence, in this case DNA, proving the supposed suspect was in fact bin Laden, the CIA constructed a fake vaccination program throughout Abbotabad and its surrounding suburbs. Eyder Peralta, a reporter for NPR, wrote the following in an article published on NPR’s site:

“According to the papers, which relied on unnamed government sources, helped by a Pakistani doctor called Shakil Afridi, the CIA initiated a fake vaccination initiative. For months, Afridi and a team of nurses administered Hepatitis B vaccines first to people in the poor outskirts of Abbottabad, then eventually moving to Bilal Town, the suburb where bin Laden lived.”

Their hopes were, after training nurses to draw a small amount of blood into the syringe after administering the vaccine, to match DNA from the blood sample.  Thus gaining positive physical evidence to support military action.

Regardless of your stance of whether the rouse was justified, it’s the consequence of the means of the CIA sponsored vaccination program that we’d like to discuss here.

Real transformative change in the developing world is often undermined by the best of intentions and often by the very people striving to bring hope and relief. Long term development and investment within a community can be undermined by shortsighted relief efforts which can set progress back years, if not completely destroying an initiative.

Now you might be asking yourselves, how does that have anything to do with the CIA and Osama bin Laden?

“They (tribesmen) consider us CIA agents, who under the guise of anti-polio campaign, are there to look for other Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders,” Gulrez Khan, a Peshawar-based anti-polio worker, told

Posing as aid workers to carry out military action had the unintended consequence of diminishing trust toward health workers in a part of the world where the trust of outsiders is already at a premium.  It very well could set back the eradication of polio by years in one of the few parts of the globe where it still persists.  The eradication of polio is a goal that many people have dedicated their entire lives towards accomplishing and could very well go down in history as one of the greatest accomplishments in modern times.

Again, whether the raid was justified or not, we bring this to your attention because it is a clear, well-known, and well-reported example of the unintended consequences of the actions of nations in regards to humanitarian aid.  Short-sighted relief responses to disasters, and unregulated, poorly though out international aid programs are just two of many other avenues with which international development is often undermined.

While their will always be unseen consequences in work that crosses not only political, but also religious, cultural, language, and racial borders we here at Beyond Poverty believe that the organizations and individuals working amongst areas of extreme poverty have an obligation to those we serve to eliminate unintended negative consequences or reduce them by all means necessary.  We value life and must Primum non nocere, First, do no harm.

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