International DevelopmentNews

Sierra Leone’s Mudslide Victims Question Int’l NGOs and Government

West Africa —Surviving victims in Sierra Leone’s deadly mudslide crisis are crying foul and complaining about international aid groups and the Sierra Leone’s government that are claiming to be providing aid to them.

Some victims who chose to remain anonymous claimed their experience with international non-government organizations, especially NGOs in West Africa, has not been positive because instead of addressing the needs of victims most of the donations and funds go toward salaries and the comfort of international staff, including the purchase of flashy and luxury vehicles.

John Bangura, who lost family members during the mudslide said, “It seems these international NGOs are a means to reduce unemployment in some donor countries because these people (expatriate staff) are not here to help us. In fact, some of them are doing things that would prolong our recovery.”

Famatta Mansalay, a college student agreed. She believes donor countries need not empower local community initiatives and faith-based organizations in disasters affected countries.

“When people from the same communities or local religious relief and development organizations are supported by international donations, we feel comfortable because we know them and they know us. We are all the same and like us, they too want to see us and our communities recover faster,” she said.

Almost everyone spoken to complained about the luxury lifestyle and salaries that international aid workers amassed under the pretext of providing relief assistance.

Paul Komara, a Sierra Leonean living in California says donors’ countries should avoid dealing with government and do less with international NGOs since both are frequently ineffective in solving the real needs of victims.

Komara said there are several faith-based groups that have and continue to work in communities throughout Sierra Leone. He named Caritas Freetown, a local Catholic relief and development organization as well as many other faith-based organizations such as those of the Wesleyan, Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Islamic and others.

In most parts of Africa and other places around the world where disasters have repeatedly taken place, the failure of international aid groups has become rampant and disastrous, wasting millions without tangible impact.

In Haiti for example, despite the allocation of billions of dollars in aid relief over the past decade, the country remains a nation whose socio-economic structure is wholly defective.

For a long time, Haiti, like many other poor and disaster-ravaged nations, has been a high-ticket item for international non-governmental organizations and the international community.

For example, MINUSTAH—the U.N. security force– had an annual budget that exceeds $500 million. Furthermore, in 2008 alone, Canada (historically, a major contributor to Haitian development) distributed $230 million worth of food aid.

While these monies and items are sent in the name of the vulnerable people, an absence of accountability and vigilance on the part of many international NGOs (non-governmental organizations) has been instrumental in Haiti’s inability to efficiently utilize aid coming from all around the world.

Another factor responsible for international aid ineffectiveness is the so-called government to government support in the administration of aid, especially since most developing countries have corrupt bureaucracies.

During the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, officials of government in the three countries were repeatedly accused of corruption and pocketing of funds as well as misdirecting materials and equipment donated in response to the epidemic. These allegations also involved some high level officials, especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Recognizing this, Chris Heaton-Harris, a Tory MP and former MEP, said: “Government-to-government aid without proper checks just does not work. We need to be absolutely sure that every penny of UK taxpayers’ money given in aid alleviates poverty and provides good value.”

In the case of Haiti, Roger Annis, of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee (THAC) avowed that during a 2007 visit to Haiti, his staff was repeatedly asked by the locals to publicly spread news of the failure of aid programs to bring about significant solutions to development issues.

“I saw no evidence of Canadian aid programs reaching that desperately poor population,” alleged Annis.

The underlying reason that aid is often ineffective in most disaster areas or developing regions is that it is simply not reaching the people on the ground.

In addition to holding aid agencies accountable for their commitments, incorporating local faith-based groups and local communities into the decision of how best to use aid is an approach that could readily improve the effectiveness of the distributed funds.

As Donna Barry, director of advocacy and policy for Partners in Health, would argue, “When you have Haitians on the ground planning, implementing, and evaluating an initiative, their feedback is invaluable to the success of the project.”

Some international aid analysts argue that, for instance, a village leader knows best what is needed in the community—whether it is to develop an agricultural plot or employ another schoolteacher.
Such an approach is sustainable in that it lessens the culture of reliance that has long preoccupied international development.

Others say while there is no denying that international efforts have, to a certain extent, improved the living condition of millions of the poverty-stricken people and societies in disaster regions and developing countries, thereby have empowered their lives, there is a need to prevent direct aid funding to government as well as reduce too much emphasis on the contingent of international NGOs that use three-fourth of their donated aid funds on overheads.

Donor countries and private international foundations should work largely through local faith-based groups and community organizations with stiffed monitoring process.

Among local relief groups active in Sierra Leone’s humanitarian relief, human rights,  community empowerment and development efforts as well as human rights and social justice advocacy is Caritas Freetown.  Established in 1981 by the mandate of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sierra Leone, the Archdiocesan Development Office, commonly known as Caritas Freetown, has served since the last 33 years as the relief and development arm of the Archdiocese of Freetown headed by His Grace, Metropolitan Archbishop (Dr.) Edward Tamba Charles.

Global Afrique Research and Analysis reached Caritas Freetown to follow their development efforts and work with victims over the past years, especially during this mudslide crisis.

The organization praised President Ernest Bai Koroma for his support to the people of Sierra Leone and religious community of the country in particular, as it works to reduce poverty and hardship amongst the most vulnerable of the country’s estimated 6.5 million population.

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Paul Stevens

Paul Stevens is a researcher, media issues analyst and senior contributor with Globe Afrique.

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