want to know that the help they offer to disaster victims reaches those
in need. But charities face a moral dilemma, as political hurdles
increasingly stand in the way of the aid supply.
supplies to the people who need it is not an easy task, as the recent
events in the Rwandan refugee camps have demonstrated. Charities are
being forced to accept that local political conditions can hinder their
crucial task and are constantly facing the challenge on overcoming such
Projects, the umbrella organisation for Comic Relief, operates
differently to donors such as the British Government’s Overseas
Development Authority or the European Union, because it is not
constrained by political needs and governmental priorities.
sometimes donates funds to the Disasters Emergency Committee, seven of
the top aid agencies which have formed a co-coordinating
group to raise money for specific disasters and emergencies. The
agencies are Save the Children, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Catholic Aid for
Overseas Development, British Red Cross, Action Aid, and Help Age
are more independent in how we allocate funds,’ says Stephen Thomas,
Africa Grants Officer for Charity Projects.
terms of spending the money that is allocated to Africa, we feel that
our systems of monitoring through the agencies have been adequate to
show up the problems. On the whole, these problems are brought to our
attention in good time and we are able to allow an amount of flexibility
to get around any difficulty, political or otherwise.’
a project is agreed, a grant is made, and if for some reason the project
is not continued, that is discussed with the partner agency. Charity
Projects tries to help local development, but is also conscious of the
challenges and constraints of work in Africa.
says: ‘Developing our relationships with our legitimate partners is
the key to the successful use of these public funds. We don’t take a
big stick approach, and that’s where regular reports should enable
problems to emerge and be articulated.’
of the goals is to assist Africans to handle their own development and
is committed to strengthening local organisations with management and
skills — creating fertile ground for a greater diversion of funds
into Africa. When it
considers proposals with its UK partners, it is also concerned
about the relationships
with partners in Africa.
specific cases, the charity acts as an advocate for change, as with its
recent campaign on the effect of land mines in war-torn countries. It is
one of a group of development and other organisations which have been
publicising the mines, which Thomas describes as ‘a major scourge in
large numbers of countries.’ He adds:
is an issue which needs to be brought to the attention of the British
Government. We see our role
as educating and informing rather than trying to change the political
recent political crisis occurred in the Rwandan refugee camps in Goma,
Zaire, which are effectively controlled by the former Rwandan government
officials, with whom the United Nations High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR) and the charities have had to negotiate.
consortium of agencies, including Oxfam, has warned that unless there is
security for the refugees and for the aid effort, they may withdraw from
supplies clean water for about 800,000 people in the Goma camps. The
former Rwandan authorities claim there are between 800,000 and one
million refugees in the camps and food is supplied for that number.
However, they have refused to allow the UNHCR to carry out a
registration. Some estimates place the number of refugees at 600,000.
provides clean water and we are contracted to the UNHCR to provide
between seven and ten litres per person. Water is relatively apolitical
or un-political; the reason being it is difficult for any authority to
control the supply of water for its own ends,’ comments Oxfam
spokesman John Magrath.
Goma, it is a problem for anybody in the camps to control the water and
say who gets water because the taps are on all the time and the water is
freely available. It’s also difficult for people to stockpile water,
or to siphon water off for other purposes. That’s why Oxfam has not
suffered like other charities.’
to Oxfam, as the cholera and dysentery epidemics subsided in response to
the supply of clean water, the camp structures began to reflect the
authoritarian rule of the former authorities. Now the agencies have to
negotiate the process of distribution with these new camp authorities.
The charities believe the camp leaders’ authority is based on the rule
of fear. They have no way of checking what happens to the food supplies.
reports of malnutrition and illness in the camps have aroused fears that
food is not being fairly distributed. Some agencies suspect that the
camp rulers are using it to nourish the military, or stockpiling it to
sell for weapons.
have also been reports of intimidation of aid workers in the camps. All
the agencies in the field, such as Care UK, Medecins sans Frontières
and Oxfam, have taken a united stand, not only for reasons of personal
safety but because their work supplements each other. For example, Oxfam
may help improve the health of refugees by supplying water, but that
will soon deteriorate if insufficient food
of the dilemmas is whether to have a dialogue with these people,’ says
‘When you start talking with some people, you don’t realise how
unpleasant they are. Because they have some claim to legitimacy - they
may be the former mayors or commune leaders - it is difficult to
withdraw. And of course, you have the ultimate dilemma, which is,
although the present situation may be bad, what happens if you do
withdraw? The situation will only change if the UN listens to the
problems and sends in a neutral force which would effectively act as
police in the camps and would protect the refugees.’
are many examples of threats and killings of refugees, but the
intimidation appears to have lessened since the agencies issued their
ultimatum. However, as it is not safe for aid workers to stay overnight
in the camps, the picture is blurred. During the day, there has been a
reported lessening of tension.
agencies argued the need for a type of Rapid Deployment Force,
comprising highly trained units of UN soldiers with an effective
policing authority. UN Secretary General Boutros Ghali pushed their
concern at a meeting of the Security Council, which approved the
deployment of 5,000 troops for this purpose. However, the Security
Council ruled that the Secretary General had first to identify where
these troops would be found. As no country is willing to commit its
troops unconditionally, the situation remains at a stalemate.
other parts of Africa, the obstacle to the delivery of aid is not so
much political as the sheer scale of the task for co-operative local
officials. Many of them are overworked. It is essential for the agencies
to work with some form of local democratic authority or local
representatives. The aid organiser works out a fair system of relief
tailored to the local requirements. For instance, women project officers
might be sent in to talk exclusively to the women and find out what they
UK, a major provider of food aid, carries out checks to try to ensure
that the correct amount of help is reaching each refugee. Heads of
households are issued with registration cards and are allocated food for
the number in the household. The charity also tries to target vulnerable
groups, such as widows, single parents, children and old people who
might lose out in general distributions or even distributions through
heads of households.
Hinton, Director General of Save the Children, says: ‘In the main, the
reason why an appeal is successful is to do with the timing, quality and
frequency of media coverage, particularly television coverage, that
people see night after night. Then they will respond. There are
situations - Somalia is a case in point - where a combination of
circumstances leads to such turmoil that not so much the giving, but
actually getting on with the job, becomes a problem.
UN intervention has left behind in Somalia a situation which in many
ways is far worse than before they intervened two years ago. I think one
is wrong just to point the finger at the political cauldron in these
parts of the world. It is usually a case of lack of strategy, the lack
of a clear agenda by the international communities about what they are
trying to achieve.
certainly get the political feedback we need in any country where we are
working. It is part of the Save the Children senior staffs’
responsibility to be
of what is going on. Having said that, we are a non-government,
and would never take sides, however right or wrong a local government
is. The British government takes good governance as criteria when
forming a view of long-term aid strategy. We do not, and the reason we
do not is because, firstly, we don’t think we are in a position to
arbitrate about good and bad governance. And secondly, there is a high
coincidence of poverty and poor government. So if we used good
governance as a criteria, we would fail to reach some of the poorest
people, particularly children, around the globe.’
adds: ‘The field workers’ rules are to respect the judgment of their
senior staff in a country at any particular time. You have to be
vigilant about the extent to which you keep staff in a country. The
decision about moving out, although made with the field workers support,
is done at headquarters in London.
Director of Care UK, provides yet a further example of the difficult
decisions and situations the agencies are confronted with. ‘We had 30
of our Rwandan staff working in Katali camp killed. We had to pull out,
because of very serious death threats to our staff. We had Rwandan boy
scouts, teenagers, working for us in food distribution. There was
basically a power struggle within the camp. We were unable to get in for
security reasons and there were others who disappeared. That has
happened in other camps as well, and the level of intimidation has been
considerable. When you are dealing with the political climate as it is
in Zaire or Tanzania, anybody involved in camp management or
registration will become a target. You have to choose the least bloody
of a series of very bloody options. It has reached this point because no
due attention was paid to security issues at the start.’
goal of the aid agencies is to provide relief for the suffering. But to
achieve that goal they must negotiate their own
to ensure that the aid line is not broken.
in ‘The Review'