November 24, 2007

AS Report: "NGOs Still Collecting Interest From Cyclone-Hit Areas"

Link to original story.

First and foremost of my concerns are directed towards the Federation of NGOs of Bangladesh: STOP YOUR MEMBERS FROM COLLECTING OR ADDING INTEREST NOW!

At the end of the story, the director of FNB is quoted denying these charges and saying that interest would not accumulate until after rehabilitation. So obviously there is a contradiction between his words and the (reports of) actions of his members on the ground. Let the investigations begin and if anything is amiss, let heads roll!

Secondly, let's talk about the wonderful vagueness of the report itself. "NGO" is a term liberally used throughout the report to refer to microcredit organizations or credit unions. That Oxfam, ICCDDR,B, CARE, BRAC and thousands of small local initiatives (some no doubt undertaken by religious men and women for religious reasons) are NGOs that are/have/will be doing good emergency relief and reconstruction work is something that does not come across. "NGO" thus comes to refer to a small set of non-denominational organizations that sprung up in the late 70s and you can picture ASA, BRAC and Grameen and forget about the rest. Amader Shomoy is a victim of this sort of narrow thinking.

So much for nuance!

Thirdly let's take this wonderful quote ALLEGEDLY by local government and army representatives. They have ordered informed Amader Shomoy that "in the relief efforts, no NGOs have offered assistance so far"(direct translation; original: "ত্রান তৎপরতায় এখনও কোনও এনজিওর সহায়তা আসেনি।"). They go on to say that rather they have shown more energy in collecting their dues from their debtors.

Now I'm not even going to go into the fallacy exposed in my second point: NGOs have done emergency relief and rescue work in the past and are no doubt going to do it again. Additionally, international partners of local NGOs as well as international NGOs that have a presence in Bangladesh have been raising funds for relief ever since SIDR hit, in itself no mean feat.

What I'd like to remind readers is this: how friendly are "local government and army representatives" to citizen/volunteer initiatives that are completely independent of government influence, I.E. a NON-GOVERNMENTAL initiative? Remember the Khalishpur gruel kitchen fiasco? Let me quote just one prescient line from that article by Hameeda Hossain that has stuck with me even now:

With floods staring us in the face, will not the government want citizens' involvement in managing the disaster, as they have done in previous years? So, what's so different about Khalishpur?

Basically, the government has on some occasions in the past frowned upon citizen (ie. NON-GOVERNMENT) initiatives, thus sending signals to citizens that the bureaucratic hassles involved are way too high for any meaningful intiatives. They cannot now come back to complain that "NGOs" are not doing enough. There is no legal difference for citizens between helping fellow citizens in Khalishpur or Dubla Chor.

Lastly, a salute to people doing relief work for whatever reasons. I respect the armed forces and other government organizations for doing their duty and appreciate their efforts greatly, stories of which we see in the deshi media everyday. To that let me add my own small salute to the hundreds (if not thousands) of Red Crescent volunteers who were among the first ones on the scenes and continue to hand out relief. Indeed without their efforts, the early warning system would not have been such a big success.

They are our silent, under-appreciated heroes. They are neither "NGOs", nor "local and army representatives". BRCS is a government auxiliary manned by dedicated civilians, and without their work for the last 36 years, Bangladesh would have been a much worse place to live in for a lot of people. I salute these heroes and hope Amader Shomoy does a feature on them soon.


Anonymous said...

Brim over I agree but I about the brief should have more info then it has.

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