Letter: Few real delays in our overseas aid

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your article (10 November) on the National Audit Office's report, Emergency Relief, on the Overseas Development Administration is both misleading and highly selective in its use of examples from the Audit Office's findings.

The report highly commends the ODA's response to humanitarian emergencies. The examples of delay you highlight have been, on the whole, due to circumstances outside the control of the ODA.

While it is true the ODA took 142 days to approve a charity's request for funds, the report says this was due to the need to ensure that the goods were appropriate, and then to the Angolan government's delay in agreeing free import of the supplies.

A cargo of lentils to Eritrea took 13 months because the ship owner held the goods in port as a bargaining lever against an insurance claim.

Trucks that took nine months to get to Ethiopia were delayed because they had to be built to high specifications to withstand the bad state of the Ethiopian roads.

Delays such as these are tragic but often reflect the reality of the very difficult situations in which the ODA and agencies such as Oxfam have to work.

To say the ODA reacts quickly to sudden disasters 'but takes longer to satisfy itself about the needs of slow-onset disasters' is not surprising. Where sudden disasters occur, such as the Indian earthquake or the Bangladesh cyclone, the ODA is consistently one of the first to offer immediate assistance. However, you fail to point out that Oxfam and, indeed, all eight charities interviewed in the report agreed 'that responses to their proposals were generally commendably quick'.

On slower evolving disasters, the ODA does require good quality information from the likes of agencies such as Oxfam before disbursing funds. Flying out the wrong goods at a moment's notice is in no one's interest.

It would be tragic if, in the light of the largely supportive National Audit Office's report, the current public spending round fails to increase government funding to meet ever-increasing humanitarian needs, especially in Africa.

Yours sincerely


Director, Oxfam