Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Haiyan aid agencies merit support, sympathy - and, with respect, future scrutiny

Survivors of Typhoon Haiyan roam the streets ‘like zombies’
Residents gather coins and other salvageable materials from the ruins of houses after Haiyan battered Tacloban (Picture: Reuters)
So far, so standard. A horrific humanitarian disaster strikes, aid agencies rush what workers they can in the right direction as hurriedly as possible while appealing for donations, then the British public (and government) generously obliges.
And, next, the odd cynic on the sidelines wonders not only how such money should be spent, but whether. Then, what then?
The wrenching scenes from the Philippines after the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan can hardly help but tug at the heart- as well as the purse-strings.
As ever, the donations pouring in via the Disaster Emergency Committee’s umbrella appeal are heartwarmingly impressive, as is the £10million pledged swiftly by David Cameron’s government plus another £5million matching DEC bids.
Comparisons have been raised, however, with previous catastrophes and what followed – especially in Haiti, following that already-impoverished nation’s 2010 earthquake.
For all the aid offered by so many dedicated agencies out there, easy and obvious criticism followed the cholera outbreak blamed on United Nations staff and the perception  that charities withdrew within privileged compounds once the worst disorder reigned.
Yet without wishing to encourage any complacency or misdirected indulgence, to witness aid work on the ground in some of the world’s worst-off settings is to appreciate the value of any pound donated and spent.
Of course, proper scrutiny should be applied to where and how resources are distributed, perhaps demanding greater transparency from charity accounts and especially over-arching government authorities.
Among the many strengths of Britain’s international charity sector is its breadth, and willingness to work together – for the most part – within such auspices as the DEC or else the Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign.
Yet sceptics may well feel a little bemused by the contrasting – if not quite competing – appeals for funds, and activist interventions, publicised by so many agencies especially over recent days.
At best, one issue appears to involve so many vitally-effective and affecting individuals offering their own insights, from nearby, on such distant miseries – suggesting not so much who to believe, but who to back, if and when more than any other?
Beneficiaries should or could be one of the bigger beasts – no, beauties – of the aid industry, such as Oxfam, the Red CrossSave The Children or Medecins Sans Frontieres -  or more modestly mid-ranking institutions including Tearfund or Islamic Relief, any or all meriting admiration and support.
Recent experiences on the Lebanese-Syrian border taught – at least, even more than before – that in or around warzones everyone has a tragic and harrowing tale to tell while still welcoming  any support whether food or shelter or ‘merely’ practical advocacy.
There are many helpers there – and yet, with an estimated 6.5million Syrian refugees and 9million in need while aid remains blocked by Assad-ruled regions, any gains still feel insubstantial. And yet life-changing for those fortunate few happily affected while afflicted.
Again - amid the wasteland conditions within which many in the Philippines are now attempting to stagger on - prospects look bleak, pathways seem narrow and challenges appear intense, both short- and long-term.
Yet let’s just - still - hope all and any aid not only manages to get through, but gets properly followed through.

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