Letter: Uncharitable attitude to overseas aid

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The Independent Online
Sir: James Fenton's claim that international aid agencies present a 'wildly simplistic' view of Third World development ('You call it charity, I call it interference', 15 February) suggests he has a wildly simplistic understanding of how such agencies work.

Far from being based on 'an agenda decided in some distant country', the projects we fund are most often devised and run by poor communities themselves. They are based on expert local knowledge, both of people's needs and potential and of the environmental and economic complexities involved. It is an insult to those struggling against the odds to find imaginative ways to overcome poverty to suggest that they are engaged in some happy game of 'toy villages' with the aid agencies.

Mr Fenton does a good job of identifying some of the dilemmas associated with charitable aid, but these are not issues which the aid agencies are ignoring. On the contrary, we have been wrestling with them seriously for decades. We know better than anyone, for example, that handouts encourage dependency, and that agricultural aid needs to be complemented by land reform to bring lasting change.

It is true that development sometimes creates tensions, as much in the developed countries as in the Third World because it raises fundamental questions about political, economic and social structures. Raising such questions can and does 'alarm the local politicians', and of course we must listen to them. But ultimately, we are led by the needs and demands of ordinary people.

If this is what Mr Fenton means by interference, let the poor judge.

Yours faithfully,

JENNY BORDEN, Christian Aid; MARTIN GRIFFITHS, ACTIONAID; JULIAN FILOCHOWSKI, Catholic Fund for Overseas Development; MARCUS THOMPSON, Oxfam

London, SE1

16 February

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