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Experts slam flawed ICE poverty initiative

ANGRY OVERSEAS development experts have criticised a joint ICE/government initiative aimed at alleviating global poverty as poorly drafted and 'paternalistic'.

The row has emerged just a fortnight after International Development Secretary Clare Short and ICE President Sir Alan Cockshaw launched the Telford Challenge at the Institution's Great George Street HQ (NCE 14 May).

The concern comes from within the ICE's own Appropriate Development Panel, a multi-disciplinary group of full-time overseas development experts which advises the Institution on how British civil engineering can help the developing world.

A letter sent to Cockshaw last week by ADP member and Loughborough University research associate Paul Larcher argues that the panel 'has only had a marginal involvement in the formulation of the Challenge' - potentially undermining the project's effectiveness and increasing the risk of ill- advised selection of development projects.

Larcher welcomes the initiative as 'a milestone', but claims that the details of the scheme must be made more widely known 'to dispel the fears of engineers and non-engineers working in this sector'.

Larcher's letter goes on to criticise ICE director of International Affairs John Whitwell for claiming that the 'sky is the limit' for the initiative, without spelling out the 'how, who, when, where, what of the Challenge'. Larcher claims the initiative - backed by £600,000 of government money - 'requires clear and achievable goals and objectives, set out in a clear logical framework, to ensure that the ICE maintains its professional reputation'.

Murmurings of discontent started after the ADP was shown the Telford Challenge proposal in January, two days before it was sent to the Department for International Development.

'We thought the proposal was poorly written and paternalistic in its tone,' said another member of the panel.

'We only found out about the scheme by default, two days before it was submitted, and our comments on the proposal were ignored. We have all these experts on the panel, so what are they there for if not to be consulted? It's soul destroying.'

The Telford Challenge, which is backed by the Department for International Development and the five leading engineering institutions, is intended to facilitate an exchange of best practice on engineering schemes in developing countries.

Larcher argued that the ADP could offer socio-economic expertise to the Telford Challenge.

'We must make sure that we are aware of the cultural landscape and talk to the people we want to help,' Larcher told NCE. 'We have perceptions of what they want but they are often different to what is really needed. I knew an engineering project in Ghana where a water pump was installed next to the house of the village chief because that was technically the best position. For cultural reasons the pump was never used.'

Larcher was also concerned that some of the development projects highlighted at the Challenge's launch were unsustainable.

ADP chairman and ICE vice president Peter Guthrie played down the criticisms: 'Individuals from the ADP have their own opinions, but as chairman, I feel we have been consulted,' he said.

Damian Arnold

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