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Red R reflects on wider political role

THE ETHICAL problem faced by disaster relief engineers was top of the agenda at RedR's annual general meeting at the ICE recently.

Relief work poses 'a dilemma' said guest speaker Dr Mukesh Kapila, head of the Department for International Development's conflict and humanitarian affairs section.

Relief work is often used to cover for political failings. Aid is also abused, Kapila claimed.

'On one hand, we should not be concerned with politics - we are 'doing good', ' he said, but added that aid work can also result in humanitarian crises becoming invisible. If engineers did not mitigate the effects of disaster, political leaders would be forced to 'see the consequence of their actions head on. Are we just an alibi for injustice?' Kapila asked.

Kapila drew on his experiences in North Korea and Afghanistan, where the atrocities he saw helped justify the relatively harsh approach of letting events take their course.

But he still found himself asking whether 'the future gain was worth the current pain' Public education and raising public awareness are the fundamental issues for all aid agencies, he said. The challenge for RedR, he suggested, 'is not just to generate funds, but to send the right signals to all those around it - to communities, to businesses and to politicians' Kapila has found himself having to judge public attitudes: 'To what extent do people expect us to mirror public opinion, and to what extent do they expect us to show leadership in making 'hard choices'?'

The last 10 years have seen many new agencies offering plenty of quantity but very little quality.

'Greater accountability was needed, ' he said, both to the contributors and benefactors.

Kapila claimed this was the main reason behind current public cynicism towards humanitarian efforts. 'If we don't regain the confidence of the wider community, ' he said, 'the whole enterprise is at risk.'

Last year 250 RedR members were active in the field, 170 placed directly by RedR. Over 200 new members were recruited, taking total worldwide membership to 1,500. Around 1,200 of these are based in the UK.

In the same period expenditure on relief projects rose to ú654,000, up from ú385,000 the previous year. At the same time income was ú716,000, up from ú412,000. The reserves stand at ú295,000.

International director Tim Foster outlined RedR's five year plan at the AGM. The vision is for 2,500 members operating out of six offices worldwide. By doing this the agency hopes almost to double its peak capacity to 500 assignments. The plan will require a global budget of ú2M.

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