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

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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
Andreas Lubitz runs the Airport Race half marathon in Hamburg on 13 September 2009  

Being sensitive to mental health need not lead us to downplay the horror of what Lubitz did

Will Gore
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing