Good, bad and ugly

MEETING NEEDS - NGO COORDINATION IN PRACTICE Jon Bennett . Earthscan Publications . Price US $21

By Anto Akkara
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

CIVIL wars and ethnic conflicts spilling across national borders evoke varying responses. At times, even though assistance and funds may be readily available, it does not reach the needy due to lack of coordination and communication among non - governmental organisations (NGOS) working in the field. Jon Bennett, former director of the NGO coordination programme at the International Council of Voluntary Agencies, draws on his experiences in this well-documented book. He underlines the need for greater coordination and interaction among NGOS - both at the international and national level - if they are to play meaningful roles in situations when disasters strike.

The author, at the very outset points out that coordination is a value-laden concept in international aid circles. Traditionally, international aid agencies like the United Nations understand coordination as a multifaceted approach to relief and development, while smaller NGOS prefer a loose consensus and do not wish to tread on each others' toes. However, the last decade has seen a discernible shift towards closer cooperation among NGOS involved in humanitarian assistance. They now collectively reach out to 250 million people in absolute poverty and spend about us $9-10 billion annually, exceeding World Bank assistance to the South. In-depth studies on NGO relief work carried out in some major crisis situations of the '80s and '90s - like Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Kenya, Lebanon, Central America and Cambodia - reveal how complex emergencies evoke mixed responses from the NGO fraternity. Be it the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief or the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, NGOs have often got together and collectively achieved varying levels of success in accomplishing their mission. One such example can be quoted from Lebanon. Despite the deeply embedded sectarian and ethnic divisions among the NGOS in war-ravaged Lebanon, prominent NGOs there - under the banner of the Lebanese . NGO Forum - have asserted their strength as key actors in the country's development. Pitting themselves against the cynicism of foreign donors, the forum's members have now refused to become hostage to the fluctuating fortunes of external benefactors.

Apart from giving us shining examples of NGO cooperation, the book also relates stories of disasters where networking partners merely stuck to achieving donor targets, closing their eyes to human suffering and misery. One such example has been the conduct of the international relief agencies which had extended liberal assistance to Afghans in the '80s. These organisations have however, remained silent spectators since 1992 when the heroes who brought down the Soviet- backed regime turned villains, fueling ethnic conflicts.

The book makes interesting reading for those interested in international aid. As the book dwells exclusively upon NGO cooperation and relief work in conflict situations, grassroot NGOs and social workers in 'silent' situations have little to fall back upon in this book even though the title promises comprehensive coverage.

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