Barbara Stocking: Impatience of media ignores the facts

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The Independent Online

Alongside the reporting of the terrible effects of the Haitian earthquake, a second narrative has emerged in some parts of the media. According to a small but influential band of critics, the relief effort has been too slow, hampered by a lack of co-ordination between agencies. The BBC went as far as reporting accusations of a "vanity parade" in Haiti.

Frustration over the pace of the relief effort is understandable but misguided. In their pursuit of the "story" some commentators have not paid sufficient attention to the facts.

Easiest to dismiss is the accusation that aid agencies are distracted by a competition to attract funds. If we were all competing with each other why would 13 major British aid agencies join together as the DEC to launch a joint appeal, pooling our resources and sharing the money raised? We work just as closely delivering aid in Port-au-Prince.

The reality on the ground is that about two million people had their lives turned upside down by the quake; a city the size of Birmingham has been devastated. Imagine trying to rebuild Birmingham and provide water, toilets and food to its population. Then imagine that Birmingham, like Port-au-Prince, was the major city on a poor island and that its port was destroyed.

Nor were the agencies leading the relief effort left untouched by the quake. The UN lost its two most senior staff. Oxfam also lost staff and our warehouse, full of equipment, was destroyed.

But it is not just these obstacles that stand in the way of quicker aid delivery. Handing out water bottles on the streets of Port-au-Prince would make great TV but would be merely a drop in the ocean of need. Building a system of pipes and pumps takes more time to build but will help far more people for far longer. Effective aid must come ahead of the needs of the 24-hour media.

Barbara Stocking is the CHief Executive of Oxfam