Letter: Uncharitable attitude to overseas aid

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The Independent Online
Sir: James Fenton should listen to what overseas development charities are really doing instead of dismissing their work out of hand.

At Intermediate Technology (IT) - founded by E. F. Schumacher, whose 'give a man a fish' idea was quoted in Mr Fenton's article - we limit 'interference' by working through country offices, working with local people who themselves set the agenda. Such decentralisation is becoming commonplace throughout many aid organisations.

Of course there have been mistakes in the past - the wells in Africa were a classic example - but we have learned from these. In proper dialogue with local people, real changes can and do occur. There is increasing recognition of the value of putting resources into strengthening the work of institutions at a local level.

In drought-ridden areas of Zimbabwe, for example, female market gardeners are choosing to make and use porous clay pipes to water their vegetables, thus using one-third less water than before. IT supported visits by these women to horticultural research stations to learn about possible solutions for themselves. We facilitated discussion - the solutions were there within the country.

Does Mr Fenton really imagine that we are so naive as to believe that hardware gives all the answers? We know it goes beyond providing fishing nets - that answers are far from simplistic. Indeed, intervention needs to be concentrated in the North, influencing and exhorting Northern governments to change policies advocating the rapacious lifestyles, which mean that 30 per cent of the world's population uses 85 per cent of the world's resources. Being advocates in the North for the concerns raised by our friends in the South goes hand in hand with practical projects on the ground.

Yours sincerely,

BARBARA BRYANT

Intermediate Technology

London, WC1

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