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Monday, 28 January, 2002, 01:35 GMT
Disaster charities get wake-up call
Women and girl   AFP
Home again: A Gujarati family are rehoused
Alex Kirby

UK aid agencies which worked in India after the earthquake in Gujarat last year have important lessons to learn, a report says.

It says they could have rehabilitated people better afterwards, and could have worked more effectively with local groups. It says they failed to give the Indian Government's role credit.

One expert described its findings as "a wake-up call" to relief workers.

The report, The DEC Response to the Earthquake in Gujarat, is an independent evaluation published by the Disasters Emergency Committee.

The DEC has just launched an appeal for money to help people affected by the volcanic eruption near Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Prompt first aid

The Gujarat earthquake killed more than 20,000, and destroyed or badly damaged the homes of more than a million people.

The DEC report evaluates the work of 10 British agencies using as its benchmark the Red Cross and Red Crescent code of conduct, described as "the ethical plimsoll line of the aid business".

UK relief workers in quake ruins   AP
UK workers' role "was not in saving lives"
The agencies are ActionAid, British Red Cross, Cafod, Care International, Christian Aid, Concern, Help the Aged, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, TearFund, and World Vision.

The evaluation included a public opinion survey of more than 2,300 people who had been directly affected by the earthquake.

In global terms, the report says, the relief effort was a success, spending the 24 million ($33.8m) raised by the DEC to provide "substantial and timely assistance".

But it adds: "Even in the relief phase, far more people were rescued or assisted by neighbours, government staff and military personnel than by the high profile external search-and-rescue teams and aid agencies.

"The DEC's role was not in saving lives. DEC members have ameliorated the suffering and economic loss but could have achieved more impact, especially in the rehabilitation phase.

"In some cases they substituted for government responses and in others missed the opportunity to influence government by mobilising and representing the affected people.

"DEC members could have developed more effective local partnerships and thereby achieved greater impact."

Slow acknowledgement

The report says the British agencies underestimated "the scale and effectiveness of the Indian Government response".

It says: "The contribution of the international community, including the British Government and the DEC members, has been large compared with other disasters, but very small compared with the Government of India.

Man in earthquake ruins   AP
India did most to help itself
"This disparity became more important in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phases - and one that few DEC agencies sufficiently recognised."

The chief executive of the DEC, Brendan Gormley, told BBC News Online: "I think the agencies should see this report as a wake-up call.

"With future DEC appeals, when an agency proposes how to spend its share of the money raised it will have to say how it has learnt from previous experience.

Changing old habits

"I hope people won't be put off supporting our Goma appeal. The report shows the leading UK aid agencies can get help to people in need in good time.

"It's the medium and long term phases of recovery that need more thought.

"It's uncomfortable for anyone to be told you could have done better, and it's a painful business turning good intentions into new practice.

"These are lessons that have been learnt in the head. The hard bit is translating them into a different way of working."

See also:

23 Jan 02 | South Asia
Gujarat's children try to cope
07 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
UK 'sees poor as victims'
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