- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

LONDON A large part of the international aid effort in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster is staffed by "crisis junkies" and does more harm than good, according to a World Health Organization expert.
Smaller aid agencies parachute into disaster zones with an inflated opinion of their own usefulness and little idea of how to help, said Claude de Ville de Goyet, director of the WHO's emergency preparedness and disaster relief coordination program in the Americas.
Instead of supporting local emergency and medical services, they inundate them with "unrequested, inappropriate and burdensome" donations of clothes, medical equipment and packaged food, he said.
Many "misguided individuals" seemed motivated as much by the chance to raise their own profiles at home as by a genuine opportunity to do some good, Mr. de Ville de Goyet said.
"You see hundreds of small agencies turning up at the scenes of disasters. Some of them pop up because there is money or because there is media coverage, which is emotionally appealing.
"I visited the Balkans during the Kosovo crisis, and frankly I was astonished to see youngsters doing de-mining, medical care and mental-health assistance. I wondered what kind of previous experience they had.
"Some of them did contribute very much. But people tend to consider that, just because it is a European or an American from a developed country, they can do better than a national would do in a disaster, and I'm sorry, but that is wrong."
Mr. de Ville de Goyet paid tribute to the long-term work performed by some of the major aid agencies, but said they had done too little to discourage the "disaster myths" that local populations were helpless without Western aid.
This attitude exists even in countries like Turkey and India, which have excellent health care and local infrastructure, he said.
He criticized agencies that promote the assumption that dead bodies must be unceremoniously disposed of in order to prevent disease.
Even governments sometimes appear to succumb to the pressure to create good headlines with grand, expensive gestures that do little long-term good, Mr. de Ville de Goyet said.
He said the cost of sending helicopters to Mozambique in March too late to rescue the majority of the victims of massive flooding could have been better paid for thousands of villagers to rebuild their shattered lives.
Dispatching Western medical teams was worse than useless, as they absorbed large chunks of the aid budget but arrived long after the critical first 24 hours when acute medical care was needed. They then departed too quickly to help local doctors deal with the long-term consequences of the disaster, he said.
Several major aid agencies defended their records against Mr. de Ville de Goyet's complaints.
Eileen Maybin, a spokeswoman for Christian Aid, said the 14 largest aid agencies had become more efficient by working closely together through the Disasters Emergency Committee.
"This closer cooperation has been developing in the last four years, and it is an excellent thing," said Mrs. Maybin.

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