Letter: Aid is the business of charities

Share
Related Topics
Sir: William Shawcross's provocative argument ("Never mind Oxfam, DHL can deliver", 10 October), that humanitarian aid could be entirely contracted to private companies, doing away with charities, starts from a false assumption: that aid is simply a matter of getting things to people. It is not.

First, there is the question of what is needed. In emergencies which involve a wholesale breakdown of society, this requires careful judgement. The wrong commodity, or the right one wrongly applied, can kill. The process of assessment of what is needed, and of ordering, distributing and monitoring those goods, must be under the control of experienced agencies with staff proficient in administering social care in the local context. That is what aid agencies are for.

Second, aid is not delivered in a vacuum. The need arises from complex political, military, economic and social crises. Aid is an intervention in a distorted political economy. If that context is not analysed and understood by agencies with experience, aid will have all kinds of unintended effects. It can fuel war economies, destroy local production and contribute to the asset-stripping of the poor by people with power and influence.

Third, even in emergencies aid should be used with a development perspective. In south Sudan, for instance, instead of flooding the war zone with food aid every dry season, Oxfam and others have supported communities to build up their own food security, distributing seeds and tools and fishing equipment which will reduce their long-term vulnerability. And when we do make use of private contractors - to dig a well, improve a road, provide textiles to make clothing - we usually support the local economy by sourcing the contract in the region.

Agencies working with the victims of conflict have a responsibility to advocate on their behalf among the governments and multilateral institutions who can affect their fate - something one can hardly imagine Evian or American Express doing.

Certainly the aid sector must become more efficient and effective, and there is plenty of room for self-criticism. The more responsible British agencies are at the forefront of this critical thinking. Oxfam, Save the Children, the International Federation of the Red Cross, the World Council of Churches and others have established an international code of conduct. The same group is now leading a follow-up effort to establish recognised standards for the delivery of humanitarian aid.

DAVID BRYER

Director

Oxfam

Oxford

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape