Monday, 25 January 2010


More and more media stories are starting to focus on the international aid response in Haiti. Today the chief executive of the DEC Brendan Gormley has rebutted accusations in the Lancet that aid agencies were “jostling for position”. The head of the Italian response to the L’Aqulia earthquake last year has also criticised the “vanity parade” of the aid community.

There are several reasons for this increasing focus. Criticism of the speed of response is not surprising given the overwhelming need of the people of Haiti and the close attention of the wider world. No response could possibly have been rapid enough.

In addition, the army of journalists in Haiti need stories. Witness the varying hysterical reports last week about the rise of looting and mob violence in the wake of the earthquake. (More down to earth reports pointed out that there was in fact less street violence following the quake than before.) Aid not getting through makes for a great story too.

However these stories do have the potential to damage reputations. It is at times like this when our sector comes under increased scrutiny that we must strive for the highest standards in accountability and transparency.

Haiti poses very particular challenges for aid organisations because of the void of leadership and infrastructure. Doubtless there have been avoidable delays and doubtless the efforts could be better coordinated. The BBC has run a story explaining how the DEC prioritise their work, and usefully challenges the notion of "jostling for position". But it is imperative that the organisations on the ground must do all they can to communicate effectively what they are doing, the challenges they are facing and the difference they have been able to make.

There is varying amounts of detail from the websites of DEC members about their work in Haiti. Some say very little about how they have been mobilizing or what money has been spent on. Others are much more detailed. I was particularly interested in Merlin (as a very good friend of mine works for them in Liberia). I thought their updates were good and they have also been using twitter effectively. I am also following one of their staff (@AlexforMerlin) from Haiti.

It’s easier than ever for charities to communicate effectively with donors and other stakeholders in almost real time. While we mustn’t get caught in a game of responding to every negative press report, we must strive to tell the stories of our work as fully and as honestly as possible. The international aid community has generally been ahead of much of the domestic sector in terms of transparency, it needs to continue to push the boundaries.

1 comment:

  1. In this age it wont be long before even people in the poorest countries have camera-equipped phones, and citizen reportage of events like this will emerge. It would make fascinating viewing to witness what the aid and media worlds are like from the eyes of those at the receiving end. I fear we may all be shocked.

    I was an aid worker in the 1990's in the Balkans. As well as the inspirational efforts by most, I saw some pretty shoddy work by NGO's too. And likewise, I would love to name the high profile TV reporter who asked us to his room (in a war ravaged city that lacked electricity for the vast majority of the time and all other infrastructure was in shambles) to brief him on our take on events, to see a room stuffed with luxury goods and a bath entirely filled with ice and premium bottled beer!

    Peter Kyle, ACEVO