Letter: Why aid agencies fear business

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Sir: It's no good David Bryer of Oxfam (Letters, 12 October) attacking William Shawcross's piece ("Never mind Oxfam, DHL can deliver", 10 October) as if Shawcross were proposing that companies take over all aid.

Shawcross simply pointed out that business is already taking a growing proportion of aid resources in disasters, as it has long done in development aid.

Aid's key question is where business ends and non-profit institutions, from government to charities, begin. This must be based on efficiency, added value and comparative advantage, to ensure the best use of aid.

Bryer's pained protest indicates the massive crisis of confidence within agencies, as governments slash billions from global welfare budgets and "privatise" what remains. When companies take over the routine logistics, management and communications of disasters, the agencies must be ready to do well what they do best: ethically based decisions on protection and provision, advocacy and human rights.

At the London launch of this year's World Disasters Report, a soldier turned businessman making money out of (relieving) misery at the sharp end of Bosnia told hostile aid agencies: "If we do poor work, by all means mistrust us; but if we do good work, that's the time to fear us."

Aid agencies have found fear, but protesting about the end of aid rather than planning their smaller, sharper role does a disservice to the public which supports them, the staff who may soon face the sack and, of greatest importance, the hungry, sick and dispossessed in the South.



Langport, Somerset