Tuesday, May 27, 2008

China or Burma? The charities play to the public gallery

This press release is featured by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) website, explaining why it has failed to react to the earthquake disaster in China:

Press release: 16 May 2008

China Earthquake Response

Why is the DEC not responding to the disaster in China?

The DEC has three criteria that need to be met before we launch an appeal: overwhelming un-met needs; ability of our members agencies to respond in a timely and effective way, and evidence of concern by the British public.

In this instance the second criteria has not been met. Apart from the Red Cross movement the DEC member charities have a modest humanitarian capacity in China and it would not be appropriate to channel substantial funds via them. It is part of the effectiveness of the DEC appeals that donors know who is going to spend the money we raise.

It is because of this that we have encouraged potential donors to give to the British Red Cross directly, a valued member of the DEC. Anyone wishing to donate can at www.redcross.org.uk

The first problem with this is that the DEC have very visibly taken action to raise funds for the victims of the Cyclone Nargis disaster in Myanmar. This is a country that has been roundly and repeatedly condemned by media and politicians alike, for not cooperating with aid agencies. Given that the DEC also has modest humanitarian capacity in Myanmar, why was this cause chosen above the earthquake? Because we have seen little or no pressure on chinese authorities should we presume that the aid effort for Myanmar is linked to the political pressure on Myanmar government to accept aid?

Secondly, how do the DEC know that a particular disaster is of more concern to the British public? Surely, the public response depends mostly on media exposure? Do the DEC carry out a public survey every time a disaster strikes or are they actually just responding to the promptings of the rabid press who insists on making a political football out of a social disaster in another country when it is politically expedient? I find it disturbing that evidence of public concern should be a criterion for charitable work.

The death toll in China is expected to exceed 80000 according to official estimates. Today there are further reports that another 420,000 homes have been destroyed by aftershocks (with unknown numbers of dead). As many as five million people are homeless. The Myanmar death toll is estimated at around 130000. Around 2 million people are homeless. The scale of the tragedies is staggering as is the difference in the response of the western world including the charities.

Isn't it time our charities stopped playing politics with global disasters?