Letter: Flinching from the poor

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The Independent Online
Sir: Clare Short is right to imply that images which portray people in developing countries as passive, helpless recipients of aid handouts are unhelpful ("Does this picture make you flinch?", 29 May). They fuel a stereotype of the poor which is as erroneous as it is degrading.

It is self-evident that, for the most part, the poor survive thanks to their own efforts combined with the support of others. But it is an appalling struggle, which is why long-term development is so necessary.

Emergencies are not inevitable and generally happen where development has not. In Sudan, for example, the emergency has been caused by the man- made war, the longest in Africa. The huge numbers of displaced people make development work difficult in the extreme. The failure is not that non-governmental organisations provide humanitarian aid but the absence of international pressure on the combatants to resolve the conflict.

Certainly we have launched an appeal to raise additional funds for the current crisis. What else should we do when 700,000 people are at risk? However, we have been working in Sudan on development projects for many years.

As for compassion fatigue, Clare Short surprises me. She was present in Birmingham when 70,000 people turned out to lobby the G8 leaders on Third World debt. Tens of thousands of people in Scotland give to SCIAF every year.

PAUL CHITNIS

Executive Director

Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund

Glasgow

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