Joanna Macrae’s article on NGOs in Issue
3-1996 was a constructive contribution to the current debate
on where humanitarian aid is headed. I would add, however,
that the fear of agencies’ independence being compromised
by the increasing amounts of government funding is less of
an issue than the following: how ac-countable are agencies
anyway? The long-term effects of aid, local inputs, the importance
of local structures, sustainability, are all too often ignored
as agencies seek visibility. The Dutch media – and some
politicians – have been less than complimentary about
what has been labelled the Rwanda Road Show, for example.
NGOs have been accused of crass public relations, crying wolf
in pursuit of funds, and political naivety. Some of this was
deserved, some was not. But the demand for demonstrable efficiency
and effectiveness is on the increase. A third of the agencies
present in the first Great Lakes emergency could not be found
anywhere on the face of the Earth by an international assessment
team a year later. It is time humanitarians woke up to the
fact that it is no longer sufficient to be accountable. We
must be seen to be accountable.
The ethical Code of Conduct brought into being
by the Federation, the ICRC and leading agencies, was much
needed. Now a set of practical universal standards is being
sought, and those behind this effort should be applauded.
But if I may play the Devil’s advocate, will they be
standards or merely statements of intent? Who will enforce
them? Will the donor community be prepared and able to judge
agencies on their behaviour?
The self-regulation that Macrae refers to isn’t
enough for a growing body of outside opinion. The call for
an international ombudsman to oversee the “aid industry”,
or some other institution to which donors, agencies and beneficiaries
can turn with complaints, or when they consider standards
are slipping, deserves full support as an initial answer.
Cries of horror may emerge from the moral high
ground, but the agencies who occupy it can no longer do so
without question. I suspect that before very long if we do
not find an enforceable form of regulation for humanitarians,
someone else will. This will be the real fight for independence
and impartiality. To misuse your headline, it will be a struggle
in which the N of non-governmental organisation will be at
Head of International Activities, Netherlands Red Cross
Last month I had to stop at our local Red Cross centre in
Antigua to pick up crutches for a friend. While I was there
I saw your magazine Red Cross, Red Crescent. I’m an
artist and I am always looking for photos that move me. I
took home several back issues to go through. While glancing
at Issue 3/1995 I was emotionally moved when I reached page
15. Having looked at “Gabre-mariam’s wife”,
the photo by Mike Goldwater, I knew I had to paint this lady
(see above) – my feelings were aroused so strongly.
St John’s, Antigua, Leeward Islands
In the last issue of Red Cross, Red Crescent there was a
particularly unsettling article on page 29. The box identifying
the Red Cross and Red Crescent workers who died this year
was quite painful to read. In addition, we just received a
fax from our National Headquarters informing us of the murder
of our six colleagues in Chechnya.
These 18 people I did not know, but I feel as if 18 members
of my family have died.
Why are the principles of our Movement not remembered and
respected by those we are trying to help?
Duncan A. Hutchinson
American Red Cross,