Agency criticises claims about Ethiopian famine aid abuse

Agency criticises claims about Ethiopian famine aid abuse

By staff writers
4 Mar 2010

The UK-based international development agency, Christian Aid, has criticised claims about aid for the 1984 Ethiopian famine being diverted by rebels to buy weapons.

Millions of dollars of Western assistance money intended to provide food for starving people during the country's crisis were instead used by rebels to buy weapons, the BBC said yesterday (3 March 2010).

"There are allegations in the story which are against all of Christian Aid’s principles, and our initial investigations do not correspond to the BBC’s version of events," a spokesperson for the globally respected aid agency said.

Nick Guttmann, director of emergency relief operations at Christian Aid, added that he was surprised at the timing of these allegations, more than 25 years after the event.

“This story has to be put into context. We were working in a major conflict, there was a massive famine and people on all sides were suffering," Guttmann declared.

He continued: “Both the rebels and the government were using innocent civilians to further their own political ends. But that is not what humanitarian agencies like ourselves were doing. We were there to help the people in the greatest need, and we did so."

Guttmann continued: “In all emergency relief operations, Christian Aid produces a budget which states how much food we can afford to buy and how many people this will reach. This is always followed up with monitoring visits to see the projects and account for every penny.”

Development specialists point out that, while there have clearly been abuses of aid money in the past, the regulatory systems used more recently are much more rigorous and accountable.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the think-tank Ekklesia, which cooperates with a number of development NGOs, commented: "Obviously the kind of claims made recently about misdirection of some assistance funds in the 1984 Ethiopian famine need to be examined carefully. In doing so, it is vital that reporters and researchers take a balanced and contextual approach."

He added: "It is also very important that those presently contributing to assistance for Haiti, Chile and other emergencies should realise that that, over the past 25 years, the degree and quality of aid monitoring has improved enormously.

"The major NGOs and international agencies work very hard to ensure that assistance reaches its intended recipients, often in the face of massive logistical and political obstructions. The work of anti-corruption agencies and initiatives also remains crucial in calling global aid, trade, finance and governance mechanisms to account," said Barrow.

NOTE: Christian Aid and Band Aid have now strongly rejected the allegations made on the BBC, drawing on the testimony of someone who was on-the-spot where the misdirection of aid was alleged to have taken place. See: http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/11428

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